Read the full interview on AllHipHop.com!
Damien Escobar is one of the world’s most well-respected violinists, and his love, passion, and dedication to his craft bleeds into his everyday life. Ever since the young age of 8 years old, the Jamaica, Queens, New York native fell in love with the instrument, even making history as the youngest Juilliard School of Music graduate at the time at just 12 years old… but the road was never easy.
Coming from true humble beginnings, Escobar went from being homeless and playing violin in the subways of New York City to taking home a NAACP nomination and two Emmy wins, to appearances on the Today Show and multiple sold-out nationwide tours.
And Damien isn’t just a musician, he has his hands in all aspects of the business. Coming up as a member of the world-famous duo Nuttin But Stringz, who came in third place on America’s Got Talent, Damien also stepped into the management role of the group — turning them from a local sensation to a multi-million dollar brand. To date, they’ve partnered with elite companies such as McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-Cola, ADIDAS, Yamaha, and more.
Now two decades in, Damien has performed for everyone from President Obama and President Bush to Diddy and Oprah Winfrey. Fast forward to today, Damien has lit yet another fire up under him, ready to unleash his own original music which he hasn’t done in over 5 years. Additionally, he stays busy with his own booking agency LCM Entertainment, while heading the music department at one of the largest ad agencies, Arnold Worldwide.
AllHipHop: You got sick at the tail-end of your tour, what happened?
Damien Escobar: I had something weird happen to me. I got inflammation around my heart and I’ve never had that before. It was crazy, we were in Maryland. This was the last couple of days before the tour ended. I was having chest pains. I wasn’t feeling well and I was having heart palpitations. I went to the hospital in Jersey before I went to Maryland. The hospital in Jersey, they’re so inundated with COVID that they didn’t really take care of me.
I thought “okay, something ain’t feel right,” so I made a cardiologist appointment in Maryland. “Let me make sure I’m good.” I get there and they said “you have inflammation around your heart, you can’t perform. You gotta go to the ER.” So that’s when they sent me to the ER, it was crazy yo. It was some crazy s###. I recovered and I’m thankful. I’m grateful.
AllHipHop: How does something like that happen?
Damien Escobar: I’ve been trying to figure it out. [laughs] We canceled the last leg of the tour, it was one of them things. The cardiologist said it can happen to anybody. Alright, I recovered from it. We may never know. My heart is good, which is a blessing. I’m back to the music. This year means everything to me. I’m telling everyone now, I’m coming for everything that’s mine this year. I got something to prove to myself this year.
When you were coming up, did you ever think you’d be here today?
I say this humbly, yes. When I first started playing when I was 8, I fell in love with the instrument. I thought “yo, I want to do this for the rest of my life.” It was one of those things if you put a basketball in a kid’s hands, they just have it. Looking at this young kid, she’s a young girl from Jersey. She boxes, 8 years old. You can look at her, she knows what she’s gonna do. So I always knew. I said when I grow up, I want to be one of the most celebrated violinists — but not for classical music, for what I do. Crossover. I’m not the best violinist in the world, I’m the best at what I do. I stayed focused on what I do. I’m getting back to what I do!
AllHipHop: As you were learning and being taught, your foundation was the classical stuff right?
Damien Escobar: No doubt, I love classical music. Classical music for me was my first hip hop. It was classical first, then DMX and Dr. Dre second. Bach, Tchaikovsky, Brams and all these other composers, they created the backdrop for me and who I am as an artist. I still love it to this day. Man, folks don’t realize that hip hop, R&B, and classical music run parallel. It’s all storytelling. Music is really subjective to the listener. I fell in love with the melodies.
AllHipHop: Violin is one of the hardest instruments to tackle. How was the learning process for you?
Damien Escobar: Stop asking me questions that’s gonna make me sound arrogant! [laughs] It was easy for me, I loved it. I was this kid that came home and I played 8 hours a day. Everyday, no b#######. I came home at 3pm and I practiced until 11pm every night. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something and I got really good, really quick. Make me sound more humble.
