It’s already closing in on eight years since James Yancey, better known to everyone as J Dilla, passed away. As many of you fans know, Dilla left behind a treasure trove of unreleased music (“The Lost Scrolls”) which was evident by the many posthumous projects that have come out since. What you may not know is that Dilla was raised in a very musical family with his mother formerly being an opera singer and the senior Mr. Yancey being a jazz bassist. So naturally, the influences that rubbed off on Dilla was also rubbed off on his younger brother of 12 years, John Yancey.
Under the name Illa J, John released an album titled “Yancey Boys” in 2008, featuring production from his late brother and showed the world how talented the Yancey Boys can be as a tandem. Just like his brother, Illa J is multi-talented, meaning he can write, sing, play instruments and rap at a high level. A series of events led to Illa J recording a track with Frank Nitt (of Frank n Dank) which slowly evolved into a full-fledge album and group, Yancey Boys. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Illa J and Frank to discuss the album and carrying on the legacy of the late J Dilla. Take a look inside.
Who is Yancey Boys and what does the name symbolize?
Yancey Boys represents me and my bro. Our bond as brothers carrying the Yancey name and also reppin’ my pops. What’s crazy is my dad was born in 1932 and when my brother died, I was 19 and my brother was 32. And last September, I got my first tattoo Yancey Boys 1932 on my right forearm on September 17th, 2012. A week later my dad died. Week after the memorial service was my dad’s birthday, and the next day I recorded “The Throwaway.” At that time, I had no clue I would have a second album. I just knew there was a chance if we could just make the right song… We mixed it at the studio where I recorded my first song ever when I was 13. A few months later, we’re recording the album at the Delicious vinyl office. After my dad died, everything happened so fast. A year later, we’re releasing “Sunset Blvd.”
Illa J, your first album was called ‘Yancey Boys’ but that name has since taken off to become a group. How did your collaboration with Frank happen?
Frank and I have a chemistry. We have been touring for a long time. He’s like a brother to me but the collab for the album started with “The Throwaway.” It was just gonna be him on the hook, my verse and we were gonna get a feature but then I told him he should rap on it. While figuring the artwork for the single, we decided to make Yancey Boys a group (Illa J and J Dilla) and featuring Frank. Yancey Boys featuring Frank Nitt. Then while recording, “Sunset Blvd,” Frank became part of the group.
How do you take on the responsibility of carrying on your brother’s legacy through music?
By doing me. The music is in my blood.
Frank, you’ve worked with Dilla for years and have had the privilege of working heavily with the late producer. How did you meet him though?
Me and Dilla met in 1986 as middle school kids. We had mutual friends and we all hung out at the neighborhood church and besides all of that, we both really loved hip hop and dancing. From there, he taught me how to DJ and the rest is history.