Illa J

Review: Abstract Orchestra ‘Dilla’ + Illa J

February 1st saw the triumphant return of Abstract Orchestra to the O2 Academy, following a J Dilla special a year ago and their performance of Madvillainy in October. With very special guest Illa J, Dilla’s brother, serving as an additional gem on the lineup, we thought it’d be great to head down and be reminded how alive hip-hop is in Sheffield.

Despite having collaborated on new single ‘New Day’, out on February 23rd, this was the first time Abstract Orchestra and Illa J had met in person, but you wouldn’t have guessed it. A night of celebration was in-store from the off, with Zeeni and Tuesday Club resident Andy H laying down some fine cuts before Franz Von brought his drum ’n’ bass and hip-hop mashup live set to an energetic crowd. Illa J then stormed the stage with much presence, quickly reminding everyone of the royalty that was in the room by dropping a killer fact, Dilla’s and Illa’s father wrote ‘It’s A Shame’. Yes, the original. After gorgeous versions of Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’ and D’Angelo’s ‘Brown Sugar’ Illa looked in his element, his John Legend-esque singing voice and confidence glowing throughout. Multiple shoutouts for Detroit and Dilla himself received huge cheers from the crowd, and by the time Abstract Orchestra took to the stage to collaborate on Illa’s last song ‘7 Mile’ the energy in the room was palpable.

The 12 piece Orchestra – featuring several members of The Haggis Horns and Submotion Orchestra – flew through 19 of Dilla, effortlessly adapting his sampling to a full band setting. ‘Dilla Mix 2’ and ‘Love’ were simply euphoric, horns providing a glittering explosion of sound over the tight rhythm section, whose understanding of Dilla’s trademark hip-hop grooves was undoubtable. Classics ‘So Far to Go’ and ‘Won’t Do’ featured impressive vocals from Anna Uhuru of East Park Reggae Collective – while multiple appearances from rappers Micall Parknsun (regular Jehst collaborator), Joker Star took the set up a couple notches – before an emphatic return of Illa J to the stage added an element of authenticity to an already thoroughly powerful performance. Shout out to Sheffield’s hip-hop community for making the concert a wonderful tribute to the legend that is Dilla. Long may his legacy continue and bring on Children of Zeus in April!

Words: Leo Burrell
Photography: Blake Storm

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