Exclusive: DJ House Shoes breaks down the personal meaning behind his album's title, the lack of unification within his home town of Detroit and his career's trajectory starting a new chapter.
As a figurehead on Detroit's Hip Hop mast, House Shoes (a/k/a DJ House Shoes) has played one of the most salient roles in the foundation and continual flourishing of the Motor City's underground scene before, during and since the wake of the legendary producer J. Dilla's untimely passing in 2006. Having departed his home's cold and grey climate for the more temperate Los Angeles, then going on to feel the sting of betrayal from former associates in the D, the title of his new album Let It Go seems appropriately thought out and well fitting.
House Shoes recently chatted at great length with HipHopDX in his routinely honest and brash fashion, pulling no punches regarding his role as the "Detroit ambassador of Hip Hop", his album Let It Go, and the aggressive determination to uphold Dilla's legacy where he sees others to have dropped the ball.
HipHopDX: How long have you been deejaying and producing and how did you get your start with both?
House Shoes: In sixth grade, we got out of school for the summer and I had five or six of the homies come through, I had a tapedeck with the one unit dual cassette, a stereo receiver and a turntable on top. That wasn't deejaying properly but I started deejaying on some real shit around '93 and I started making beats about the same time. The way I got into deejaying was one of my homies DJ O-Love, I always wanted to have the music first since sixth and seventh grade when I got into Hip Hop, I used calendars at the record stores to look at upcoming releases and I knew the release dates were every Tuesday.
Around 11th or 12th grade, I went over O's crib, he always deejayed parties and he had mad promo 12" that were released to deejay pools months and months before they would actually see a proper release. I got on that shit, started going to record stores and digging, got kicked out of Eastern Michigan University after three months due to fucking around, then I basically spent the balance of my tuition and book money on records and started deejaying at Saint Andrew's [famed music hall in Detroit] about four months after that in April of '94.
I got into beats because the first crew I was fucking with back home was called 31 Flavors. Beej was in that crew with another homie, Spot. They were the two main production cats in the crew, just making ridiculous shit on the four-track. I would borrow the four track for a couple of days, they had a 16 second sampler that ran off a nine volt battery and that's how it all started.
DX: Presently living in Los Angeles, how would you compare the scene to Detroit and is there anything you miss about Detroit?
House Shoes: There's a lot more unity in L.A., it's five or six times the size of Detroit so the scene is five or six times as large. It's a lot more solidarity and not just about doing for self. What I miss about Detroit is rocking for my core people, that's where I came from. I broke a lot of records and definitely have provided a lot of classic nights and events over the years, I kind of miss the innocence of what that shit used to be back in the day.
DX: You have a few personal meanings behind the title of your album Let It Go, tell me about that.
House Shoes: Yeah it's got a some layers to it. First and foremost, I'm not a workhorse producer like that, I do this for me at the end of the day. When I make a beat I'm making something that I want to hear, I'm not concerned about what the masses or anybody else wants to hear from me. I create what I want, the shit is real personal and I hold it close. I definitely don't have a super crazy discography, I've produced for pretty much everybody in the D but a lot of that music has just stayed in Detroit. So it's time to let the shit go, let my music out there into the world and see what it does.
Secondarily, I'm about to be 40 years old in a few years and it's definitely been a survivalist aspect economically to this shit for the majority of my career, and it's time to turn it into a money maker. I'm not trying to get rich or sell a million records, but I'm trying to do some numbers to take care of my family and if that shit don't happen I might have to figure something else out and let the music shit go.
Then there's the age old cliche on the flip side of that in the entertainment industry where it's super hard to have a family and keep a girl, I just said I might need to find something else but I really cant do shit else. I've been dedicating damn near my entire life to this music shit and if for whatever reasons wifey don't want to put up with the whole music shit anymore I might have to let my family go. At the end of the day this is what puts the roof over heads and pays the bills and puts food on the table, sometimes women have a hard time understanding that.
Above and beyond anything else, I've seen a lot of true colors from a lot of people that I've done my best and used my resources to take care of as much as possible over the last five to 10 years, definitely a lot of betrayal and backstabbing shit going on. So I had to stop doing charity holding hands and taking care of everybody. I got a family to take care of, it's time to let the charity shit go, take care of myself and my family and grow my brand to where it should have been grown years ago.
DX: What was your personal aim and vision for the album creatively?
House Shoes: Just to present myself, I kind of wanted it to be an educational piece which is why I got a lot of interludes [with associates discussing my impact]. Soul Survivor by Pete Rock was a very strong reference point for the album. A lot of cats knew who Pete was back in the day but for those that didn't he had the little interviews with O.G. cats talking about his work and what he's done. It was an introduction to those that didn't know and a reintroduction to those that did know that he was on his own shit, there was no more Pete & C.L. [Smooth], it was just him.
