Words and photos by DJ Theory (pic #1 provided by Mr.E)
Who’s lovers rock mixtape is this playing in this Mexican restaurant? And who brought these out-of this world burritos to the club???
Anyone remotely familiar with San Francisco can easily attest to 2 prominent features of this city: The first is an abundance of Taqueria’s (and Mexican food in general) and the second is an overwhelming amount of nightlife and DJ’s. Within those two categories, there lies an entity in a class all it’s own…introducing Papalote Mexican Grill, and Papalote Hi-Fi, a reggae/hip hop/all around good music DJ crew consisting of Miguel Escobedo (DJ Mr. E) and selector Mark Clarin (DJ M. Clarin). Together these two DJ’s have been serving up the choicest cuts in the club for well over 10 years, selecting for crowds with as wide of a taste in music and they have for food. A night of golden era Hip Hop can easily be sandwiched with a night of Sade and nu-soul, and an evening full of slaughtering dubplates nobody could ever see coming.
When he’s not mixing up recipes at the club, Mr. E can be easily be found in the kitchen at one of the 2 Papalote locations in SF (I’m sure he’d be at both simultaneously if it were humanly possible) creating fresh, inspiring and healthy Mexican dishes for the fine people of SF to enjoy…. a LOT. As owner (along with partners Jodi and brother Victor) Escobedo’s goal with Papalote is to carry on the traditions of his family and culture, as well as provide the people of SF with the highest grade of Mexican food and ingredients available. Now in its 11th year in business, Papalote is consistently handed awards for it’s champion burritos, and to prove their worth even further, they challenged celebrity chef Bobby Flay to a throwdown on national TV for his hit show on Food Network (throwdown w/ Bobby Flay) and came out on top!
If there was ever to be an official ‘burrito-clash’ this was surely it, and Papalote stood strong with their proven secret weapons, deserving of a massive forward from Mr. Flay himself. Bahmm Bahm Bahmm!!!!!
I recently sat down with Mr. E at his flagship Papalote restaurant in the Mission District to discuss “the clash”, his connection to reggae music, the importance of good food for the people, and why he still has the same love for SF he did back in ’84.
Large Up (LU): Congratulations on winning the clash!!!
Escobedo (E): (laughs) thanks brotha!! We definitely showed em how it’s done, and Bobby just couldn’t withstand the “Triple Threat” (burrito named after the famous Triple Threat DJ crew consisting of SF DJ’s Apollo, Vinroc & Shortkut).
LU: Well you guys definitely deserve it, when’s the next re-run?
E: Cinco De Mayo!!! (on Food Network)
LU: Have you seen an increase in popularity after the throwdown aired?
E: Well, we used to sell about 2 Triple Threat burritos a month….and after the throwdown we were moving around 400 a day!
LU: Whoa! Hustle we a hustle! Give the people some quick background of your DJ career in SF
E: I started DJing when I was 13 in San Rafael, CA. I’m originally from Mexico City, and I moved to CA in 1980. Hip Hop was the first music I was exposed to here, and the guys around my neighborhood were really into breakdancing and stuff. My friends were talking about this music and dance style from New York and told me to check it out, and I really got into it. Early Dr. Dre and Herbie Hancock “Rockit” really got me into the DJ’ing element of it. In ’89-’90, I worked with a group called Friday Night Live, which was a group that created alternative activities drug- and alcohol-free for teens. I was a counselor and also DJed most of their events. A bit later I was became part of a legendary event called “Beat Lounge” at Club Deco.
E: Well, It was legendary because it highlighted and served as training ground for all the Bay-Area turntablists that are now world famous like QBert, Mixmaster Mike, Apollo and Shortkut. They would get their jam sessions on downstairs and DJ’s and scratch-enthusiasts travelled literally the globe over to bear witness.
LU: Sounds legendary indeed. You still have a strong relationship with a lot of those guys right?
E: Yeah, we’ve had a great relationship personally and professionally, and definitely the only burrito I’ve named after anyone. (laughs) That Beat Lounge party was truly a historic event. It was 2 floors, scratch sessions in basement, and the upstairs was more party rockin (after scratch session) and that’s where I got to play. Imagine 50 people packed into a basement smoking heavy trees and listening to these dudes further the art form every session. People from all over the world would pilgrimage to that night… in that circle of DJ’s it was that major, which is why those DJ’s still thrive outside the US – because they’re the original article. They’re the monk, the miles, the Hendrix of our time. They’re that important, and will go down in history as innovators of our culture.
LU: So you started in hip hop, when and how did your attraction to reggae become so strong? And also, growing up in Mexico City do you see any connections between Mexican culture and that of the Caribbean?
E: Both cultures emphasize family and the unity of community, I would say more so than USA. For me, I find that the cultures and similarities in music intertwine a lot. In terms of the food, it’s usually created using what little you have. That goes for both cultures, as well as the confines of a small restaurant. Reggae music and spirituality came very naturally to me, as I felt that it complimented what I was already aspiring to be, as well as helped me connect with music on more of a spiritual level. I think it spoke more directly to a point of view I was approaching in life: one love, community, good living, etc. Still to this day, I’m trying to play catch up with learning about the past and its roots, and just when I think I got hold on things new doors open. Hip Hop was getting way too commercial, and the love was being taken out of the music. When you start to make too much money off of something, it starts to lose it’s soul…people try to pimp it and don’t give anything back. It’s extremely important to keep the message alive and give back to the community, and I think it’s going to take another generation of artists to keep pushing the message forward.
LU: I can imagine it wasn’t too hard to come up with a name for the Reggae soundsystem?
E: No, that came pretty naturally as well. (laughs) When I started playing more reggae, the reggae community started calling me “Papalote” because they knew me from the restaurant. A lot of my Rasta friends and artists passing through SF would come to Papalote for the vegetarian/ital/vegan and fish options we served, something you wouldn’t traditionally find on a Mexican menu. Also “Papalote” means kite, and kites fly high….an all-too appropriate relation to the huge ganja culture here in the bay. Basically a techno DJ from Detroit (M.Clarin) met a hip hop DJ from Mexico City (myself) and we both got taken on a ride from Jah Warrior Shelter (a Bay Area champion sound consisting of Jah Yzer, Ivier, Irie Dole & Rocker-T) to true reggae culture from a DJ/selector perspective. When the restaurant first opened, I can safely say with no doubt that if it hadn’t been for music, DJ’ing and ganja…I would’ve met my demise from the pressure and hours spent. Reggae is definitely a huge part of my daily life.
CLICK HERE to download all of DJ MR. E’s mixtapes online for FREE!!!!
You can also find him @ SOM for “The Foundation” every 1st Saturday (recommended)
If you’re in SF and want a real burrito, you have hundreds of choices…but really only TWO!
3409 24th st & Valencia in the heart of The Mission district (415) 970 8815
Papalote 2: 1777 Fulton st & Masonic in the Western Addition (415) 776 0106