One of the most respected DJs to grace the Bay Area, Miguel
Escobedo has been manning the decks for over two decades. The
resident DJ for San Francisco's Rock the Bells tour stop, he's one
of the most sought out vinyl spinners when national artists are
looking for local support.
Coming up in the game with fellow homeboys the Beat Junkies and
Sake 1 at hip hop's peak in the 1990's, Mr. E, as he's known,
recently sat down for a Q&A session at his restaurant, Papalote
(the man can make bomb Mexican food and salsa to die for) to
discuss his past and the future state of hip-hop. -- Jackie
When did you start?
In 1984. When I was 14 I'd just gotten
into break dancing in San Rafael. I got more into the music side
when I saw the Herby Hancock video, "Rockit". That's the first time
I saw someone doing scratching. I started doing stuff on a home
Fischer stereo and hooked up with DJs in Marin and started getting
to DJing. In 1987, I got my first set of turntables, my first sound
system, 1200's, a mixer, and speakers.
Let's hear a little more about your background. Where do most
people know you from?
In 1985, I DJed at a 21 and up club in
Mill Valley. That was my first time DJing in a club for more then
ten people. This one housed 400. It was called Heartbreak.
In 1990, I entered a DJ contest in Marin at the Terralinda Mall and
won. And then in 1991, I moved to Santa Barbara did an 18 and up
hip hop night called Bassmint on Wednesday nights for four years
straight. And then from Santa Barbara I moved to Seattle and DJed
there for another four years, and then I came back to the bay.
A promoter from SF heard me DJ in Santa Rosa, where I lived for a
couple of years. She got me a tryout at Decco in 1997. And then I
started promoting and DJing and doing Da Joint -- which is the
party I finally ended earlier this year. What is that...10 years of
Da Joint? It started at Rawhide then moved to Border Cantina, which
is now Icon, and then it ended at Milk, where our longest run
I've brought a lot of world famous and local DJs [to San Francisco]
and I've DJed in pretty much every club in the city. In 1999, I
opened restaurants with my brother called Papalote. That won a lot
of awards.... And then in 2004, I started Papalote Hi Fi Reggae
Sound with Mark Clarin.
In the city, I've done Rock the Bells for four years in a row. I've
worked with True Skool, Massive Selector, Distortion 2 Static,
Triple Threat DJs, the Beat Junkies, the Executioners, the Rub,
Local 1200, Jah Warrior Hi Fi Shelter, Mos Def, KRS 1, ?uestlove,
Grand Master Flash, De la Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Sister Nancy,
Collie Buddz, 5th Platoon, Talib Kwali, etc etc etc. Want me to
keep on going? (laughs).
I think they've got the picture. What kind of music do you
I'm currently into reggae, but I started out spinning
breaks, hip hop, and electro.
Where can I find you spinning now?
I have a residency at
Temple two Saturdays a month, and every first Saturday at 222 Hyde
for my new party called Sleng Teng, and I still hold various
bookings throughout the city.
Favorite spot to spin at and why?
My favorite DJ booth is
the main room at 1015 Folsom because it's very well thought out.
The DJ booth has its own bathroom! My favorite spot to DJ at is 222
Hyde. They have a great sound system and great vibes.
Favorite albums right now so we can upload them on our iTunes.
Q-Tip's new one that just came out is good, The Renaissance; Babu's
Duck Season 3; oh and listen to mix cds.
Speaking of which, favorite spot to buy music?
at Ernie b's online. Favorite wax is Groove Merchant Records on
Haight Street. Amoeba's still good.
What's your favorite thing to do in San Francisco?
days, go with my kids to Golden Gate Park. When I'm hanging out,
and not DJing, I like to play pool at dive bars in the city. And go
to Giants games....I'd go to all of them if I could.
What's the rarest record you got a hold of?
45's took a lot of digging for me to find; a lot of them are very
rare and I had to do a lot of research to get them. I never got
into the whole funk 45 game because they're so lavishly expensive!
There are a few records that I've lost. I had my whole vinyl
collection stolen in 2004 out of my car while moving: a lot of
common 12 inches that aren't so common anymore were hard to find
and get back.
