As genre-themed parties pop off for DJs around the world, Kelvin Castellanos aka Knowpa Slaps has quietly built one of the best in the United States with his monthly, “R&B and Ribs”. The San Francisco based event has featured heavyweights like J. Espinosa, Jazzy Jeff and SoSuperSam, and has flooded Instagram timelines with clips of adoring fans partying intently to good food and great DJing.
We linked up with the former chef-turned-DJ to discuss his journey from kitchen to cuttin’, and how he steadily built the R&B party that every DJ wants to play.
People may not know you’re a former chef. Can you walk me through that transformation?
I didn’t start DJing until I was in my early twenties. Chefs and cooks are some of the most overworked and underpaid people so most of my time was spent in the kitchen.
Once I got my first sous chef job, it was the first time in my life I felt like I was making a sustainable income and I used that first paycheck to buy two turntables and a mixer.
From then on I worked all day in the kitchen and practiced DJing at night.
What made you start R&B and Ribs versus working the traditional role of a DJ, spinning for different spots and clients?
I’ve always been a big fan of parties like The Do-Over and Everyday People, and at the time, I was like, “Hey, I’m probably not gonna get booked for any of those anytime soon,” so I thought, “Let me try to find a way to combine both of my worlds together.”
I thought, “I live in San Francisco…I have a lot of chef friends…I have a lot of DJ friends…let me try to bring them together,” and we just kind of did it.
And as soon as I thought about it, even before we originally named it R&B and Ribs, we did like this little daytime barbecue. I forget what we even called it, but there was food, and I remember after I was just driving one day and thought, “Wait, R&B and Ribs.” That was in my head for some reason, and it made sense.
How long has the party been running?
We started it in 2018 at a different venue, and it kinda started building up with a good amount of industry people that came out on Sunday as it was their day off. Around 2019, we started to gain more of a buzz, and 2020 was supposed to be our year, and then, you know, the whole world stopped.
Then we did a little streaming throughout the pandemic, which was cool, and once everything started opening back up, it started picking up more and more.
Was the move always “R&B” and ribs, or did you consider other genres?
No, I never considered any other. But I need to really think about how to say this because I think sometimes one of the challenges is that people think that R&B has to be nineties throwbacks.
But R&B is so much more than that. Like all of these R&B-inspired sounds. You know, that could be some soul, some house, even funk and disco. There’s really a lot that you can do with R&B that’s not just TLC and Ginuwine.
I also tell everybody, “Go off, play some rap if you want, but always bring it back.”
Like, if you’re gonna play one really turn-up ratchet rap song, make sure that you play two really big R&B songs after that.
For example, Rcade did this amazing mix this past Sunday where he played Waka Flocka “No Hands”, which you know everyone would be like, “That’s not fucking R&B!”, but he literally played it for like 15 seconds, and then he looped where Waka says “All that ass, in those jeans,” and he dropped Ginuwine “In Those Jeans” and I was like, that was fucking amazing. The way he did it was so perfect, and it’s shit like that that gets you as a DJ to be creative and have fun with the genre.
What were early days of the party like?
It was probably like 20 old ladies that showed up after church and demanded that I play Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. The early days, it was like 11 of my really good friends and a buddy who was also a DJ, and he got in my head early about being like, “If you want to have a good party, you have to put in work to bring people out. You can’t just expect to put a flier on your IG story and expect people to come.”
And I feel like that’s like the best advice I’ve ever gotten because, as DJs we all do that, right? We’re all like, “Hey, I’m DJing here, pull up,” and nowadays when everyone is doom scrolling all day, nobody is paying any attention to that.
So he taught me how to make wheat paste (which was cool because I was still working in the kitchen) and I was able to make it at work, just making hella wheat paste. And then, the week before the party, we would just go bomb the entire city with these huge flyers trying to get people to come out.
And I really felt like because the name was unique and the branding was very much like, “Yo, what is this picture of some turntables with some ribs on it?” it kind of drew people’s attention as they were biking, or if they were driving. And we would try to be strategic about the places that we put these flyers up.
I have to say that that was a huge part of the success of the party. And the coolest thing about it was that the same people kept coming back. So I was like, “OK, we’re doing something right”. Because you can get people to come one time because maybe you tricked them into thinking that there’s some cool shit happening, but if they had a bad time, then they’re not gonna come back. But instantly, the same people started coming back and bringing more people with them.
The crowd is so dope. I watch clips from the party and see they know the music so well. How did you create such a vibe?
I think number one is the music, right? R&B just makes you wanna vibe. Second, it’s a Sunday during the day and things kind of move a little bit slower on a Sunday.
I have a hard time taking a lot of credit and being like, “Yo, it’s because I did this.” You know, I never really like to boast, but I have to say that I’m very proud of the way that I curate the lineups and the way that I sprinkle myself in there. My laptop stays plugged in the entire time. I’ll open it up and kind of set the vibe, and then I’ll usually have a younger DJ come on early, and I try to guide them with what vibe we have, and then I might play a little bit more before the other DJ.
