Violin virtuoso Damien Escobar takes the stage at Toshi’s Living Room in the Flatiron District and looks out at an audience that loves him. As he performs intricate covers of R&B songs by Alicia Keys, Ginuwine and Chaka Khan on his instrument, the audience claps, sings along and cheers in amazement. The performance is one of many Escobar does as he continues his path back to music.
Opening the door to the concept of hip-hop violin, Escobar is back on the music scene, this time as a solo act. You may remember him as half of the duo Nuttin’ But Stringz, which he headlined with his older brother, Tourie Escobar.
Nearly six years ago, the Jamaica, Queens, native was at the height of his musical career with his brother. The two were known around the world for their gifted violin skills that landed them a spot on the TV show “America’s Got Talent” and even a performance for former President George W. Bush at the White House.
Now, at age 27, he has split from his brother, citing creative differences, and he has also gone through several personal life experiences. All of this has led him back to the music world.
Escobar got his start with his brother at age 7. He performed in the subway and eventually got accepted into the Julliard School at age 10. The two made appearances on “Showtime at the Apollo,” “The Tonight Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” However, it was their appearance on “America’s Got Talent” that put them into orbit.
“Being on there opened so many doors for us,” he said. “After that, we performed in Dubai, on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and got endorsements from McDonalds. We saw the world and did everything an artist would do without having a No. 1 record.”
The brothers split in 2012, and Escobar stopped performing. His once lavish lifestyle ended; he was left broke, and he moved back in with his mother in Queens. Hitting rock bottom, he had to seek social services in an effort to support his growing family and also battled with depression.
At the same time, he was scared of performing again because he had never done so without his brother. Escobar stepped away from music completely and was relieved from the pressure from the industry.
“Going back to the ’hood was the greatest thing, and knowing who I am and what I came from. When I started in the industry, I was 17. Being in the music business, the public became my friend,” he said.
Moving forward with his life after the music industry, he became a successful licensed real estate agent. However, a few months later, a friend told him he belonged in music and not behind a desk. Soon after. he flew to France to play the violin for the first time in nearly a year for a TV show. The gig was a turning point for him to start performing again.
“I quit my job and was thinking on the plane ride back that I wanted to get back into music,” he said. “But this time, I wanted to target the mainstream audience.”
He decided to reintroduce himself online, getting a video of himself playing a medley of R&B songs on the violin posted on Worldstarhiphop.com. The video received over 200,000 hits in 24 hours and went viral on social media websites.
People started reaching out to him—individuals ranging from Trey Songz to Russell Simmons, who asked him to perform at the 2012 Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball. This year, he did a college tour and several corporate show performances.
Escobar released his debut solo mixtape of R&B covers titled “Sensual Melodies,” which has received 85,000 downloads so far. This month, he’s releasing a single titled “Freedom” as an independent artist and is planning an album release for 2014.
“This is the freest I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I just hope people like it and keep propelling me.”