New Radio show
When Detroit native John Derek Yancey, better known as Illa J, released his third album, Home, in 2017 on the Cologne/Berlin-based label Jakarta, it was partly an act of self-affirmation for the rapper-slash-singer. As the younger brother of hip hop legend J Dilla, who tragically passed away in 2006, the 32-year-old artist has spent much of his career in the shadow of his illustrious sibling – even playing a bit-part role in Slum Village after Dilla’s death.
Around 2014, he eventually parted with the crew and moved to Montreal where he would hone his artistic skillset, free from the influence of his native Detroit peers. On returning to his hometown, he went straight to the studio, where he recorded “Home.” It was a record that would see him step out of his brother’s shadow for the first time, showcasing his talent not simply as a rapper, but as an accomplished, ambitious vocalist. “Home” comprises of the soothing, soulful loops you might expect considering his family history, but it’s one in which bars take a backseat. “Rap is easy,” he shrugs when we meet him in Basel on a rare day off during his recent tour through Europe. “When you sing it is all more precise. You really choose the words carefully.”
In last November, he released his latest album, the eponymously titled John Yancey. It’s one which oscillates more sharply between R&B and hip hop, delivering twelve songs of wispy vocals, like those on “Home,” and the breathless raps of his earlier work.
Now Los Angeles-based, has selected some tunes that DJ Glenn Astro put together to showcase the eclectic nature of Illa J’s work, from that raw rap talent shown on his first album – the 2008 release Yancey Boys – to a more mature, mellow artist a decade on. As always, we also sat down with the artist, to discuss music, family, his hometown and why people from Detroit have such a special affinity for Prince.