AllHipHop: I can’t help it! You were the youngest Juilliard School of Music graduate at the time at just 12 years old.
Damien Escobar: It’s a blessing. It’s really been an incredible journey, I give it all up to God. My story was written long before me. I’m just playing out the part. This is everything. Every part of it, highs and lows in my life, it’s all been written. I’m just playing my part.
AllHipHop: How was your time on America’s Got Talent back in 2008?
Damien Escobar: That was mad cool. It was a lot of hard work. It was a dope experience. We definitely should have won, everybody knew that. My brother and I killed it. That’s when I was in a group. It was a lot of fun, week in week out. You never know. My brother and I, we’re really courageous. It’s funny you ask that because I was just watching it with my family here at home over the weekend, us on America’s Got Talent. I haven’t watched it in a decade. I’m sitting here talking to my daughter, you wanna…? The nostalgia, damn! We created something special with how courageous we were. When you’re young, you’re a lot more courageous. You take a lot more risk. Me at 35 now, hmm do I really wanna do that? Nah, let me go back to that 18-year-old, 20-year-old me that said “nah, we’re gonna do this!” It was a great experience, without a doubt. It was a lot of fun.
AllHipHop: What did you learn in that moment when you were part of the group, Nuttin But Stringz?
Damien Escobar: A lot! I learned that I can’t be in a group. [laughs] Again, music is subjective. What’s inspiring to me may not be inspiring to my bandmates. And I play what’s in my heart, period. I’m not doing s### for clout. If I was doing s### for clout, you’d see me online doing all these covers and the big songs. I don’t do stuff for clout, I really do things that resonate with me. That’s where it was in the group. He wanted to do this, I’m like “no, but I want to do this.” I learned: do your thing, I’ma do my thing. No matter what, I’ma do what’s in my heart. What’s true to me and what’s real to me.
AllHipHop: Talk about managing the group as well.
Damien Escobar: I tell artists all the time: it’s one thing to have talent, especially when you have a niche talent. But it’s another thing to know how to monetize that talent. It’s important. I was managing the group back when we’re together in 2008.
AllHipHop: You were a member and you were managing the group?
Damien Escobar: Oh yeah, like Mike Bivins. Mike Bivins did the same thing in New Edition. Because what we did was so unique and different, and no one got it, I had to learn how to do everything. I was a manager, I was an agent, a stylist, and a publicist. It taught me every role. I’m not saying that on a small level. I was doing deals with McDonald’s, I was doing deals with all these people. I discovered the blueprint to success on how to monetize it. Even when I took a break from music as a solo act and the group, I took a little time off but I understood the blueprint, which is how I was able to re-establish my career. Of course it takes talent without a doubt, but I was fortunate enough to apply that same blueprint to other people.
Artists like Mapy, who’s another dope violinist. She’s from Paris. I discovered Mapy in Paris in 2015, I thought she’s a superstar. She’s dope. We’ve been working with her for about 6 years now, she’s doing amazing things.
Painter, his name’s Tyler Gordon. Unbelievable painter. I discovered Tyler a couple years ago. He’s a best-selling author, he has a Nike campaign out. Beyond applying blueprints and understanding how to build brands and build businesses for artists, it’s really about teaching them how to own their own imprint. How to develop an IP, build it and then sell it. Instead of saying “let me go here and work with this company and I’ll get a royalty,” nah f### that. Let’s talk about ownership. Build your IP, retain some of it. You can sell a piece of it if you want, but it’s all about ownership. I’m really big on that with artists. Mentoring artists. Outside of the agency, I’m head of music for one of the largest ad agencies in the world. I head up their music department and that’s been really fun as well. I’m all over the place.
AllHipHop: What’s that company called?
Damien Escobar: That agency is called Arnold Worldwide. It’s been a hell of a ride. It’s been a lot of fun. Activating music for our clients, that’s been amazing. I’ve had an opportunity to bring all my favorite composers to write commercials for me. I’m really out here having fun, to be honest with you. Making music, helping artists establish their careers. Taking my knowledge and what I know, and applying it to other areas and facets of media.
