When was the last time you heard a “five beats a day for three summers” origin story? With so many rappers gaining attention from self-released music via BandCamp and YouTube, it’s rare to hear a Kanye West-like come-up story, but that’s how Cuban-American rapper Eskeerdo (né Alexander Izquierdo), whose self-titled EP was released in April, was able to get himself primed for the spotlight. Hailing from Hialeah, a Cuban community in Miami-Dade County, the rapper spent the last half-decade as a songwriter for an array of artists that ranges from Diggy Simmons, Soulja Boy, Cody Simpson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Big Sean to Meek Mill. He even had a hand in assisting West on “I Don’t Like (Remix)” and “Clique” for G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer.
While he’s stacked with a ton of writing credits and multiple Grammys, it’s time for Eskeerdo to make his mark with his own voice. And with an output reflective of his experiences growing up in a city whose population is largely built of people from a country the United States has had a trade embargo with since JFK was in the White House, he’s bringing to light an American experience rarely heard in hip-hop, which is clearly illustrated in his video for his self-titled EP track “Manolo” (produced by No I.D. and Infamous). Check out the video premiere of Eskeerdo’s “Manolo,” below.
Eskeerdo caught up with The Juice earlier this week from Ibiza, where he’s currently at a songwriting expedition for Romanian singer Ina, to talk about getting his first look from Sean “Diddy” Combs, his evolution from songwriter to artist and what’s on deck for 2015.
You got your first real break writing for Diddy. Can you tell me how that came to be?
I think it was like 2009, I did this record called “Diddy [Bop]”. I was an artist and I really didn’t know songwriting existed. My engineer Stefan Johnson asked me, ‘why don’t you write for other people?” I was confused, I [didn’t] understand. He said, “I engineer for so-and-so — [I’m not] gonna put the artist on blast — they’re writing for artists. They’re shopping hooks and stuff. Why don’t you do it?” So, I gathered up some beats from neighborhood, local producers, nobody big at all. My management at the time contacted this dude named Lex Borrero. Lex had a contact at Bad Boy and was like, “Listen, Puff’s looking for records. Just send me everything you’ve got.” I sent him everything. I took a trip to New York [and] met with an A&R. We played him 22 songs and, luckily — you know, usually you don’t show up to a meeting with 22 songs — but that was actually my first meeting and number 22 was “Diddy Bop.” I know it’s one of those stories that’s hard to believe, but that’s actually how it happened.
What did that meeting feel like?
I didn’t really know what to expect [when] going to the meeting. I was coming from a different environment. I was used to being in the street, rapping. I was never, ever shown the other side of the industry. I didn’t know what a major studio looked like. I didn’t even know what a corporate office looked like. When I showed up, I was just anxious to be heard. And, really, they shitted on me 21 times. The man kept being like, “Man, this is bad. This is bad. Fuck. Fuck. This is bad.” But that’s just how it happened and I was getting so upset. And finally, number 22 came, and he bolted out the room. I’m like, “Man, I think this guy got offended. I think he’s gonna come back with some people and try to shake ’em up.” So, I stood up in the studio like, “OK, it’s about to go down. Fuck it.” But, again, that’s me being naive to the business. And he came in with a bunch of girls and I’m like, “oh shit. Cool, cool.” So, when I sat back down, they played the record like 17 times. I flew home and the next day we had the contract already ready. Puff was very generous with the percentages. He looked out for the producer, gave him a nice fee. From that opportunity, we milked every other opportunity. Basically, we were like, “Puff gave us a chance, you gotta give us a chance.” That’s how I got in every building.
How did this lead into a career as a songwriter with so many impressive people? You actually have a credit on one of my favorite Rihanna songs, “No Love Allowed.” Are you primarily focused on lyrics?
Lyrics [and] melody. A lot of these songs are co-written, it all depends. “No Love Allowed,” I wrote it with Elijah Blake and No I.D. That day was crazy, we wrote it in 15 minutes. That was one of the fastest written and placed songs ever that I’ve been a part of. I remember, [we were] at No I.D.’s studio. I heard the track through the door and I peaked my head in the room and [No I.D.] was like, “Ah OK, you like that one?” He asked the engineer to take it to the other room, Elijah Blake just happened to be in the studio — [he’s] a super good friend of mine and an artist signed to Def Jam, as well, through No I.D. — and we wrote the record. It was something that was effortless. That song was able to be on the Grammy-winning record Unapologetic (for Urban Contemporary). And literally, right after we wrote it, Jay Brown showed up to the studio, [he] said, “This is Rihanna’s song” and it might have been 30 minutes the entire process. I was just like, “Yeah, yeah. Rihanna’s gonna take it. Cool.” And then they leaked the tracklist on Rihanna’s Instagram, it was in handwriting, and I saw No. 13, “No Love Allowed” and I was like, “Oh shit, this is real.” Those are the artists you really wanna be a part of. Not only are they top sellers, but they’re legends. That just goes [to your] legacy. That’s what I really aim for. I love the accolades, I love the Grammys, the money’s amazing, but I really want the recognition [from] the artists [and] people I look up to. The people that I enjoy listening to.
How did you make the transition from a guy behind the scenes to actively pursuing your own solo rap career?
Hip-hop is second nature to me. I started off doing a bunch of urban stuff in the songwriting world, then I transitioned into pop music. I don’t wanna be in just one genre. But when it came to myself, it was always about finishing the dream. I wanted to be an artist at the beginning. I didn’t know how to be an artist. I didn’t know what it took. But I know I wanted to be an artist, I knew I wanted to get in these buildings. I said, “OK, they don’t wanna let me through the door as an artist? I’mma come through the window as a songwriter, but I’mma be in the building.” Once I’m in the building, they can’t stop the artist. Once I learned the business and the back end of the music, I was a little more knowledgeable about the artist stuff. Until I actually became an artist, I figured out it’s a whole other fucking ballgame. But, I’m enjoying it every step of the way. We’re putting out quality music and quality visuals and telling a story that isn’t heard. The emotion that I’m putting in the record is being reciprocated by the love that I’m getting. I have not stopped writing music, but I’m just lucky enough that music’s all I do. There’s time for both. When there isn’t, I’m just gonna be an artist because that’s what I want to do. That’s exactly what the end goal is: to tell my story and to touch people with my actual voice.
You released your self-titled EP in April and you’ve rolled out two videos. What is the rest of your plan for 2015?
I have one more video off the EP. Even though the videos weren’t rolled out in order, they’re actually shot in sequence like a movie. So all the videos transition into each other and we’re gonna go ahead and drop that on my website once we drop our last video [for] “Jealousy” next month. I’ve already been focusing on my next project, which is called Cuban Jesus. That’s almost done and is gonna be out around September [or] October.
I think something that’s really interesting about you is, you know, we have rappers from Miami, but you provide a perspective that we don’t get from Rick Ross or Trick Daddy. You talk about Castro on “Manolo.”
It’s not necessarily that I want to be different. I’m just speaking from my point of view. If my point of view is different, then I’m different. I’m a Cuban-American. I grew up in Hialeah. Even though I have friends and family in Carol City, Liberty City and all around the other subdivisions of Miami, I grew up in Hialeah. No one speaks English in my city. I grew up in a Cuban community. If you go anywhere, you have to speak Spanish. I’m just telling my story from my neighborhood. I don’t ever look at it as [that] I have to be different. I just have to tell my story. I grew up to listening to Trick Daddy. Trick Daddy raised us. You might hear hints of it in [my] music, but it’s not necessarily the same. We are trying to be Eskeerdo as its own entity. But he and his music inspired me to rep so hard for the city because he made me so proud of being where I’m from.