It’s possible to run a victory lap on your debut LP. Here, however, with Let It Go we have that case with some unique circumstances. This isn’t a cocky young gun claiming he’s the second coming of Rakim on his first single. We have in House Shoes (real name Michael Buchanan) a Detroit-bred DJ/producer who collaborated and argued with J Dilla and has been shouldering the spirit of his roughed up city and channeling it through a turntable with abstract and complex samples for well over a decade. This record is the summation of a career’s worth of paying your dues well over. Recently Buchanan has been in a self-imposed exile spinning in Los Angeles and spreading the good gospel of Detroit music to the land of silicon and maybe, just like Joyce who could only write about Dublin when he was nowhere near it, House Shoes is better tapped into the heart of his city because of that distance.
Because there’s no mistake about it: Let It Go holds the essence of Detroit hip-hop even if it was composed a thousand miles away. It lays out a foundation of old school soul samples stretched out to the point of tension and cut up to bring out the menace when appropriate, balancing the underground and the familiar with snippets of jazz and film excerpts that range from Goodfellas to Knocked Up. On first listen it’s clear that this is a thick record–the production billows out and expands like a dark purple haze engulfing a Motown house party. There are dozens of featured rappers that populate the album, from heavyweights like Danny Brown and Black Milk to relative unknowns like Moe Dirdee and Fatt Father whom somehow become hulks under the guidance of our man of the hour. House Shoes reigns as the wizard behind the curtain, much like MF DOOM on his 2003 side-project-turned-watershed Take Me To Your Leader. Buchanan is always present in the fabric of this record, but he’s never self-aggrandizing. He’s honest about his importance to his community, but more importantly he emphasizes his dedication to his craft. He does so not only through testimonials from his peers, but in his confident sampling and production. If it’s impressive on the first listen, by the fifth it’s clear that this record is the latest entry to a burgeoning hip-hop Renaissance.
“Sweet”, is the showcase House Shoes provides for Detroit co-patriot Danny Brown–a peak on an album littered with strokes of hip-hop modernism. Evil and invigorating, the track has the two complimenting one another like Scorcese and De Niro in Taxi Driver with House Shoes directing the scene in the darkness. Alternately, “Everything (Modern Family)” provides a ray of light in the black projects of the record, lamenting the fate of families that disintegrate in the face of urban poverty while keeping a drop of faith in the healing power of love. The track’s coda provides the bittersweet heartbreak by sampling an out-of-tune school choir singing the Beach Boys’, “God only knows what I’d be without you”. Sustained by swells of violins, it’s equal parts faith and sadness, mirroring the resolve and struggle of the current state of Detroit.
In the tradition of most great hip-hop, Let it Go has the collision of the past and present, the reflection individual in the community and the community in the individual, the simultaneous fusion and dissipation of the self that occurs with the creation of music. Cut from the cloth of the likes of J Dilla and DJ Shadow, Let It Go exists in the midnight hour of a crippled city that has a back that’s strong enough to shoulder the load of hip-hop’s most crucial artistic aspirations.