Raised in South Jamaica, Queens, Damien Escobar took his passion for music by transforming heavy, bass throbbing sounds to delicate, beautiful audible movements. From being the youngest Juilliard graduated, having attended from the tender age of 10, to dealing with the demons of the entertainment industry firsthand to being grounded enough to step away before it was too late, Escobar’s sound innately tells a story of progression of what he was to what he is now. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with this two-time Emmy Award winning musician about his latest projects, how things have changed and what it feels like to be calling the shots.
What got you playing on tracks?
Where I come from, hip-hop is prevalent, but on the weekends I went to Juilliard. That shit was confusing; I felt like I was married to Dr. Dre and Bach. I mean it was perfect marriage because when you’re a kid, you take in everything like a sponge. But when I wanted to start creating music, in 2003, when I was 17, that’s what came out. I started laying my violin atop of these hip-hop tracks.
Did you ever feel different growing up South Jamaica, but then going to Juilliard?
Hell yeah. I was ashamed of what I did at that point. I mean I lived in the hood where everybody raps and plays basketball. I was ashamed of it. I used to walk with my violin under my jacket because I went to Juilliard after school every day but wanted to be like my friends. I joined a gang… I was the like the violin gangsta. (laughs). I dropped out of high school at 14, stopped playing the violin, got arrested – I [just] got into a lot of trouble. And I was lucky that I had a strong mother that brought me back.
But the dope thing is that when I speak to the youth, I speak to them about being unique. Not being afraid to be different. It’s important because I was that kid that was afraid to be different. And it worked out for me, you know? I could have rapped, but I wouldn’t have done the things I’ve done if I was a rapper.
Tell me about the “I Am Me” project.
I Am Me came about after a really dope career with my brother. So in 2012, I called a quits in music. I Am Me came about because being in the industry at 17 years-old, it was pretty fucked up. That’s why I feel for a lot of young teenagers that get in the game to early, because the people who become your best friends are the public and you lean on them for support. The minute they stop loving you, it takes all your confidence away. You don’t know who you are. So I moved out of my condo in Brooklyn and went home to my mothers’. And she put be back together. She showed me who I was.
Now, I AM Me was kind of like that moment where I decided it was okay to be myself. If I was going to do music this time, I was going to come back as myself.
Now talk to me about your independence through music.
I can’t really say I had independence in the early years. I felt like I was in a musical jail, in the industry. I became a victim of it.
Do you feel like you’re running the show now?
Absolutely. I feel comfortable being me. That’s the most important, being able to show up as yourself. I don’t care what anybody else is doing. As long as I can maintain myself, throughout anything I do. And that’s what I instill in my children.
So within the next year, what do we expect to see?
I’m really focusing on the music. I can sit here and talk to you about 1000 things I have going on, but it’s about the music and telling my story in a dope way, through music.
What about the mixtape?
I didn’t like the way other people were doing it with the violin. I felt like it was becoming to watered down, but there were some dope hip-hop violinists though. Also, I’m not that. That’s something I want to clarify. You can refer to me as a hip-hop violinist, but that’s not what I see myself as. Yet, I started with hip-hop, because that’s where my roots are from, but my favorite genre is R&B. So when I started doing covers, my goal wasn’t to make my violin sound like Juilliard; my goal was to have my violin sing like Itzhak Perlman. So on the mixtape, Whitney Houston, I put together my favorite songs and made them mine.
Who be the top people you’d want to collaborate with?
Sensual Melodies! Journey, for sure! Journey would be dope. I’m crazy so Elton John. I love Uncle Charlie! Jay-Z of course. Charlie Wilson, Weezy… hip-hop. If you’re a great musician and you make me fall in love with what you’re doing, I want to be a part of it.