Detroit’s House Shoes Speaks on J Dilla, Local Scene and New Project
Over the years, the Detroit hip-hop scene has given us artists like mainstream stars including Eminem and Big Sean, street legends like Royce Da 5’9” and arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all time, James “J Dilla” Yancy. While those names are familiar, Michael “House Shoes” Buchanan remains unrecognizable to many. However, if it weren’t for House Shoes (who got the nickname from wearing house shoes damn near everywhere he went) and his selfless efforts since 1994 there may not be a hip-hop community in Detroit for us to gush over. The quick witted, sharp tongued producer and DJ has long played the background in order for hip-hop’s version of Motown to develop but now it is his time to step up and show the world what he’s all about with his long awaited debut album Let It Go. In a sit down with Life+Ttimes, House Shoes explains how he was bestowed the title “Detroit’s Hip Hop Ambassador,” why it took him 18 years to put out an album, his relationship with J Dilla and the evolution of the music industry from vinyl to mp3.
Life+Times: How did you get the title “Detroit’s Hip Hop Ambassador?”
House Shoes: I always provided for the Detroit scene above my own needs. I’ve used my platform to expose the best music the city had to offer. I definitely appreciate the title but every title leads to you being put in a box. I don’t just play Detroit shit.
L+T: Detroit is well respected outside of the city for its presence but what is it like on the inside?
HS: I’ve caught some heat for saying this. It’s a regular ass city of followers who are about whatever is hot. Detroit does not embrace the artists that have represented for this city and it has forced a lot of us to not really give a fuck. We don’t make music for the city or to make money. We make music because that’s what we do and we do it better than damn near anyone else.
L+T: In a day and age where a sound specific to a particular is no more, Detroit still is distinct in its vibe. Why do you think that is?
HS: We do what we do but we’re not cheerleaders for hip-hop. It just so happens that the music we create falls into that genre. We’re not concerned with what everyone else wants to hear. I don’t make music for some chick that spent $150 to get her hair done. I make music for my peers and elders. I don’t make music for the kids. I’m not trying to be the teacher; although that’s what happens. I rock for the 30-somethings. If other people like it, that’s cool. But we’re not reaching for new listeners.
L+T: How did you meet J Dilla and what made him special?
HS: We met in 1994 while I was working at Street Corner Music. He was looking for records and we struck up a conversation. After work I linked up with him and I got in his white Ford Ranger and he popped this tape in. That shit changed the whole game. It was just like the first time I heard hip-hop. It was the best shit that I ever heard and it was from my city. We had to cram it down the throats of as many people as possible.
He was a scientist and was put on this earth to create music. When Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s Mecca & The Soul Brother came out, that changed the whole landscape of hip-hop for me. But when Dilla came on the scene it was the next level. Before I heard Dilla, Pete Rock was Jesus Christ to me. It’s funny how Dilla has come to be the greatest influence on his own greatest influences. He could do what any producer could do and 99% of the time he could do it better. But when you flip the coin, they couldn’t do what he did. All these amazing beats were done in 15 minutes. The first beat I ever saw him make was “Get A Hold” off of [A Tribe Called Quest’s] Beats, Rhymes & Life album. Imagine that being the first beat you saw someone make? What’s more crazy is that he did it in 12 minutes and was getting frustrated because it was taking too long.
L+T: You’ve been DJing and making beats since vinyl and cassettes, what are your thoughts on this generations and how they create and consume music?
HS: It’s progression for better or worse. I don’t feel that people respect music anymore. People don’t think they should buy music anymore. At the same time, why should they? There’s 60 blogs with 60 songs a day. I hate that shit. A hard drive isn’t a music collection. It’s virtual. I need something I can touch. I have 10,000 records but if you have 10,000 songs on your hard drive and you drop it, you have nothing.
L+T: Why do an album now?
HS: Over the last year my eyes were opened to a lot of people that I had helped. I’m tired of doing charity for everyone else so it was time to let go of this charity shit and let go of this music. That’s where the title came from.
L+T: You brought together a wide range of talent on this album. How did you decide who to put on the album?
HS: I’m a DJ first and I can tell you that a DJ/producer will always make a better album than a producer because one of the lost arts is making an album that flows and makes sense. I built the album with no vocals and sequenced it. Then I went back and decided who I wanted over what beat.
L+T: What’s your favorite song on the album?
HS: “Castles” because it’s easy to make some dope street shit that makes you want to punch someone in the face but to make a record that you can play for somebody and have them break down in tears is a whole different story. We created that song for Jovan “J1” Coleman (drummer of Dam Funk’s Master Blaster trio) but it’s grown to mean so much more. It’s J1, Dilla and Proof. It elicits emotion. My homies that are tough guys broke down in tears. That’s the power of music.
L+T: What’s the impression you want to leave on this industry.
HS: A lot of people think I’m an asshole, and I definitely can be an asshole, and at the end of the day that’s probably what I’m most well known for. I just want to bring honesty back. If there’s one thing we are lacking in 2012, it’s honesty and I’m trying to represent that in music.