[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
You don't have to listen to House Shoes, but you probably should. If hip-hop had a United Nations, he would be the ambassador from Detroit: raw, skeptical, unwilling to stomach any side-winding geopolitical fuckery.
Since relocating to Los Angeles five years ago, the man born Michael Buchanan has become one of the city's best free-agent acquisitions, regularly spinning at low-key soul wax nights and feverishly crowded beat functions like Low End Theory and the Do-Over. His Twitter bio is mostly accurate: DJ, producer, curator, mentor, assassin. He's the DJ as bruising power forward, adding necessary grit and rarely falling for pump fakes.
“If you're a DJ and you only play hits, you have nothing to offer. Fuck all the robots. If I go to the club and it's the same as listening to the radio, who fucking cares,” Shoes says, sipping a Tsingtao beer at a café a few blocks from his Koreatown home. “I don't give a fuck about turning up. I'll turn your shit off.”
This mentality was finely tuned during the latter half of the '90s and early '00s at St. Andrews Hall in Detroit, the legendary hip-hop mecca graced by every great Motown rapper of the era: J Dilla, Slum Village, Eminem. We briefly talk about the time that he played Tupac's “Hit 'Em Up,” stopped the needle, broke the record and put on Notorious B.I.G.'s “Unbelievable.” The next week, the club got shot up in retaliation.
“Love me or hate me, you have to respect me,” Shoes, 38, says with a laugh. His head is shaved and his beard is grown out to match his “don't give a fuck” temperament. When he gear shifts between “fuckboy genocide” to talking about his devotion to his two young children, it almost reminds you of Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad.
“Al I have is my family and this rap shit,” Shoes says.
His approach to hip-hop is similarly paternal. The caustic streak is rooted in a love and respect for the art form, one so thorough that it sounds corny to talk about. His latest venture is a label, Street Corner Music, named after the record shop in Detroit where he started working 20 years ago.
“My girl went back to school for a semester, so I was on straight-up daddy duty at the crib all day,” he says. “I got real antsy and had to do something.”
[That something was curating “The Gift,” a free series of soulful instrumental beat records from largely obscure but excellent young producers (Dert, Nameless, Tuamie). It started online-only, but Shoes recently contracted with Fat Beats to release limited-edition runs of vinyl.
“I'm putting out records for people who deserve to have their music tangibly documented,” Shoes says.
Thus far, the albums have been exclusively instrumental, but for Record Store Day, he's releasing superlative Detroit rapper Danny Brown's debut, Hot Soup, for the first time on wax. His release schedule is packed with 15-plus records, slotted well into next April. All stripes of music will be released, provided they meet his discerning ear.
“It's a physical documentation of my personal taste, and I honestly believe that I have some of the most exceptional taste in music,” Shoes says. “No politics. I'll put out some opera shit if I think it's all that. If you see my name on something I co-sign, it's all heat. And if you don't like it, you just don't like good shit.”