Archive for November, 2008

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 8

For a taste of October’s music, click here.

November’s update comes with over 100 tracks spanning both new and old albums, and quite a bit in terms of the Yancey family. We’ve got hip-hop and indie rock, R&B and rap. Enjoy!

Black Milk, Tronic: An album that pushes the traditional boundaries of hip-hop with futuristic synths and musical approaches, Black Milk still puts out several songs that utilize nostalgic samples. I won’t say much more because I’ve already written a full album review, but in my recent interview with Hieroglyphics members Opio and Tajai, they named Black Milk as one of the hip-hop producers they were liking the sound of recently. Read the full album review here. Don’t Sleep On: “Long Story Short,” “Bounce,” and “Losing Out” featuring Royce da 5’9″

Bloc Party, Intimacy: When Bloc Party released their initial effort, Silent Alarm in 2005, it brought a distinct sound to the indie rock arena with Kele Okereke’s emotional British accent and their hard charging guitars on songs like “Banquet.” That album spawned a remix album before the release of what I viewed to be a lackluster sophomore effort on 2007’s A Weekend in the City, an album that had three, maybe four really solid songs, tops. Thankfully though, Intimacy not only serves to take some of the band’s music in another direction, but returns the indie sound on their rock songs to the top-notch form that looked possible from their debut. Intimacy still has driving drums and screaming guitars, but the band has started to utilize more in the way of drum machines and electronic flourishes that create a new dimension for them to explore and in some cases creates some of the most musically advanced songs the band has produced to date. Okereke’s use of his voice is showing maturity, commanding more range of both pitch and emotion here. In some songs, it feels like the input they had on their work from Silent Alarm Remixes has prompted them to explore in new directions. A very solid album. Don’t Sleep On: “Signs,” “One Month Off,” and “Talons.”

Illa J, Yancey Boys: I’ve read a few reviews of this album that basically mock Illa J’s approach and state that he only made this album because he got posthumously released tracks from his big brother J Dilla. I think these reviews miss the point of the album in that Illa J doesn’t fancy himself a rapper or hip-hopper, he’s a self-described singer/songwriter, so it only makes sense that what he does over Dilla beats is going to be different from Dilla’s output when he was alive. On this album, the younger Yancey proves himself musically diverse and extremely relaxed, while also recognizing the importance of respecting Dilla’s production. The tracks here are laid back and jazzy, and Illa takes no effort to listen to, he’s that easy. Click here for the full album review, and click here for my interview with Illa J. Don’t Sleep On: “R U Listenin’?” feat. Guity Simpson, “We Here,” and “DTFT” feat. Affion Crockett

J Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit: With the way underground hip-hop is structured and feeds into the mainstream, it’s often possible for fans to miss an initial classic album from an artist, and then never check it out once they’ve gotten big because it gets lost in the new music. With Illa J’s debut album dropping this month featuring almost exclusive production from Dilla, it only made sense to make sure people were aware of J Dilla’s initial solo offering and the way it intersects with the rest of the hip-hop genre. On Welcome 2 Detroit, Dilla’s signature melodic and stoned out beats are in fine form with lyrical help from other Detroit rappers such as eLZhi (WIH6) and Phat Kat. The album, released in 2001, still sounds fresh and innovative today and features several tracks that showcase Dilla’s ability to fuse other sounds into his hip-hop such as the co-produced (Karriem Riggins) “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” and “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)” which Dilla seems to have created in order to slip onto future releases of the 1977 Kraftwerk album Trans-Europe Express. Don’t Sleep On: “Shake It Down,” “It’s Like That,” feat. Hodge Podge and Lacks, and “Pause” feat. Frank-N-Dank.

Jedi Mind Tricks, A History of Violence: Underground hip-hop mainstays Jedi Mind Tricks return for their 6th studio album with more hard hitting tracks, masterful production and intricate lyrics. The conspiracy themes from previous albums remain here, and the production draws from interesting samples such as the strings and haunting foreign lyrics on “Monolith” and the sparse flute in “Trail of Lies.” The lyrical deliveries on these tracks are tight, concise and deep in content, and on the whole, the album is a display of exceptional craft from artists working together with a common musical vision and knowledge of their strengths. Don’t Sleep On: “Trail of Lies,” “Death Messiah,” and “Heavy Artillery.”

