When we meet for our interview, he's in good spirits, having just received a warm reception to his new album from the staff at Delicious Vinyl. They also gave him a stack of free records, which he sifts through giddily.
House Shoes, born Michael Buchanan, moved to L.A. from his native Detroit six years ago after the deaths of two of his close friends, D12 rapper Proof and Dilla. The night of Dilla's funeral, he says, he performed one of the most inspired sets of his career at Little Temple in Silver Lake, laying the groundwork for his future.
"Everyone was drinking a lot," he remembers. "It was really somber as hell, and I remember going up to the DJ and being like Jay wants me to play some records. I took a double shot of Hennessy and I don't remember nothing after that, but everybody said they had never ever seen me play like that in my life." The next day, friend and fellow DJ Waajeed told Shoes he'd "planted the seed," and he packed up for L.A. two months later.
House Shoes fell into DJing out of jealousy for the advance copies and promos his friends were acquiring. After being accused (falsely, he says) of arson and thrown out of Eastern Michigan University, he slept on a couch in the back of a nearby record store, spending the bulk of his leftover tuition on records. Shortly thereafter, he returned home to Detroit and picked up his first set of turntables.
After landing a weekly residency at Saint Andrews Hall, a Detroit landmark known for hosting everyone from Iggy Pop to Eminem, local artists began to take notice of House Shoes' expanding platform as a DJ. One of those local artists happened to be J Dilla, who he met in 1994 while working at Street Corner Music. "He was a cool cat that liked dope records and played me a tape that changed everything," he says of their initial encounter.
Maintaining a residency at Saint Andrews for nearly a decade, House Shoes says, he became a vessel for the burgeoning hip-hop scene in Detroit, Dilla being the focal point. "He just liked my passion for the shit he was making, and knowing the platform that I had, he was excited. I was basically breaking all the new shit in Detroit, and he would hit me every week," he explains.
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Eminem, who came home after his first national tour to Saint Andrews to find House Shoes playing a mix of his tracks from The Slim Shady LP. Excited to hear his music finding fans in his hometown, Eminem ran up on stage and carried the DJ around in celebration.
House Shoes kept up a working relationship with Dilla for years until an argument saw them briefly falling out. After lending Dilla a crate of records for a performance in Toronto, Shoes says, he attempted to reach out to him several times, starting to get desperate because he needed them back for his own upcoming show. While celebrating his daughter's birthday, Dilla finally called back but wasn't anxious to return the records, House Shoes says. An argument ensued over the phone, resulting in Dilla taking a jab at House Shoes on the classic Jaylib track "Strapped," featuring Guilty Simpson.