And I think everybody as DJs understands the role. It’s really cool because I only book people that I think are dope. I think I’ve said this before, but I’m a fan of DJ culture first.
For the rest of the year, I have all the lineups already made, and I know where everyone’s gonna be at, what time, etc., because I’m a fan of them first, and I know what time slot they’re gonna do their thing, and it’s gonna work really well.
Why do you book younger DJs to open?
I mean, I want to book DJs that I’m a fan of obviously, like, you know, some bigger cats, some dope local cats that I’ve looked up to for a long time, but also, it’s important to put younger people on. Just because you’re young doesn’t mean that you’re not as good yet. You just need more practice. But all these young DJs that I’m booking, I’m also a fan of theirs as well, and I like their selection, you know, and it’s been really cool seeing them progress in their craft as well.
I love that. It’s like this connectivity with the DJ community and culture beyond just the party itself, right?
Definitely. That’s the number one most important thing. You know, I feel the pressure now of everybody being in my ear, and you know, like the first thing you said when we got on was like, “Yo, this seems like one of the biggest parties in the country,” and you’re not the first person to say that. So, I just want to make sure that we maintain that consistency. And it’s just like always making sure I take a step back and remember what I wanted to do when I first started the party and not just not let it get to my head. But I know as it gets bigger, there’s just more pressure.
Who are your favorite guest DJs at R&B and Ribs?
RCADE is just so dope. He’s a good friend, and he’s also just an incredible DJ, and he’s gotten to play the party twice now. One of my favorites out in San Diego is Spinnie Cooper. She’s dope, just a really, really good selector. Shawn Looney from here in the bay as well has played an incredible set, and Nick Davis out of Kansas City played a really dope set.
What’s the future of R&B and Ribs? We see what DJ Moma has done with Everyday People, now taking it around the world. Do you have aspirations towards that?
Everyday People is my biggest inspiration, and Moma as well.
So, yes, I would love to take it to other places, and we already got to do that a little bit this year, but I am being careful about not just saying yes to anything because there’s been a couple of different markets that have reached out that I’m just like, I’m not gonna do it just because it’s money in my pocket.
It has to make sense, and I feel like the venue has to be dope. El Rio is one of our core spots.
It’s basically a historic gay bar with a beautiful backyard, and it’s a safe space for everyone. As soon as people come in, even if they’ve never been there before, you can tell that you’re in a special place and you need to behave. There’s signs everywhere that are like, “This is what we don’t allow here,” and these are our “codes of conduct”
And I do that, too. I get on the mic throughout the day and say, “Yo, I know it can get crowded in here at times, so let’s look out for each other and treat everyone with respect, say excuse me as you’re going through the crowd.”
So if we’re gonna do it in different cities, I have to feel really confident that the venue is gonna be cool and that the people that work there and own it and run it are also good people.
It’s just like anyone can go there and be themselves, and that’s important to me. I don’t want to do it at some spot that just has some overaggressive security that’s just power-tripping on everything.
So I’m being very careful about where we do it without growing too fast.
There’s definitely many cities I would love to do it in, like Mexico City. I would love to do Tokyo. I would love to do LA as well. We have done San Diego, and we’re gonna do it again in October. And then somewhere along the East Coast would be dope as well.
But yeah, for some reason, Mexico City and Tokyo are top of my list. I’m not always the type of person that’s like, “Yo, good job, Kelvin, look around, take a pat on the back,” but I think that if we ever did any of those cities, I’d be like, “All right, Kelvin, this is dope, take a second to look around.”
We’re helping you bring R&B and Ribs to Vancouver next weekend. What can the Vancouver edition expect?
I mean, just a really good time. Really dope R&B songs mixed with a little bit of rap. I think “Ratchet R&B” is the term that these parties are using nowadays.
And you know, one thing I didn’t really touch on earlier is that I have a partner at the SF edition of the party named Eric. He’s my really good chef friend, and he handles all the food. He’s basically like the culinary director, and his job is to find some dope chef or somebody that’s cooking good food because he knows a lot of people throughout the country.
So even when we did SXSW, he found the chef that we partnered with down there. And that’s been our motto: if Eric can’t do it, then we want to partner with some really cool chefs, local restaurants, and local cooks. You know, following the same ethos of, like, looking out for the community. So DJ Marvel told me about this great spot in Vancouver, and they’re gonna be doing the ribs. So it’s gonna be a little pre-party, and then they’re gonna have some ribs at the actual event as well.
Beatsource, DJcity and Knowpa Slaps bring R&B and Ribs to Vancouver’s Fortune Sound Club on Saturday, September 30, with support from DJs Marvel and Seko.
Book your tickets.
Still hungry? Fill up with a crate of R&B and Ribs Essentials, cooked up by Knowpa.