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks: Following the death of his mother, I was wondering what the latest output from an artist so in touch with his emotions and personal experiences would sound like. On the one hand, I could see West shaking off the events of the last year or so and putting out his most bouncy and sample-laden disc to date. On the opposite end of that, I could imagine West delving deep into what was going on and producing an intensely personal album. On 808s, West moves in a direction completely opposite of the roads he’s traveled before, and comes out all the better for it. Let’s be clear. 808s is not an album for anyone expecting the continuation of sound and work from West’s previous three albums, and it’s not an album that everyone is going to enjoy musically. Using an 808 drum machine and extensively using Auto-Tune to sing rather than rap, West has produced a stripped down and emotionally raw album. Heavy on synths and in points retro-80s sounds (tracks here could have made an Aphex Twin or Tricky album), West lays bare what’s going on with him and refuses to apologize for the new direction of his music. What’s amazing is that while I think the roster of musicians today who could completely change course from one album to the next and do so successfully is small, Kanye does make that list with this album. Dark, personal and musically adventurous, 808s and Heartbreaks exposes West as the musician he is rather than the hip-pop clone machine he’s often typecast as. Don’t Sleep On: “Paranoid,” feat. Mr. Hudson, ” “Bad News” (which features a sample from Nina Simone‘s “See Line Woman”) and “Street Lights.”

Ludacris, Theater of the Mind: While some artists are out to create philosophically moving pieces, or to in some way further the hip-hop culture, Ludacris doesn’t concern himself with such lofty ideals. He’s about making money. A lot of it. On his 6th studio album, Ludacris returns with the formula that has made him the hottest rapper in the South’s history… pulsing and grimy beats full of horns and deep bass kicks meet with quick delivery lyrics touching on sex, violence, money and his ability to outsell other rappers. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that this formula doesn’t work for him and doesn’t have its place within rap and hip-hop, but it is without any sort of creative growth that Luda moves forward. If there’s any doubt about the kind of sales Ludacris would like to see, this album is the most saturated rap album I’ve seen in years in terms of cameo appearances. Ludacris is the lone rapper on only 2 of the 15 tracks, getting guest appearances from Floyd Mayweather (yes, the boxer), Chris Rock (yes, that comedian), Jamie Foxx (still an actor?), Common and Spike Lee (one of them is a rapper, right?), Nas, Jay-Z and current Top 40 mainstays T.I., The Game, T-Pain and Lil Wayne. This approach either means that he intends to make a lot of money based on name recognition of his guests or he realizes that to put out an album that only has him on it, he’d need to come up with full lyrics to all of his songs, a task that might seem daunting (I mean, how many times can you really come up with new raps about rims and Cadillacs?) While musically and lyrically this album isn’t challenging, it has certainly produced some tracks that we’re sure to be hearing in clubs and parties very soon. Don’t Sleep On: “Intro” (only a minute of rapping, but well worth it, and one of only 2 songs with just Luda on it), “Undisputed” feat. Floyd Mayweather, and “Wish You Would” feat. T.I.

Opio, Vuture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1: The first in a trilogy of albums to be released by Opio from Hieroglyphics with production by Architect. The idea behind the albums is that people are saying hip-hop is dead, or at least that’s the popular expression lately. Vulture’s Wisdom refers to the ability to pick what’s left of life from the bones of the deceased, and this album shows that Opio hasn’t lost any of the edge that has carried him through more than a decade in the industry as a part of the Hiero Imperium. Be on the lookout for my interview with Opio and Tajai, where they discuss their plans to release a new single every week in 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Don Julio,” “Mind, Body and Soul,” and “Some Superfly Shit.”

Singles… these are the songs where the full album just didn’t cut it, but the songs deserve their time in your ears. Check out “4 Wind,” a multi-lingual remix of the cut from Breez Evahflowin and Dirt E. Dutch’s Troublemakers album, and the radio ready hip-pop of T-Pain songs “Can’t Believe It” featuring L’il Wayne and “Karaoke” featuring DJ Khaled where T-Pain goes off on the rest of the industry (funny coming from the guy who did “Bartender”) and claims the only cool rappers are Kanye West and L’il Wayne. Well, at least he’s consistent. There you have it, the November update… up next is the second installment of last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For.