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AllHipHop: How does it feel to be able to go on tour and do what you love every night? I think I saw your post when you fell in Atlanta.
Damien Escobar: See, why you gotta bring that s### up. [laughs] Let me tell you something. 20 years, I’ve never bust my ass on stage. Atlanta out of all nights, in Atlanta I bust my ass. That’s one of my biggest markets, sold out. Oh my God, and I loved it. It feels good to be back on stage, especially after the pandemic. And we’re still very much in the pandemic. I just found out that one of my shows this month is canceled. Most probably will get canceled too. Let me talk to my artists, it’s important to diversify. You understand what I’m saying?
AllHipHop: What do you mean by that?
Damien Escobar: You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. Touring is really big for artists, this is how we earn the bulk of our income. Once that’s taken away, I just hope artists really learned in the pandemic that you need to really diversify.
AllHipHop: You mean have more streams of income type s###?
Damien Escobar: Hell yeah, without a doubt. You have to. Especially if you’re taking care of yourself, you’re taking care of your family, one thing that we learned during the pandemic is you have to diversify. Without a doubt.
AllHipHop: What other projects are you working on?
Damien Escobar: A lot, this is the year of the music. I was talking to my manager, shout out to David Britz. I was telling him I got a lot to prove to myself this year. This is my year of music. I’m back to the music this year. I haven’t dropped a record for 5 years. I dropped a Christmas album, but I haven’t dropped a record. What’s holding me back from releasing music? It’s fear. Without a doubt. It’s that sophomore fear that artists have with second records. Damn, will people still like what I do? I didn’t realize that until I had to do some soul searching. Damn, what is it? It’s fear. Nope. Once I recognized that it’s fear there, I kicked the door down and I get around that s###. New music 2022, the vibes are back. Expect everything.
AllHipHop: When can we expect the first release?
Damien Escobar: Probably in February I’ll release something. I’m just gonna keep going. Once I get one out, that’s it. Over.
AllHipHop: How was it performing on Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour?
Damien Escobar: Oprah’s dope. Oprah’s auntie. She’s so sweet, she’s mad cool man. I was on her The Life You Want Tour in 2013/14. She took a liking to me, invited me out to perform at — it wasn’t OWN at that point, that’s when she was still Harpo. At the Christmas party, this was back in ‘14 when I was still ascending. I remember, it was so dope, she was just Oprah sitting down. Chillin’, looking like everybody’s aunt. Just vibing. She said, “come sit here and talk to me,” and we just talked. I feel like I was talking to my aunt. It was crazy. This is the thing: everybody’s a human being. Oprah’s a human being. She’s Oprah, but she’s also a human being at the end of the day. She’s an amazing woman. She’s an amazing person.
AllHipHop: How’d it feel to be nominated for a NAACP Image Award? You also have two Emmys.
Damien Escobar: Yeah two Emmys, the Emmy Awards were pretty dope. The Image Award nomination meant a lot, especially because it’s an award by African Americans. My biggest thing as an artist, I didn’t feel like I’ve ever gotten my flowers from my people. When I say that, I’m talking about in the media form: BET, Essence, etc. It always hit me so hard. If you come to my concerts, my concerts are 90% Black folks. That’s why it’s so weird to me. Why am I not getting the recognition from Black media, but I’m getting all this recognition from traditional formats of media? It’s something that was tough for me so when I did get the Image Award nomination, it felt good. It was back in 2017. After that, I didn’t really care as far as who acknowledges me and who doesn’t. It’s a growth process you go through. Some artists, that thing for them are the Grammys. And the Grammys are the worst, everybody knows it’s b#######. But for artists, that’s validation for them. Every artist has that thing.
AllHipHop: How’s fatherhood? Above everything else you’re doing.