I wanted a proper representation of myself musically and the album turned out to be a little more broad than I expected, which I'm very happy with. You got the grimy joints, the more emotional type shit, a couple R&B joints on there, and I wanted to let those know who don't know who House Shoes is musically and personally. For those that do know, I wanted to give them what they've been waiting for and in my opinion it's in the vein of traditionally classic Hip-Hop albums.
DX: A minute ago you spoke on the lack of unification and solidarity in Detroit, where would you say that stems from?
House Shoes: Detroit is a divided-ass city, some cats are doing things to try and unify the shit but one of the reasons that the music we create out of that city is so strong is the independence. With me when I create, I do it for myself, when Black Milk gets on the [Akai] MPC [drum machine] he's making what he wants to hear, when [J.] Dilla was doing it he was doing what he wanted to hear. It is what it is, I'm not saying that's good or bad because we don't need to be on no hippie hand-holding shit wearing rose colored glasses. It's just the reality of the world, we're all grown now and just doing what the fuck we do. I don't think Detroit's Hip Hop scene will ever be even somewhat unified, everyone wants to get those accolades by themselves and that just is what it is.
DX: Do you think there is anything that can be done to unify or save the scene?
House Shoes: Musically there aint shit wrong with it. I moved to L.A. because I took care of Detroit for damn near 15 years above and beyond taking care of myself. I was responsible to the city over myself, helping everybody else grow their brands. The only problem is the scene itself with Hip Hop events and the like, no one back home could take those reins after I left. There was no one else that really gave a fuck about live events where people could go, let off steam, hear good music and be around good people. So I don't anything is ever going to be done to take it back to where it used to be.
DX: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
House Shoes: Putting this record out Tuesday June 19th 2012, that was the highlight of my career. To finally let my shit out into the world and it's being very well received, that and the fact that I've been blessed with the position to have represented Detroit and connected a lot of dots along with breaking a lot of records and touring the world playing dope shit for dope people.
DX: You haven't hesitated on Twitter with verbalizing your feelings on the recently released J Dilla Rebirth Of Detroit album. A lot of people who have heard it haven't been too happy with it, have you heard it and what are your exact thoughts on how it was put together?
House Shoes: I heard the record, and honestly when I first heard it I was kind of upset but after a couple more listens it's not that bad of a record. There's definitely some highlights and great verses from some talented artists, but there's not really any strong full songs, it sounds like a mixtape.
Basically the cat that put that shit together, Jonathan Taylor, is a joker. I've known him for damn near 20 years and I'll keep it completely 100 with you, he cut me a check in 1996. He was sitting on a little paper back then, he's maybe 10 to 12 years older than me, he was a Jazz head with a great Jazz collection and he would come to the record shop because he respected my passion for music. I went over his crib one day, he asked how much money I needed to get some shit popping, he wrote me a check for like $8,000 and I bought my first MPC3000 and put out the Jay Dee Unreleased EP which is one of the holy grails of the Dilla vinyl shit.
J.T. saw an opportunity doing the shit that I was doing for years and he called me out the blue about a year ago on some wild shit like "House Shoes, Ma Dukes is riding around with a donut on her car" and in the back of my mind I'm like "What the fuck you know about some Ma Dukes' shit?" He never listened to Dilla shit, we were roommates for a few years and after I got him into Hip Hop he really loved the Wu-Tang Clan, he aint want to fuck with nothing but The RZA. So he called me up random as hell and then called me back a week later like "Shoes, we doing the rebirth of Detroit, we gonna unify the city and I need all the unheard Dilla beats." All that beat tape shit done made the rounds on the net for years, I was like "There really ain't gonna be no shit that's gonna be brand new, but I'll go through all my shit and pick you the top 20 illest joints that no one's ever recorded on."
I gave him a list of cats that should be on the record and left it that. I said "As y'all record these songs, send them to me and let me help A&R the shit because I know what Dilla would have wanted to go down. He was like, "Nah, dont worry about that, I got this. You should have been done this." I told him, "You aint ready for this, you don't know nothing about no Dilla shit or making records. You're just a fan, so be prepared." We got off the phone, I sent him a zip file with 20 beats, he called the next day asking for five more beats and I sent five more.