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Zion I Interview

Zion I

Zion I

From their initial release, 2000‘s Mind Over Matter, to last year’s collaboration album with The Grouch, Heroes in the City of Dope, the Bay Area based duo of MC Zumbi and AmpLive known as Zion I has been making incredible music that incorporates hip-hop, world rhythms, hyphy, electronica and jazz sensibilities with intelligent lyrics looking at economic situations, social situations and meditative introspection. They’ve released an album in Japan (Break A Dawn) and have put out mix tape’s like Curb Servin‘ and remixes in the form of AmpLive’s re-working of Radiohead’s In Rainbows release. After their show at the Grand Ballroom in San Francisco on Saturday night, I got a chance to sit down with these two and ask them about their upcoming album, The Take Over, making hip-hop in the Bay Area and their favorite Zion I song.

AC: How do you determine your setlists?

Amp: For a tour, we practice before we go out, but basically our set lists have been the same the last couple of years and just changes slightly with the albums.

AC: The last album you did with The Grouch, Heroes in the City of Dope, what was it like working on The Take Over with just the two of you again?

Z: It was different because Grouch brings a whole different element, a whole different mind pattern. When we were working on Heroes, I remember sitting down and talking over each song really in depth, cause he’s a real insightful person, so we’d just talk out everything, so by the time the pen hit the paper, everything was already laid out. When it’s just Zion I, we talk about it, but my process is more about figuring it out as I go, like I feel something from the beat, and I have something but I have to remember to stay on topic. Grouch is just focused. Plus, Grouch writes half the verses too, when it’s Zion I, I have to write everything, so in that way it’s different. And I think with the beats, on Zion I stuff Amp is able to just go off more on his own. Zion I is just a more eclectic vibe, so we push a little bit harder and go off in different experimental ways.

AC: As you guys have progressed through your albums from Mind Over Matter to Deep Water Slang and the ones that have followed, what has become easier about making hip-hop for you, and what has become harder for you?

Z: Good question.

Amp: To me it’s never easy, because you don’t know if people are going to like it, and you just want it to be tight. Sometimes it’s hard knowing what to do, honestly, you have the way you feel, but sometimes it’s hard deciding what direction you want to go.

Z: For me, as a writer, it’s easier to know what I feel when I hear music because I’ve been doing it longer now as opposed to in ’95. I’ve been doing it 13 more years now, so I know what I feel. But still, like he said, you can’t get too cocky to the music or the culture, you have to be humble and a fan, you have to stay a fan. You don’t want to get old school, like you’re retro now on purpose, you have to have your ears to the street and just be open to the music. Sometimes it’s easy to get like, “Oh man, we used to do it like that back then and the new cats are doing it like this and that ain’t tight.” But you have to, as a fan of the culture, you have to have an open lingo to everything to stay fresh and relevant.

AC: That brings me to my next question. What are you guys listening to right now?

Z: In the van, we were listening to a lot of Santogold mixtapes, weren’t we? Cats just kept rotating that shit back to back. I listen to a lot of beat tapes recently, I get in my car and I’m looking for music and I’m just feeling the beat tapes. I’ve got some beat tapes from Bedrock, I’ve got this shit called Congotronics it’s club music, from Africa, it’s not even new, it’s kinda old, but it’s just really interesting. It’s hella rhythmic, with this bass sound and they take these calimbos, these thumb pianos and then they hook them up to these amplifiers so it sounds electronic, but it’s really traditional instruments, so I’ve been bumping them a lot.

AC: Zion I, E-40, Hiero are just three names in what makes up the Bay Area’s very rich hip-hop culture, I think in comparison to the rest of the United States. What is it about this scene that you think creates that?

Amp: It’s just such a big place with lots of variety, historically. The music that’s come up here, there’s a fan base that’s implanted here. There’s always a crowd for different types of music. I think there’s big energy.

Z: It’s California. People on the West Coast, we get a lot of ideas, just like the East Coast gets ideas, New York, Atlanta. On the West Coast we get ideas from a different angle, but it’s a place where people are very open to processing different perspectives, in the Bay Area especially. It has to be one of the most diverse places in the country, so I think it’s only right that our music showcases that.

A: What can people expect stylistically from The Take Over?

Amp: It’s all over the place, there’s a lot of different stuff on there. It’s definitely straight to the point in a lot of places.

Z: It’s eclectic, but there’s definitely a boom element, and there’s definitely soul, I think it’s a soulful record. Even though we go in a lot of different directions in the production, I think there’s a link through everything that’s very soulful, whether it’s the content or the singing or the way Amp produced the beat, it’s got heart to it.

AC: How many songs is Mr. Holiday going to be on on the album?

