Remains of the Day Pt. 1: Detroit’s DJ House Shoes Talks Love, Loss, and Letting Go (of Dilla and Proof)


2006 was a year of devastating loss for Detroit Hip-Hop. The sudden but anticipated death of James “J. Dilla” Yancey on February 10, propelled the city’s small Hip-Hop community into a torrent of grief. However, two months later, when DeShaun “Proof” Holton was gunned down at an after-hours club in early morning hours of April 11, grief was too small a word to express the shock that resonated throughout a community. The remnants of that shock remains today, echoing inside empty venues, reflected in the eyes of hometown artists, and depriving a community of its very best friend.

That was the impact that these men had on the small Detroit Hip-Hop community. These few hundred men and women who grew up together, learning and loving this industry together, most with a shared history that extends 20 or so years, of battling a larger city that wouldn’t accept or acknowledge its contributions to music. It is from this small community of people that Eminem, Royce Da 5’9”, Black Milk, and many more artists honed their skills and influenced them to become the artists that they are today.

Within the Detroit Hip-Hop community, House Shoes played an integral part for over 20 years. A DJ at the legendary St. Andrews Hall, as well as numerous other Detroit music venues, “Shoes,” as he is affectionately known, broke records by Detroit artists, and connected countless people and dots with amazing results.

It was Shoes who introduced Guilty Simpson to J. Dilla. It was Shoes who first broke Danny Brown’s music at Northern Lights Lounge. For years, Shoes worked in Detroit for little to no pay, helping others, producing music for free, spinning for next to nothing until 2006, when he experienced his own transition and moved to Los Angeles, and started a family, with a daughter on the way and a three-year old son appropriately named, James DeShaun.

DJ House Shoes recently talked to about his new album, Let It Go, and what it means to stay true to Detroit while finally being true to himself: Shoes, my brother, tell me about the album.

House Shoes: I think it’s kind of unique in the way that it’s not a compilation; it’s my album in that the motherfu*kers on it are speaking for me. It doesn’t just sound like a collection of songs that somebody produced and just got somebody to rap on. It’s a really good record in my opinion, and I don’t listen to my music like it’s just my music. I listen to my music like it’s something that somebody is putting me up on, very critically. It’s getting pretty good reviews, and I’m feeling pretty good about the momentum that we have going on right now. I know you did compilations before. What’s the difference?

House Shoes: A compilation is just a collection of pre-existing songs that are gathered and presented. It’s a lost art to creating an album that makes sense structurally and with continuity. I really think that I did that; there are interludes between every song that sort of weaves the whole album together. There are no dead spots; it just keeps moving, one thing leads to the next. I did a damn good job, Biba. [laughter] You did. So, what was the motivation behind saying, “I’m gonna do my first album.”

House Shoes: Pretty much that it’s time to do me, man. I’ve been taking care of other people for way too long and not focusing on my own priorities and not prioritizing myself. What was the motivation behind the title?

House Shoes: The motivation behind the title is the same as the motivation behind the album – just letting go of the past, letting go of all the charity work that I’ve been doing for years. Catching up on all the lost time. I don’t know how to do anything else, but I’m about to be 40 years old, and if this sh*t don’t start turning into something a lot more economically beneficial for me, I might have to let this sh*t go – even though I don’t know what else I would do. It’s some grown man rap situations at the end of the day. How did you choose who to put on the record? You’ve got Danny Brown and Black Milk on the album, artists who are pretty well-known, and some lesser known cats like Moe Dirdee and Fatt Father.

House Shoes: Those are all people that I have personal relationships with. I’m kind of a coach; I f*ck with the players on my team. I can create a lot of magic with just the people in my circle. Let’s talk about home. We both happen to be people who were a part of the same community that left Detroit. How have things been for you since you left Detroit?

House Shoes: Hmm. I’ve been to Europe about six times, New Zealand, Australia two or three times, Korea, and I never went out of the country once before I left Detroit. I had that Detroit tunnel vision, trying to get your city to love you, and Detroit ain’t no Hip-Hop city. That’s that struggle and that battle there. And, plus, perspective. Realizing that life is bigger than the block; it’s bigger than your city. I went out to California, I got a family, I have a beautiful son, I have a daughter on the way, I have a highly attractive mate [laughter]. Sh*t’s good, man.

Check out Part Two of our exclusive interview with DJ House Shoes tomorrow. Let It Go is available on iTunes and other music retailers.

Follow him on Twitter (@HouseShoes).