You may not always like what House Shoes has to say, but he certainly commands your respect. The sharp-tongued DJ and producer is known for calling out lame trends and fake rappers; for starters, he put rapper Charles Hamilton's career on life support in 2009 after the latter lied about his album being produced by J Dilla. (Oddly enough, House Shoes himself had beef with the legendary Detroit beatmaker at one point; more on that later.)
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.
Recalling the first time he heard the song, Shoes says, “I was mad as fuck at him because I introduced Jay to Guilty. One of the first songs they did was “Strapped,” so he had it looking like Guilty being on the song with him was dissing me.” Looking back on it nearly a decade later, Shoes simply laughs, adding, “He was perfect in everything he did.” The two sorted out their differences in 2005, shortly before Dilla passed away from complications of lupus and a rare blood disease. House Shoes released an acclaimed mix of original J Dilla samples titled The King James Version in 2009.
Dilla's influence on House Shoes is still readily apparent on his debut album Let It Go, out on Tuesday. Dusty soul samples are looped and chopped in to vibrant beats, rapped over by a who's who of underground rappers, including Danny Brown, Black Milk, Oh No and Roc Marciano. The album is a culmination of all of House Shoes' production work dating back to the late 1990s. Asked why he waited so long to put out an album, Shoes says he was too focused on propelling other people's brands rather than his own. With a 3-year-old son and a daughter on the way, he says, he won't make the same mistake again and is anxious to release more music in the future.
He's been softening up on new artists in recent years though. Scrolling through his iTunes library, he takes a second to praise L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar, who he refers to as a “beacon of hope.” Discussing oddball rapper Danny Brown, he says “Danny is the new D in Detroit, and that's coming from a stubborn old man.” Rather than staying insular in his listening habits like most purists, House Shoes is excited about the new wave of hip-hop artists. Like a true DJ, he says, “The same shit is cool as long as it's executed in a good fashion, but push the envelope. Expose me to some shit that's gonna change my train of thought.”
House Shoes celebrates his album release w/ the Alchemist, M.E.D., Oh No, Shafiq Husayn and special guests on Monday, June 18 at the Del Monte Speakeasy, as well as Tuesday, June 19 at Amoeba Records.