Amp: Codany Holiday. On the album, he’s on two tracks where he’s up front and then he does a lot of background vocals on a lot of stuff. You like Codany?

AC: I do. My exposure to him was through your Rainydayz Remixes.

Amp: You should go on my Myspace and download the Jamie Lidell, he did a Jamie Lidell remix.

AC: Last question here…favorite Zion I song for each of you.

Amp: From The Take Over?

AC: No, whenever. Through all of your albums, there’s a lot of music to choose from. What really stands out for you?

Z: That’s hard man.

Amp: We did a new song called “DJ DJ” that I like a lot. It’s a very DJ ready song that I think is really tight.

Z: Man, that’s really tough. What comes to my mind is either “Silly Putty” or “Innerlight,” because I remember when I wrote “Innerlight” I had just come home from meditating really tough and Amp was playing the beat already, and it just matched my state of mind so perfectly. When I wrote it, it was one of the easiest songs I wrote, ever. It just came off the pen, and it was just so easy, it just felt good. Same with “Silly Putty.”

Amp: It seems like “The Bay” was like that.

Z: Yea, but it’s just captured something different, it’s more inside, “The Bay” is more of an external thing, whereas “Innerlight” and “Silly Putty,” those were internal. “Silly Putty” I just wrote it and when Grouch got it and he just kept with it automatically and he just enhanced it. So probably those two songs because of the way they came about.

For a review of the Zion I show at the Grand Ballroom Saturday night, click here.

Zion I and The Mighty Underdogs at The Grand Ballroom

Gift of Gab of Blackalicious and Mighty Underdogs
Gift of Gab of Blackalicious and Mighty Underdogs

Zumbi of Zion I
Zumbi of Zion I

{to read Evolving Music’s interview with AmpLive, click here}
{to read Evolving Music’s interview with Zion I from after the show Saturday night, click here}

Hip-Hop shows, at their base, are usually only going to be as good as their crowds. With rock bands and other performers who play in large venues, just the sheer numbers will create an energetic atmosphere, and with pop songs, sing-a-longs easily get fans into the performance. With hip-hop, however, there are few performers who truly know all the words to their own rhymes. Often, performers will cut songs short in order to do just snippets of more popular songs. And the music is such that it requires energy from what is usually a smaller crowd, and the smaller the crowd, the harder it is to convince people to really sell out and get into it.

By these standards, the shows I have seen of Zion I have been some of the most varied in terms of audience enthusiasm and demographics of crowds. I’ve seen an incredible Zion I performance at the Fillmore where a truly live hip-hop crowd that knew their work was into it and the concert was amazing. But then I saw them a few years ago doing a back to school concert at UCLA. The venue was too large, there weren’t enough people there and the stage was set up in a way that allowed for almost no fan interaction. The people who were there mostly didn’t know the music, so what was an amazing set list got very little in the way of crowd appreciation.

On Saturday night at the Grand Ballroom, The Mighty Underdogs opened, and considering they’re made up of Gift of Gab from Blackalicious and Lateef the Truth Speaker from Latryx, they got short attention from most of the crowd. They were excellent though, bringing a speed of delivery that is difficult for most to imagine, and Gift of Gab’s ability to increase speed while maintaining a level of coherency in his diction was showcased in my second opportunity to see him do “Alphabet Aerobics” live.

And when they got to the stage, Zion I got another odd turnout in the form of what looked more like a high school dance than a hip-hop show. The majority of the people there were girls between the ages of 14 and 17. Watching them run enthusiastically during set changes to find a cigarette they could puff on was hilarious in and of itself. And what can you expect from this group other than that they’ll know the singles and their favorite songs, but won’t have the depth of knowledge of Zion I’s catalog to truly appreciate and buy into the set.

And that’s unfortunate considering that I view Zion I to be one of the hardest working live acts in hip-hop and true masters of their craft. AmpLive and Zumbi consistently work in both old favorites and new tracks, while also remembering the art of the true freestyle, with both of them taking turns improvising on either lyrics or beats. On stage, Amp becomes a grand marshal, moving the set seamlessly from one track to the next, and adding flairs through the use of a live sample and drum machine.

Zumbi (formerly Zion) is lyrically on point in all of his songs, never skipping a lyric or word, demonstrating just how well-prepared he is. Not two songs into the set he’s already worked up a sweat from interacting with the crowd, bouncing to Amp’s work and delivering the verses with an intensity and accuracy often missing in live shows. Furthermore, the performance never sounds like a canned delivery of studio albums. Zumbi’s expressions and tempo changes accentuate portions of the lyrics he finds to be important and each live show I’ve seen brings that feeling of song alteration.

