Photo Credit: Kai Sutton
The way DJ House Shoes describes the music he loves tells you almost everything you need to know about him. Beats aren’t beats, they’re slaps and hammers. Aggressive chunks of sound that leave your jaw hanging off the hinges on impact. Maybe it’s a byproduct of his Detroit origins, one of America’s oldest industrial cities. Hard conditions leaked into the music like old motor oil, but somehow the local alchemists turned it into something of value. Motown’s soul legacy is undeniable, but its hip-hop lineage is something else. And the man born Michael Buchanan knows more about that than anybody.
DJ House Shoes aka Uncle Shoes grew up in Southfield, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit. He got his nickname from a pair of LB Evans slippers he refused to take off when he was in college at Eastern Michigan University. So it’s probably no surprise that his academic career there was short-lived. But music was an extra curricular he was committed to. He was in a group called Emixo, a branch of a crew called Laswunzout, and his boys Lowkey and Zo helped him get his DJ career off the ground.
“When I got kicked out of Eastern Michigan I was living at the crib for a while. I started spending all my money on records because I had money left over after getting kicked out of school. So Lowkey gave me a turntable and Zo gave me a turntable and one of the homeys let me hold a mixer and I was just practicing in my bedroom.”
If Marv from Sin City were a DJ he’d be House Shoes. Extremely protective, especially when it comes to hip-hop. Loyal to a fault, he wears the bumps and bruises dished out by the music industry like tribal scars. And frankly, they just don’t make ‘em like him anymore. When Shoes tells stories you can almost hear the crackle of vinyl in his voice. He uses expletives to keep time. ‘Motherfucker’ is the zga-zga of the record going back and forth. He drops the word ‘shit’ like a snare. But when he’s going to work on the beats he’s masterful. In fact, one of his decade old compositions just became the lead single “The Introduction” to his late friend J-Dilla’s long overdue solo album, The Diary finally being released on Mass Appeal Records. The project began back in the Clinton era when Jay Dee had his label Mcnasty Records via MCA. The song is an exclamation point for House Shoes, who has spent the last few years building up his label Street Corner Music, a stockpile of sample-based analog treats designed to survive the musical apocalypse.
With today being the release of J-Dilla’s The Diary, it seemed appropriate to share the first part of our very informative interview where DJ House Shoes, who has made L.A. his home for the last ten years, shares how “The Introduction” record came to be and what it feels like to finally have the song released.
WATCHLOUD: The release of Dilla’s “The Introduction” this year is a real full circle moment for you. You’re celebrating a pretty big milestone in October.
DJ House Shoes: The first record that I ever put out was in 1996. There were a bunch of remixes that labels had fronted on from Jay Dee. So we did this joint called the Jay Dee Unreleased EP. It was like 7 remixes. When the records came in I had to go out to the UPS store out at the airport to pick them up. I had a white Ford Escort station wagon, motherfuckers used to call it the The Hip-Hop Wagon. My shit was scraping because I had like 1500 records, which adds up to either 50 30-pound boxes or 30 50-pound boxes. I don’t know how I made that shit happen, but it was scraping all the way home. I got to the crib and I hit up Jay. ‘I got the records come through.’ We in my room in my folks crib. This was ’96 so I was 21. My Mom comes in and pops a bottle of champagne with Jay. I was like mom you are wilin’ right now. She was always supportive of everything I’ve done. God bless her.
And now the world has finally heard one of your first collabs, “The Introduction.” What do you remember about making that record with Jay Dee?
Jay had the MCA label Mcnasty records, the deal was through MCA and motherfuckers was really excited to finally get his own situation with a major record label having all of those assets and budgets to play with to basically do whatever the fuck he wants. I basically introduced Madlib to Dilla’s music— to Jay Dee’s music. He was DJing for the Alcoholiks at a show in The D back in like ’95 or ’96 and I picked them all up. I actually took them to Street Corner Music, funny enough. They wanted to go diggin’ and shit. They wanted to get some forties and we went back to the tour bus and I played them a Jay Dee beat tape for the first time and he was trippin’. It was the batch that had the “Stakes Is High” beat on it. And when that beat came on Madlib said “That’s crazy, I just chopped that shit up the other day.” [They] was always like kindred spirits even though they had no personal connection to each other.