Then I went to Australia for a week, came back and all this shit was buzzing about me selling Dilla beats on the Internet, having 10,000 unreleased Dilla beats, and never really taking care of Ma Dukes. Then were rumors about me saying she would have to pay me for all of Dilla's music, all this hoe-ass shit. People were talking all this shit online really trying to shit on my reputation when I'm the motherfucker that's done all the motherfucking work since Jay passed. I promised Ma Dukes at Dilla's funeral that I would hold shit down, period, from keeping the music safe to policing the Internet shit with motherfuckers putting up links and giving shit away. February turned into the cash-cow Dilla month for promoters all around the world, I would hit up promoters and give them Ma Dukes' number and have them speak with her to make sure they sent that money to her. I would tell them "This ain't something for you to make money off of, this is for the family to make money off of, they have bills and rent all that type of shit to be taken care of," for years, I did that.
So Ma Dukes ended up throwing me under the bus as well, I got a phone call one day from a friend saying "Shoes, I just went to the meet and greet for the rebirth project and Ma Dukes told me you refused to give her Dilla's music without being paid for it and that you've never really given her any money." I done raised probably over [$50,000] for Ma Dukes and given thousands out of my own pocket, so that was the nail in the coffin.
If I give you the 20 most viable beats, Jay is gone and there ain't no more Dilla beats coming through the pipeline except for what's here. I gave you the 20 hottest joints and you made a disposable-ass mixtape out of it with some good highlights and some great artists on there, there's definitely been more than a few people that shouldn't be involved and if Dilla was still here he never would have done no Rebirth Of Detroit album. He was over that Detroit shit, that's why he moved to L.A., he was over struggling to get love and respect from the city. They don't give a fuck about that shit, Detroit don't want to hear no Dilla, Black Milk, House Shoes, none of that. It's a regular-ass city, they want to hear Rick Ross, Gucci Mane and all that shit.
Then the cover of the [Rebirth Of Detroit] record is so fucking horrible, that shit looks like a children's bedtime story or some shit. If he was still here and a record label came to him like "Hey, this is the cover for your album," he'd be like "Man, you better get the fuck outta here with that shit." If you're gonna be doing shit with Dilla's music, the number one most important factor is staying true to what he would have done.
I definitely vent on Twitter, I talk my shit because it's my Twitter and I can do whatever the fuck I want. I was at the crib thinking about it and I went on Twitter like, "My mother knows I make music, but she don't know a damn thing else besides that." I can very strongly tell you that if I leave this earth tomorrow, I don't want her in charge of any of that shit, I want all my boys who I fucked with on a regular basis and my core circle to be in charge because they know what I created and have a strong knowledge of the music that I have on deck. They know how I would like that shit to be presented to the world, that's the most important thing.
DX: You're known for being outspoken and never holding your tongue with your views, is that your personality or does hailing from Detroit play a role in that?
House Shoes: Detroit is the most cold and honest city, with the music we got that truly represents us there ain't no yes-men around. If Black [Milk] played me some shit tomorrow and it was decent, I'd be like "Man, that shit is decent, but you could probably do better." Honesty is the best policy, there's nothing more detrimental in life, music or the entertainment game than somebody blowing smoke up your ass because they're glad to be around you, that's the only way an artist will be better.
For example back in the day when I was at Saint Andrew's every Friday night for damn near 10 years, a lot of my homies made records and never got burn from me in the club because the shit wasn't hot. They would bring me the record and I would listen to it like "Man, I can't play this shit, it aint hot." You could be my best friend and it don't matter, one of two things is gonna happen, you're gonna get sensitive because you can't take criticism and you'll call me a hater or you're gonna go back to the fucking studio and make a better record. I can't bite my tongue, ain't nothing to be gained by coddling a motherfucker.
DX: What would you like your legacy to be when it's all said and done?
House Shoes: I definitely respect and appreciate the badge I've been given as the Detroit ambassador of Hip Hop, I deserve that. I don't think that anybody else has been as responsible or cared as much about presenting the greatest artists that we have to offer to the world, but it's a box. I painted myself into a corner just by repping so hard for Dilla for so many years, cats just think that's all I play. You come to the club to hear me spin for four hours and you're gonna hear every fucking kind of music except Country and Classical, it's a journey and I'm taking you on a ride the whole night. I appreciate the Detroit ambassador label and it's probably going to stick with me permanently, but just know you can't put House Shoes in a box.
As for my legacy, first and foremost they're going to say, "House Shoes was an asshole, [laughs] but if you're down with him he was a great man that very passionately displayed and exposed the greatest music possible to the greatest people in the world."
DX: What do you have planned over the next year?
House Shoes: I'll be touring in support of the album and I have a daughter coming in August so I'm focused on supporting my family and I'm ready to get started on making the next couple of records. The floodgates are open and Let It Go is going to be the first album of many more to come.