In this show, the group was joined on stage by Codany Holiday, the soul singer who has crossed genres to work with AmpLive on his Rainydayz Remixes album of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. In concert, Holiday brings an energy and passion to his singing that fits right in with Zion I’s delivery and adds a soulful and musical depth to the songs. In some parts taking chorus and in other parts just adding background vocals, Holiday showed an impressive range in his pitches and was so obviously into the performance that his vocals soared and provided an excellent balance between Amp’s steady and polished hand and Zumbi’s raw energy.

For any hip-hop fan, Zion I is not a group to be missed in their studio albums or live performances, especially when the quality of the audience matches the quality of their music. Set list standouts from Saturday night included “The Drill,” “City of Dope,” “Fingerpaint,” “Silly Putty,” and three tracks off of their January release The Take Over, “Juicy Juice,” “Feel Brand New” and “Antenna.” They also mentioned onstage that the new album will include Brother Ali and Devin the Dude. It drops January 27th, 2009.

Ad-Funded Music: trueAnthem, WE7

“Brought to you by Fruit of the Loom.”

How would you feel about your music being preceded by a brief recorded message from the underwear maker? Are fans just as willing to listen to audio advertising at the start of songs as they are willing to put up with seeing ads? If it means they get the song for free, apparently the answer is yes.

We’ve talked about bands and brands partnering up (like Throw Me The Statue in an Urban Outfitters commercial) and the trend is clearly not slowing down. In this new frontier, it’s becoming imperative to think outside the box and explore new media. Even CBS is doing it: OMG Boobies: Victoria’s Secret on Your Mobile. One of the most prevalent examples of band/brand partnerships that we’re seeing as of late is the ad-supported music model.

trueAnthem, which we first stumbled across because of their early work with Ultraviolet Sound, has been forging ahead and signing more and more bands. Led by Brad Barnes, they are pioneering a “new way for independent and undiscovered artists and bands to get paid while sharing their music with their fans for free – and without having to sign away their lives to a major music label”. Check out their widget (which you can grab and post wherever) – you can download the artists’ album for free. Free, as long as you don’t mind hearing and ad at the start of each song.

Personally, I don’t mind at all. The folks at trueAnthem (probably largely thanks to Emaleigh) have done a great job of pairing the right brand with each band and presenting the sponsor’s messaging in an appropriate way. If you browse through the various bands, you notice brands like Guitar Center, Steve Madden, and Baby Phat… and when you hear that band’s music you can’t help but nod and go “yep… that’s a fit”.

Another interesting example is the recently launched digital music service WE7, which has “all four majors and hundreds of independent labels via The Orchard on board.” Compensation is derived from ad revenues.

What seemed like a distant pipedream not too long ago is certainly becoming the new reality. The music industry simply must accept that the new generation of music consumers – you know, the ones who grew up with the internet and can’t imagine a world without it – expect to get their music for free (one way or another). And they want to consume it in their own way, on their own time, and in their preferred way. So, we might as well make that possible and find ways to still pay the artists. And that is exactly what WE7 has done.

A key ingredient in this equation is obviously appropriate pairing of bands and brands. The sites and services who do this best will likely come out on top. The advertisers need to reach their target demographics. And the music capturing that particular audience might be just the vehicle to get them there.

John McCain: Music Thief pt. 2

Several weeks ago at the height of the election race, I posted concerning McCain and Palin’s unauthorized campaign use of songs by several different artists. Well, the campaign is over, McCain has lost, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to throw in the towel on the lawsuit brought against him by Jackson Browne. McCain (or, as McCain claims, the Ohio Republican Party) used a 30 second clip of the Browne song “Running on Empty” in a commercial televised in Ohio. While a majority of McCain’s usage of music by groups that are Democrats and in other ways don’t support this aging war-hawk isn’t eligible for trial as it was broadcast live and publicly at venues that traditionally have rights to use songs, Browne’s lawsuit is the exception because it did it in a nationally televised with without asking for rights to use the song.

But who would for a second think that McCain, despite making campaign promises based around honesty and integrity, would actually be honest and have integrity? That’s why, rather than admitting he did wrong and seeing to compensate Browne for it, he’s counter-suing claiming that these are frivolous lawsuits. McCain claims that, “Given the political, non-commercial, public interest and transformative nature of the use of a long-ago published song, the minuscule amount used and the lack of any effect on the market for the song (other than perhaps to increase sales of the song), these claims are barred by the fair use doctrine.”