Some favorite places to listen to music in the city?
Currently, a lot of parties have moved away from emphasizing music
and so no place excites me musically. But before, you could go to
Beat Lounge at Decco. Now that was the place where you went to hear
music. Anytime Jah Warrior -- or most reggae DJs -- when they're
spinning roots, reggae, and culture, I like that a lot. The last
time I really got excited about anyone's set was at Doin it in the
Park, the earlier half when Swiftrockand Shred One were on. I like
cats like J Rocc because he sticks to his guns all the time. Most
of the times when Sake plays he's pushing new stuff [that's] good
to hear at his various parties.
You've been in the scene for so long, how has the hip-hop
culture changed in your point of view?
When I started, hip-hop
was fresh and new in the Bay, and very original. There was a clear
line between performers, between DJs, the artists, and the
The main change has been that now through the means of Web sites
such as Myspace and Facebook, most artists are now promoters, which
has inundated the scene with similar events every weekend, and
therefore diluted the agility of hip-hop events. A lot of people
are still into the music, but more driven by money, and anytime
that's the case, it tends to really take value from the whole
hip-hop music scene.
Musically, I think that the hip-hop scene got detoured a lot by the
"hyphy movement" but currently I think the general hip-hop listener
likes back pack hip-hop, hyphy hip-hop, commercial hip-hop. Back in
the day, the lines were pretty drawn against the back pack and
radio crowd. It's a good thing that it's not [like that]
There's people like Paulskee and Mighty 4 that have always stuck to
their guns and have stayed true to their roots. But that wasn't
always necessarily the popular choice. I admire people that stay
true to the four basic elements of hip-hop. Hopefully, those four
basic elements are gonna be a revival with our new generation.
So can the hip-hop scene ever go back to the way it used to
I think it will never be the way it used to be. I hope it
once again becomes a positive voice of the youth and something
that's more uplifting and inspiring and not so much a commercial
tool, that form of glorifying materialism.
Which is why you went to reggae?
The reason I went to reggae
is because it spoke to me more spiritually. The message drove me
more, called me in more than anything coming in from hip-hop.
Musically, it's a new challenge. With hip-hop, you have to know
your roots. With reggae, I'm not so concerned about what's new and
hot; I want to learn and educate myself on the roots and foundation
of reggae music.
Fair enough, where do you hear good reggae then?
Shelter's mix tapes are an excellent source of hearing great reggae
of all kinds (roots, culture, gangsta tunes, remixes.) Sundays
nights at the Shattuck Down Low in Berkeley; Wednesday nights at
Bruno's; Mondays at Skylark; various live events at Pier 23. And of
course, first Saturdays at 222 Hyde.
You went down to Mexico assigned for a gig recently with Beat
Junkie's Shortkut. How was that?
That was the most amazing DJ
experience I could ever think about. It was just crazy how I was
born in Mexico City and then when I moved here almost immediately I
fell in love with the hip-hop culture and became a DJ -- then,
throughout the years, I've [been lead] back to DJ in Mexico City
with one of the DJs I look up to the most -- and a great friend --
Shortkut. That whole experience was pretty amazing.
The crowd was surprisingly knowledgeable and really into the real
hip-hop scene. We were there for one of the major holidays in
Mexico City, Dia de los Muertos, which is the Day of the Dead. So
we were there for that and I saw a lot of alters and festivals with
hundreds of people. I went to my grandparent's cemetery too. That
was amazing to get to do that.
What's your pet peeve as a DJ?
One of my pet peeves, and I'm
sure this is a pet peeve for most disc jockeys, is untimely
requests..... or requests in general. We learn to deal with that
situation. Shady promoters are the biggest pet peeve in the scene.
People pimp'n the scene, trying to get rich on it and gambling on
it instead of doing business.
What do you tell the next generation [of DJs]?
Go to school,
eat right, say your prayers. But seriously, I'm gonna tell my son
to have an open mind, to understand where things come from, and to
respect the past of things such as music and the history behind it
and be original and be a leader.
All Shook Down, SF Weekly (12/5/2008)