Damien Escobar: That’s everything. I’m a father first. I take pride in being a great dad. I got a new little baby. My son Kairo, he’s amazing. He’s turning 5 months, still hasn’t figured out quite how to sleep through the night and kicking everybody’s ass nonetheless. It’s so much joy. I have 4 kids altogether, I love my kids more than you can imagine. It makes everything worth it.
AllHipHop: Are they going to be little musical prodigies?
Damien Escobar: Oh, without a doubt. My oldest daughter plays two instruments. She plays piano and guitar, she’s amazing. My son plays straight video games. [laughs] He loves drama, acting, etc. My youngest daughter, she’s incredible as well. All these kids are talented. They’re amazing kids. With your kids, you introduce them to things and expose them. Let them figure out what they want to do.
AllHipHop: Best encounter you had with a fan?
Damien Escobar: I can tell you the worst. [laughs] All my encounters with my fans 99% of the time are amazing. Just recently in LA, it was crazy. This was in December, I had a fan come to my hotel room and was knocking on the door: “please let me in, please let me in.” It scared the s### out of me. In LA, that’s never happened before.
AllHipHop: How did they find your hotel room?
Damien Escobar: I have no idea! Just creepy. It scared the hell out of me. But typically, my encounters with my fans are always amazing. Especially when folks come up to me and say “you helped me get through chemotherapy.” I get messages from people saying, “I was suicidal and your song saved me.” That means so much to me because I really do it for the people. I do it for people, which is why the pandemic hit me so hard. I don’t want to do virtual concerts, it’s not real for me. It makes me feel like I’m doing it for money, that’s not why I get on stage.
It feels so good to have such a positive reaction from my audience. It’s been nothing but love. My audience really, really loves me and I love them. You come to my concert and you’ll be like “yo, did Drake just get on stage?” [laughs] It’s like that, and it still shocks me. I go to Detroit, 6,000 people come out to my concert. It’s overwhelming, and that’s around the world. I love them back. As long as they love me, I’ma keep on showing out and making great music and great experiences for them.
AllHipHop: Talk about your love for hip hop. Who are your favorite artists and how did they inspire you to create music?
Damien Escobar: My favorite artists? Damn. S###, we could be here forever. Let me give you a couple. I’d say for hip hop, I’m a huge fan of Kendrick, Jay, Nas. I love 50, he’s from Queens. I’m a big R&B guy, I love R&B. I love classic Chaka, Marvin, Al, Teddy, Michael, Prince, Sade. You name it, I love it. I love these new artists. I love Lucky Daye, there’s so many dope artists. Sabrina Claudio is dope. There’s so many really cool artists out right now. I really love where R&B music is right now. It makes you feel again. Talking about music, we lost that feeling over the 2000’s that we had in the ‘90s. I feel like that’s coming back, tremendously. I love where music is right now.
AllHipHop: Dream person to play with?
Damien Escobar: I’d love to do something with Kanye. That’s my Gemini brother. I don’t care about politics, I don’t care whatever that man believes in. When it comes to music, Kanye’s one of my favorite artists in the world. Kanye West, he’s brilliant. Pharrell, I love producers. Those would definitely be my favorite.
AllHipHop: How’s it feel to have the cosign from Stevie Wonder?
Damien Escobar: That’s dope. It was shocking. I did his Toys For Tots event back in LA, this was a few years ago. I was performing and he walked up to me and said “let me get your bow.” I’m like what? He goes “you just killed it, can I have your bow?” That blew my mind. I can die now. [laughs]
AllHipHop: You just gave it to him?
Damien Escobar: Of course, c’mon. Of course. He asked for my bow, I would’ve given Stevie my violin. Straight up, if he wanted it.
AllHipHop: Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Damien Escobar: I’m most excited to prove things to myself, that’s it. Last year was an incredible year for me on the professional side. A lot of this year is about personal development for me. Finding new inspiration, getting back to the music and creating music that makes people feel. I’m gonna drop that and I can’t wait. Shout out to every other violinist that is killing things and walking in their path. I’m here to contribute. That’s what 2022 is about.