That defense is contrasted by Browne’s claim that the use was a violation of his publicity rights, copyright infringment and a false endorsement. My question is how can McCain claim that his use was public interest? It certainly wasn’t in the interest of the person who made the song, a longtime Democrat. The use of the song didn’t help the public in any way. You can say that there was a minuscule amount of the song used, but 30 seconds of a 2 minute spot, or 25% of the commercial, doesn’t seem minuscule to me. But to me, the greatest threat here is the unauthorized use of a song to give the appearance of promotion on the part of the artist. If an artist is clearly against what a politician stands for, then the “political” fair use argument shouldn’t stand. Of course, this counter suit and the failure on McCain’s part to take responsibility for what he and his party did simply makes me more certain that the country picked the right President. But where do you stand on “fair use” and politicians using musicians’ songs without their knowledge?

Mother F*cking Bill & Andrew Show

picture-1

Two assholes with microphones or… Bill and Andrew. However you address them they’re a rather new underground podcast based out of DC and they’re funny as hell. They met about 4 years ago, hit it off and have been bickering at each other ever since. Bill and Andrew are in their second season of their podcast. In show 2.4 they unleashed a theme song contest hosted by MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard. The big prize?? Bragging rights and a nifty and very rare Bill and Andrew Show t-shirt. Observe…

Thanks to OnTapOnline for the picture!

Thanks to OnTapOnline for the picture!

Think you have what it takes to create a catchy theme song for the show? There are one of 2 ways you can participate.

1) If you have audio editing tools we suggest downloading the stems from the widget, mixing your own song and uploading it to Bill and Andrew’s “Theme Show Contest” widget. Take a listen to the songs already submitted to the “Theme Show Contest” on the front page of Bill and Andrew’s web site as well as on the front page of MixMatchMusic.com and the Remix Wizard gallery.

2) Go to Bill and Andrew’s profile on MixMatchMusic.com. Check out their uploaded content. Add it to the MixMaker. Collaborate with other artists to make a theme song. Download it and upload the song to the contest widget. This is what I did. Check it out HERE.

Good luck… happy mixing!!

Join B&A on Facebook.

To listen to episode 2.4 when the contest was introduced.

To listen to my favorite episode with Paul “The Man on the Street.”

Illa J Interview

Illa J

Illa J, the younger brother of hip-hop legend J Dilla, has stepped out on his own into the world of music with last week’s release of his debut album on Delicious Vinyl, Yancey Boys. I had a chance to catch up with Illa J last week and discuss his musical influences, working with Delicious Vinyl, making a recording studio from J Dilla’s equipment, and the importance of originality in music. Here’s what he had to say.

AC: What were you initial musical influences and where do you find most of the inspiration for your work?

IJ: Growing up, the first music I ever listened to was jazz. My Dad would always be playing the Manhattan Transfers and the Four Freshmen, so I got into it early. My early influences were Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and a lot of Soul early on.

AC: Is it true your parents were in a jazz a cappella group?

IJ: Yea, they had their own group. They used to practice in our living room at home for hours and hours, and that’s how I got my musical ear, because they sang so much I had no choice but to learn all the jazz chords.

AC: Talk about growing up the younger brother of one of hip-hop’s most well known producers. How did this hurt you and how did it help you?

IJ: I don’t think it hurt me in anyway. If anything, people because of that, the first thing they want to do is compare me to my brother. Honestly, I don’t even think about that. When I’m in the studio, I’m in the zone, it’s all about the music. At the end of the day, I was brought up around nothing but music and that’s in my blood lines. In my immediate family, pretty much everyone sings and everybody writes songs and are musicians, so it’s pretty normal in my household that someone can sing or play an instrument. So it’s really no pressure to me, I’m just doing my thing, having fun.

AC: So when did you first start formally performing in front of audiences and when did you actually make the decision that music was going to be your career?

IJ: I always knew from a young age that I was going to do music. I’d be in front of the TV, a video or something would be on and I’d act like I was singing, and I’d always be singing around the house. I always knew I was going to do music, I just didn’t know when. And after my brother passed, when you have a big loss like that, a lot of people when they have big losses, in a sense it gives them a whole new perspective on life. That’s what happened with me. To lose my bigger brother that soon, cause I didn’t expect to lose him at 32, that definitely changed my life from that day on. I knew before that, even midway through college, I kinda knew I was going to work in music, but after he passed, that’s when I dedicated my life to music, just do what’s in my blood, do my craft, and that’s pretty much how it started.

