When a great unsung artist passes the world feels that loss in stages. The first to feel the shock are those closest to the center, they are the family, friends, and colleagues. They understand the work and are left picking up the pieces, putting together a history that will later be presented. Those works are then sifted through and weighed out for consumption by the business world. They are box set-ed, remastered, and limited edition-ed for the public with the hope that over time the artist will get their due public praise (and someone somewhere will make a buck). This is the case with the late producer James Yancey (also known as J-Dilla or Jay Dee). Championed for his signature swinging drum pattern and an extensive catalogue of work with artists ranging from a Tribe Called Quest to Janet Jackson, Jay Dee died tragically at what seemed to be the very moment when things we're going to take off for him. Posthumously his family, friends, and colleagues began to sort through what was an astonishing amount of material and out of this process the world learned about DJ House Shoes. Hailing from Detroit, House Shoes has been referred to as the cities hip hop ambassador. Passionate about the culture and quick to set the record straight, House Shoes has been a real champion of the late Jay Dee releasing dj mixes of all original sample material along side his own music on newly formed label Street Corner Music. A music historian, family man, and world renowned as a DJ, House Shoes keeps his hands in a lot of things and is constantly on the move. With a new music series highlighting underground talent entitled "The Gift" , House Shoes is doing what he does best in 2014, documenting art and having fun while doing it.
What was it like growing up in Detroit? How did you first get exposed to DJ culture?
I grew up in Southfield which borders Detroit on the north and west side... I was first exposed thru the OGs like Jam Master Jay, Cash Money, Mr Mixx,
The Wizard (Jeff Mills),The Electrifying Mojo, Jazzy Jeff, and Dj Premier.
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue it?
I had been collecting records since I was about 7 years old, but when I went over my man O-Love's crib in high school, he had mad unreleased joints on vinyl. I always had the drive to be the first to get up on new releases then spread them to my friends as early as 6th grade. When I saw that the labels dropped white labels months in advance of proper release it lit a new fire and had me in the shops 4-5 days a week looking for new joints. I began playing records on WSHJ, our school districts radio station.
When did you first meet the Slum Village guys?
I met J while working at Street Corner Music in 1994. Met Baatin around the same time at St Andrews Hall as he was one of many talented dancers who would get busy every Friday at 3 floors of fun where I dj'd. Can't remember the place I met T3 but I know it was either 'Drews or in the basement at J's crib...
Can you talk about what the Detroit scene was like pre J-88? Were folks up on Dilla?
I had been familiar with Detroit's hip hop scene since 89/90. From Esham to Detroit's Most Wanted to Kaos and Mystro... The inner circle of the scene were hip to J with the early placements he had and the release of the Fantastic Vol. 1 tape. The city as a whole never really took notice though. We were outcasts, misfits if you will.
It seems like Dilla tribute parties are popping up everywhere these days. How does that strike you? Is it a good thing, or are folks bandwagoning and missing the point?
There are a few who do it with integrity, but for the most part it's a cash cow for promoters. I play Dilla shit every time I play and have for damn near 20 yrs. the concept of a month for Dilla is cute to me. When is Beatles month? Or Coltrane month? Hendrix month?
If you would take one thing from Detroit and plop it in LA what would it be?
LAFAYETTE CONEY ISLAND. Or Guilty Simpson.
When did you first meet Mayer Hawthorne? We're you guys friendly before LA?
I met Haircut when he was djing and producing for Athletic Mic League, a crew from Ann Arbor outside of Detroit. They were always dope. Late 90's. Drew was always mad talented whether it be on the beats, cuts or singing on hooks of their records.
How's life on the road? Any horror stories?
The road is good. It's an honor and a blessing to be able to travel the world and play the music I love... The downside is being away from my family. Thank god for FaceTime. The horror stories come pre-Serato, having records destroyed by negligent baggage handlers. Lost a lot of heat.
How do you handle song requests?
Now that you can download an ipad app and become a "DJ" and folks can rip samples directly from youtube to make beats what separates you and your records from the next kid in line?
At the end of the day, all that matters is that you make heat. I don't care if you got a trashcan and some chicken bones. If it's fresh that's all that counts.
What do you have planned for this year? What's keeping you pushed?
This year is all about Street Corner Music, my new label named after my record shop alma mater. Finally going full steam ahead with the releases. I started a series called The Gift on my site, Djhouseshoes.com, showcasing what I deem as the new drop of producers. With limited vinyl releases along with a gang of other projects from Danny Brown, to Knxledge, to Jimetta Rose, I have a release schedule reaching well into 2015. I'm having fun with it. Nothing is more important to me than the physical documentation of great art and I'm blessed to have built the platform.