Rapper J-Billion on Being a Bay Area Lakers Fan, Getting His Own Burrito at Papalote, and Running S.F. for a Day
Pairing San Francisco rhymer J-Billion's high-strung, tactile rapping voice and beatmaker Rel's sophisticated, soulful production was a good idea. Together, the duo have just released the free download album MVMNT, which is headed up by the first single "Once in a Lifetime." The song features the soothing vocals of the Honor Roll Crew's 1-O.A.K. on the hook, and comes with a video shot entirely inside the Fulton Street location of award-winning S.F. burrito haven Papalote. In celebration of the project, J-Billion took time out from asserting his NBA Live credentials on Xbox Live to talk about his plans to get a J-Billion Special on the menu at Papalote's, growing up in Hunters Point, and what he'd do if he became San Francisco's mayor for a day.
What have you been up to today?
I'm just playing some NBA Live.
Are you any good at the game?
Oh, yeah, I'm pretty good. I'd rate myself probably an 8.5. Can't say I'm perfect at it, or a 10, 'cause there's always something you need to learn about the game. You can find me on Xbox Live -- I'm Billy Ocean, ha ha!
Do you ever play against any other hip-hop artists?
No, I haven't, not yet. I'm usually trying to get up against the gamers; the artists are usually recording -- they usually don't wanna play!
What team do you play as?
I roll as the Lakers. It's pretty hard being a Bay Area Lakers fan!
You shot the video to your song "Once in a Lifetime" at Papalote. How did that come about?
[Executive chef Miguel Escobedo] is a good friend of mine, so he was gracious enough to let us use his Fulton Street location for the video. I've been going there probably about three years. I used to go to a place near my high school, but then just through friends I ended up meeting Miguel, and it just took off from their through natural progression and we shot the video there. The food is wonderful, by the way -- it's definitely one of the best burrito spots in San Francisco.
What makes the food at Papalote so good?
I feel like it's his ingredients. They're all fresh -- wherever they get their ingredients from has as distinct taste. And they have this special salsa that they're popular for; this Papalote salsa that makes everything taste awesomer. I don't know if that's a word -- awesomer -- but that's what it tastes like!
So what do you usually order when you go to Papalote?
I'm a simple dude: I get a burrito with refried beans, a little bit of sour cream, and rice. I don't go for the meat burritos -- it's like a little superstition I had since as a kid. Always beans and rice. It's awesome though -- that's the Billion Special! I'ma ask him if he can name that the Billion Special!
Whereabouts in San Francisco did you grow up then?
I grew up in Hunters Point. Born and raised, I been here, I'm a native, a local who's been here all my life. I've been fortunate enough to travel around the nation, but this is always my home spot. I never go too long without being in my home.
What was growing up in Hunters Point like?
I had a pretty fun childhood growing up. From birth to age seven I was out here in San Francisco, then until [I was] 14 years old, I moved to Vallejo. Most of my adolescence, like from ages seven to 14, I had the best time as a kid, I was killing it. It's rough over here, but if you're from here, it's not that rough here, it's like normal life -- you learn to adapt and survive in what some would call a rough neighborhood.
What are the biggest changes you've seen in Hunters Point since those days?
Due to just the natural progression of life you definitely got a different demographic of people staying here. It used to be a lot of black, but now it's starting to filter out and become a lot more diverse, which is good 'cause it allows the cultures to live together and learn about each other. Now, I feel like a lot of people don't even know their neighbors -- back in the day you'd know everyone on either side of you.
Did you have any memorable neighbors while growing up?
Yeah, I actually had what I guess you could say was the girl-next-door thing! Yeah, I actually had a girl-next-door that I liked! And then she moved! She was like a relative of my neighbors who was visiting, and then she moved. I seen her as a kid, like when you see a girl you like as a kid, but I never thought I'd see her again. But she moved back when she was of age, around her 20s, and we dated. I actually had the girl-next-door pan out for me.
How long did you date her?
Maybe like two years. It wasn't too long -- it was that lifestyle!
If you were made mayor of San Francisco for a day, what would your first act in office be?
The first thing I would do would be to build like a huge cultural center, like somewhere kids would be able to come from all over the Bay Area and have access to a lot of technology that I feel the youth really don't have access to now. I feel like if you don't know anything, if you -- how can I phrase this -- if you never know that there's other things out there, you have no way of experiencing them. I think that a lot of kids, primarily from the ghettos, they don't know there's more out there 'cause they never leave the 'hood. I want to build like a megacenter where it would be like Toys "R" Us and Gold's Gym and just everything together to learn and create and access the artistic side of things, which I think is not taught in school these days. I mean, we had gym and art class when I was a kid, but I feel like America isn't putting the emphasis on education these days. Man, that was superdeep! I felt like at first I'd say just build a big-ass video arcade ... I guess that would probably be cooler!