AC: I read in another interview you did that you liked Los Angeles because people were always getting stuff done. Do you still feel that way about the city and what in your mind stands out as the brightest part about LA?

IJ: Not necessarily getting things done… people get stuff done in Detroit too, but right now, Detroit is kinda crazy, especially with how the economy is. Out here, I feel that it’s a whole new city for me, and I feel a lot more relaxed. When I’m in Detroit, I feel that there’s a lot going on and so many distractions, but when I’m out here, I’m free to just stick to my craft.

AC: In terms of music that you created in Detroit vs. music that you created in Los Angeles, do you feel that there’s a big difference there in terms of what you’ve done with the different atmospheres?

IJ: Out here, I really got the chance to practice in the studio. Back in Detroit, at that time I didn’t have a studio, so I didn’t get the chance to be in the vocal booth to practice. I recorded a track in the studio with my brother when I was 13, but other than that I hadn’t recorded anything. When I’m in Detroit, I have a whole different mind state. In Detroit, it’s almost like walking down the street you’re watching your back every so many minutes. People can tell that I moved out here because I’m a lot more relaxed than I was in my music. When I first started recording, I was a lot more aggressive because in a sense it was like I wanted to get out. Now I’m a lot more relaxed in my music, and you can feel that I’m just letting go, not really forcing it and letting it flow in a sense.

AC: I heard that you built your own studio out in LA using your brother’s equipment. Talk about that studio, what of his equipment you’ve used, and how that process has worked for you.

IJ: I have my brother’s Digidesign Pro Control board, I have some of the racks, his C12 mic, and his MPC 3000 and of my own, I have a Motif and bass guitar. I’m working on getting another guitar and a drum set. (7:10)

AC: You’re signed to Delicious Vinyl which is known for producing some of the most well known hip-hop of the early ‘90s. Talk about your introduction to Mike Ross and what joining Delicious Vinyl was like for you.

IJ: The first time I met Mike Ross was in ’06 and the next time I met him after that was in March ’07. Around that time is when he gave me a CD with 38 tracks on it that my brother produced from ’95 to ’98. These were tracks that he was making while he was working with Pharcyde and also just doing remix stuff, Delicious Vinyl puts out a lot of remixes. Pretty much, at that time, he told me to just pick a track from there just to see what it sounded like because he was going to try to do a compilation of various artists that worked with my brother.

The next time I talked to him after that was in January of ’08. I was hitting him up cause I wrote this song and I was like, “You gotta hear this song.” At that time, I wasn’t even thinking of making an album with Delicious Vinyl, I was just gonna see if he could help me out in a sense and get out there and try to jump start my career, I just wanted him to hear the song. At that time I didn’t think I was going to do an album with him. He came over in February of ’08 and I played him the song on the Motif and he was like, “I like your voice,” and he wanted to hear some more joints, so I played him some more and he had me perform at this club a couple days after that, and it just happened to be on my brother’s birthday, February 7th, ‘08. After my performance he came up to me and was like, “You killed it, why don’t you just do the whole album?” That’s pretty much how the album started. As far as working with Delicious, it’s definitely dope. Pharcyde is one of my favorite groups, so I’m in the office looking at Pharcyde and Tone Loc and it’s funny to see my album up on the wall with them. Especially Delicious being where my brother kick started his career, it’s almost like everything came full circle.

AC: You mentioned the CD that Ross gave you with all the tracks your brother did from ’95-98. What was hearing this CD for the first time like and when you heard it, did it give you a specific idea of the direction you wanted your album to go in?

IJ: The first time I heard it, I had never heard the tracks before, and I really got a chance to listen to them, they really connected me back to ’95 as soon as I listened to it. It reminded me of the days that I’d sit on the stairs listening to my brother make tracks in the basement, and the sound he was making at that time. I was nine years old, so in a sense I had an instinct for what I wanted to do over them. They also have a lot of jazz chords, and that connected to me well because I was brought up on Jazz first so the minors, D7, changes, things like that I’m used to, so automatically I had a connection with the tracks and they fit my song writing style too. At the end of the day, my brother, even though he could write too, he was known more as a producer and I see myself as a singer/songwriter first before anything.

