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- Posted on Mar 15th 2010 10:22AM by Melissa Harrison
When Grammy-nominated hip-hop producer J Dilla passed away in 2006 at age 32, he left behind a hefty music catalog, having produced tracks for A Tribe Called Quest and Common. But he also left behind dozens of his own unfinished tracks, and that's where younger brother Illa J stepped in. The Detroit-bred MC laid down lyrics over his brother's tracks, fusing Dilla's beats with Illa J's rhymes, and the resulting compilation album 'Yancey Boys' was released in 2008. Before his solo SXSW 2010 performance, Illa J talked to Spinner about what's in store for him this year.
You grew up in a very musical family. Did that influence your decision to get into the business?
My earliest musical memory was definitely listening to my mom and dad sing a capella jazz in the living room. They set the musical foundation in the household, and I knew pretty early on that I would eventually get music. And since I started, I haven't stopped.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
It starts with my dad. From him, I got my writing skills and my ear for music, as far as hearing and composing melodies. Especially bass lines, because he played upright bass. Other influences? The Four Freshman, Manhattan Transfers, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Dilla, Madlib, Slum Village, Busta Rhymes, Emimem, Rakim, Pete Rock, Nas, Biggie, 2Pac, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Hall and Oates, Parliament, James Brown and Quincy Jones.
Years ago, starting out so young and being J Dilla's brother, did you feel extra pressure to prove yourself as an artist?
Not really, because I think of him as my brother first, not J Dilla. I do read some of the [criticism], though. Most times I just laugh, but it's good because I like challenges. It just makes me want to work that much harder to be the best I can be at my craft.
Tell me about the decision to make 'Yancey Boys' and what the creative process was like behind it.
It kind of came out of nowhere. To make it brief, Mike Ross, the president of Delicious Vinyl, had all these tracks that my brother made between 1995 and 1998. Originally, they were supposed to go into a compilation album of various artists who all worked with my brother. But as Mike got to know my music, he asked, "Why don't you just do the whole album?" And that's how it started. Creatively, it was fun. My brother and I have a natural musical chemistry, since we came from the same musical background. I just let it flow.
What other performers are you looking forward to seeing at SXSW?
J Rocc and Madlib.
What are three albums that you'll never get tired of listening to?
Michael Jackson's 'Off the Wall,' Prince's '1999' and Michael Jackson's 'Thriller.'
Any musical guilty pleasures?
Lately, I've been into this group from Sweden called Little Dragon. Their production and her vocals seem to flow perfectly. Definitely one of my favorites right now.
When it comes to soul these days, who do you think is at the top of their game?
I'm excited that Sade has another album out. Because, I mean, it's Sade. What else can you say? She has an amazing voice.
Craziest thing you've experienced on tour?
Many stories. A lot of stories that I can't share! But I will say that it's an amazing experience to see someone that doesn't even speak English sing all the words to your music. It just shows that music is a universal language.
Melissa Harrison is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.