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 Lopez
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 was.
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 spin? 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.
What's your favorite thing to do in San Francisco? On sunny 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? Various reggae 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 promoters.
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] anymore.
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 be? 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? Jah Warrior 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.