AC: Let’s talk about Yancey Boys. What was your vision for this album when you started and what was the process like in working on it?

IJ: For one thing, when you listen to the album, you hear the theme of time throughout the album. That’s because the original title for the album was going to be Timeless. I kinda wanted to make a timeless album, for example, so many of the old albums, Off the Wall, or Prince albums, when you listen to their stuff, it was made way back in the ‘80s and it’s still relevant today when you listen to it, you know what I mean? I didn’t want to necessarily try to make anything for the radio, cause there’s not really a single on the album, it’s an album, one complete piece of artwork. The tracks were from ’95, but I’m recording in 2008, so that connection and the fact that the music was still relevant today, that’s the tip I was going on. Mike Ross, he liked the Timeless idea, but he was like, “Yea, it’s timeless, but it’s so much more than that too,” cause he was really feeling it. When I would do shows, and my production company, to pay tribute to my brother and my family, I called it Yancey Boys. He was like, “Why don’t you call it Yancey Boys?” and it didn’t take too long to think about I was like, “Yea, that’s pretty dope.” And we went from there.

AC: What I like about this album is how laid back it is. You sit back and nod to it, you never feel overwhelmed by the album. Would you say that that’s a product of your personality, or were you specifically aiming for that and you see future albums going in a different direction?

IJ: Well the album is definitely laidback. One thing about this album is that when I wrote to it, as a songwriter, the music came first. So the beats and the tracks already had a laidback feel to it, and as a writer, it’s my job to let the music speak to me instead of me just writing my ideas over the beats, let the music speak to me because the tracks were already done.

AC: What’s your favorite track on the album and why?

IJ: My favorite track on the album is “Timeless.” On my Myspace page, I have joints on my page, but that was only stuff because I had nothing else to put up at that time, and I wasn’t going to put up my really good stuff on my page, so I just put up joints to keep stuff moving. At that time, I didn’t know if people were ready to hear where I was really going with the music because this album is really a true representation and my intro. This is truly my introduction and music that I feel represents me. “Timeless” was really an expression of me as an artist. It’s so full and the chords bring out the emotions, and that’s what I liked about it for me when I was writing it.

AC: There’s 14 tracks on Yancey Boys and you said you had 38 on the CD from Ross so are we looking at more albums in your future with other songs produced by your brother?

IJ: Maybe, it all depends on the track. A lot of people think that I just went off this with a lot of Dilla beats and was like, “I’ll do an album.” But I was actually working with other producers and was producing myself. I’ll only use my brother’s tracks if I feel it’s right. It’s gotta be the right track. I know that when he was in studio making tracks, even if you were in the studio with him, if he played a beat, you could like it or whatever, but it didn’t necessarily mean he was making that for you, he might just be making that for himself. I know my brother. By me doing this album, it means that I know my brother would be cool with it.

AC: We talked earlier about your initial musical influences. Who in the industry today, music wise, do you look at as a true talent?

IJ: Definitely Amy Winehouse. Her album, Back to Black, inspired me a lot. That album, in a sense, is timeless. You can’t really fit a particular era to it. You could play it way back in the day and it would still sound right.

AC: How do you see the current scene in hip-hop, what do you think is good about it, and what in your mind needs to be changed?

IJ: My main thing is pretty much when I was growing up, the artists I was looking up to, my favorite thing about artists was how unique his voice was or how unique her voice was. It’s about originality, being original. When Busta came out, it’s like nobody sounds like him, he’s got his own style. As long as it’s about being original, it should alright. At the end of the day, you can only be the best you you can be, I can only be the best Illa J, just like my brother is Dilla and he can only be Dilla, that’s him. As an artist, you can’t be afraid to be original, take a chance, and when I think I’m going super left field, at the same time, who’s to say how far you can go?

AC: One last question for you. I read in another interview that you would have liked to work on Michael Jackson‘s Off the Wall album. What album in the hip-hop genre would you have liked to have worked on and what album in your opinion stands out to you in terms of “greatest of all time?”

IJ: I kinda wish I had been working on it when my brother was making Welcome to Detroit. Also, his work with Slum Village.

AC: Anything you want to plug? Upcoming concert dates, releases?

IJ: I’ve got my release party out in Cali at the Little Temple in Santa Monica. That’s November 20th. I’ll be touring soon and check out my myspace page… Myspace.com/illajmusic. The album’s out in stores, go cop it.


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