Fast forward like maybe two years and the Lootpack album came out. Jay always wanted me to hit him up when it was some shit that came to the record shop. He wanted to hear all the new shit, wanted to get inspiration. So whenever the heat came to the shop I’d hit him up and that Lootpack shit folded him. I ain’t never seen him react to hearing another hip-hop record like that. He was open.
So when the MCA shit happened it was crazy how everything came 360. I linked them up and Madlib and Wolf came out for the first time and we smoked like a million blunts, went to the strip club. That record he built was nuts, with him having all of his greatest influences involved and rapping on they shit. He asked me to come through and play some beats. And I never played J none of my beats. What would happen is if I made a beat at the crib and it came out dope, but I thought he could do it better, I would take the records to him. There were a lot of records that I had given him over the years. But I came over with a 60-minute Maxell cassette tape, the old clear ones with the red shit on them. I went over to his crib in Clinton Township, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit.
His studio was in the basement but we didn’t even go down to the basement, we was sitting in the living room and he put it in the stereo system immediately. I thought I was just gonna drop it off but the mufucka put the tape in and press play! I was like fuck, we gonna do this now? The crazy shit is “The Introduction” beat was the very last beat on the tape. The last beat on side B. So I had to sit there for an hour with the greatest mother fucker of all time, who is my homie, but still the greatest motherfucker of all time, just judging you. One joint would come on and he’d be like “That’s cool” but it didn’t break that glass ceiling to where he was like “Yeah, that’s the shit.” Other joints would illicit a snicker, but that last beat came on…it was probably a 6 bar intro and then the drums drop. I’d say about 10 bars in he was like “Bring that to Studio A tomorrow. Track it out. I’ll have a check for you by the end of the week.”
I went out and tracked it out in studio A with Todd Farrel the next day. The check came at the end of the week and I was fuckin’ geeked. You ain’t gotta pay me for shit. I gotta beat on the greatest motherfucker’s record of all times. Fantastic. So then I started feeling myself a little bit [Laughs]. Not necessarily on some super arrogant shit but I was like if I got one, I can get another one. Fuck dat. So I went back to the crib and got back on the MP for like a week. Maybe 5 or 6 days. Went back to his crib and played him like five more beats. And he picked another one, another little flip that was kinda crazy, but unfortunately didn’t make the record. He was like “track that shit out” and sent a check for that.
But then things fell apart, the whole dissolution where MCA was dissolved into Geffen. Hi-Tek and Snoop had deals, Dilla had a deal. I think Snoop’s deal might have bled over into Geffen but Dilla and Hi-Tek both lost their shit. This was like 2001 or 2002. Fast forward about 10 years later. I had never heard the joint. The last time I heard anything involved with that song Jay told me to come to the studio because he replayed the sample. He just wanted to play me the beat and kind of get my blessing on the replay. It was crazy because he played like 14 tracks of synths to duplicate the original sample. I never heard the vocals or nothin’ but then Jay Rocc played me the shit like maybe 5 or 6 years ago and cracked my fuckin’ head open how he flipped Tip’s verse at the beginning. It’s so 360 degrees of life because Tip was his greatest inspiration. Tip and Pete (Rock) were his greatest inspirations. Jay was the best and I was just like the young homey, the mule that he gave all the dope to and I put the shit in the streets. And I began working on music under him. So to have me produce a joint for him where he’s fuckin mimickin one of Tip’s most well known verses for the intro to the shit is fuckin crazy. And then when they dropped the shit for the single? Are you fuckin crazy? I didn’t know nothin about that shit. I been working with Egon for the last two years just on some A&R shit so I know what that record was supposed to be.
Where were you when you found out the song was finally coming out?
I guess the universe really does take care of shit some time. I wake up and I’m about to go to Denver to do a gig and I got the fuckin’ single off my man’s last record. Fuck all the Frankenstein records. This is Jay’s hands and his heart and soul on this record. I was there. I saw the shit so it’s mind blowing.
I’ve been playing this joint at my gigs for the last 6 or 7 years so it’s been a private circle of motherfuckers that have known it but until it’s released to the world it doesn’t exist. So it’s been like a little secret that I’ve been carrying with me for like the last 15 years. And the fact that the world has finally heard it and accepted it with flying colors, it just leads me once again to feel very well resolved in the fact that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
Next week in Part 2 House Shoes gives a beat-by-beat breakdown of his entire Street Corner Music Catalogue, how his series “The Gift” gave light to new talent and why his music will outlive the roaches after a nuclear war.