A report by Marjua Estevez for Billboard.
You may not recognize the Cuban artist by name, but you know and love his music.
Alexander “Eskeerdo” Izquierdo was born in Dade County, Florida to Cuban immigrants. He was a high school drop out by the 10th grade. At 19, Eskeerdo (a play on his last name meaning “left”) hit the road on a Grey Hound around the country with just a dollar and a dream in tow.
From LA to Atlanta, Eskeerdo slept in hostels and spent laborious hours in various recording studios, trying to make a name for himself as a lyricist. Today, Miami’s native son emerges a Grammy-winning songwriter with credits under some of pop culture’s most beloved, including Rihanna, Maroon 5, Big Seanand Kanye West to name a few.
On January 14, 2017, the songwriter-turned-rapper purchased a five-bedroom home on Alton Road, a hop and a skip away from South Beach. The two-floor bachelor pad is equipped with all the nuts and bolts of a working musician; countless plaques and honors adorn the walls that lead to his built-in studio — a far cry from his humble abode in the culturally-significant neighborhood of Hialeah.
When Eskeerdo is not writing for your favorite’s favorite, he’s switching narratives and pulling pen across his own notepad, describing the world from his personal perspective — one verse at a time. On any given Monday, the 29-year-old can be found holed up in his home studio, ping-ponging between writing for the Who’s Who of the music industry and producing tracks for his own discography.
After releasing his debut EP Cuban Jesus (a nod to his lush mane that incites swooning from women all over), Eskeerdo is steady forging his legacy and securing his place in the rap game. With a new album in the works, several deals on the table, a music empire in the making, and a potential Rihanna hit in his hands, Eskeerdo’s fired up for the big time.
This time last year you weren’t living in this house, and you had just more or less decided to take on a career of your own as a rapper. Who was Eskeerdo then and who is he now?
It’s the same artist, to be honest. I haven’t changed. That’s the thing. I’ve become a little more reserved — a little more sheltered and guarded. I just pay attention more to my surroundings and to people and the way they move, but the artist is the same. My integrity hasn’t changed. I’m a Cuban-American fucking just trying to put on for Miami, who just speaks about his experiences day-to-day.
When I was going through a lot of mess with women, I was doing Cuban Jesus — and that’s why Cuban Jesus was so female-based. It was a lot going on, my head was cloudy, so I wrote about what was going on in my life. Same thing right now with this year, with the four singles that we dropped, in 2017, I wasn’t really in the mindset of what message I want to get across. I didn’t do a project. I was doing singles like, you know, getting by how I’m feeling. I started embodying these emotions of, “Oh shit. I’m noticing that I’m losing friends, I’m gaining friends, I’m being looked at funny by family. I feel the fake shit, and I feel the fake love all because of money.” All the sudden, everybody wanna hang out because they see 20 bottles at the club, you know?
How do you turn away from that?
Luckily, it’s just been me being fucking paranoid and being a hermit crab and not coming out unless I’m booked to come out. Some of my closest friends have shown their true colors, and we had to part ways. Some family members had to get cut off. I feel like, to answer your previous question, Eskeerdo the artist, the difference is his scissors are sharper. That’s really what it is.
Are there ever any days where you wake up and want to tap out, where you think, “I’m tired as shit. I don’t want to do this anymore?”
I don’t necessarily want to tap out ever, but I’m always tired. I feel like I haven’t slept in years, to be honest. I’m balancing full-time artist, full-time songwriter. I’m balancing trying to have a personal life. I’m balancing running companies, balancing a bunch of shit.
So why keep going, what’s the source of your ambition?
I’m just scared of failing. I don’t ever want to be like, “I knew I could have done that if I just did it.” I don’t ever want to feel that. “If I just gave it my all, I would’ve got it.” That what-if shit, that don’t work with me.
Sometimes I wish I’d just want to tap out. It’s easier to quit, but a lot of times I wake up and I think, the people who have quit, I’m like, man — I know I’m contradicting myself, but quitting may very well be the hardest thing to do… I’m going to be writing songs regardless. I’ll be in my room, writing songs. In my studio, writing songs.
Like what songs — what projects are you working on now that don’t concern Eskeerdo the rapper?
We’re working on Rihanna heavy. Working on feeding that team and trying to get — I really want to nail a Rihanna [hit] this year. Like a big fucking record. And you can quote me so when it happens and that shit skyrocket, we can fact-check and come back to it. Selena Gomez is always a priority. Other artists: Flo Rida, 5 Seconds of Summer…
And you have a song on Maroon 5’s new album, correct?
Yeah, called “Best 4 U.” It just came out. It’s going to be their next single.
Do you know when that single drops?
Realistically, those dates change. So I don’t know, but it’s track one on their album right now. So you’re gonna hear it if you’ve heard their album — it’s No. 1. But it’s a really dope fucking song. I wrote it in London with this dude named John Ryan and Julian Bunetta. Man, I had the best time writing that record. It’s from an honest place. Again, I was at that place where I was talking about a chick. I was like, “Hey, I want the best for you but I’m not the best for you,” and we took it from there, and it became a Maroon record. So I’m excited to see what that does on the charts, too.
The song that you want to nail for Rihanna —
I really just want to give her a new sound. That’s really what I’m on. I don’t necessarily want to speak on it too much, but I’m trying to give her something that is memorable and is like some new shit. Some new Caribbean shit. She’s gonna do that dance hall shit. I’m trying to introduce her to something a little different. Really, really focused on nailing one on that project.
Do you have a favorite kind of song you like to write?
Realistically, I can’t say because I’m just writing from my personal life. I’m putting that into songs. So it’s not really necessarily a zone that I get into. It’s more I just gotta make sure I got shit going on in my life.
You find something that’s relatable, and you try to plug it.
One hundred percent. The thing is that luckily my life is exciting. As you’ve seen from the last few days, it’s easy enough to stay motivated. I’m really enjoying being in the mindset of focusing on Money Changed Everything and really honing in on this project. I feel like this coming project is writing itself because it’s something that I feel like needs to come out.
Is that what Eskeerdo, the rapper, is working on now — Money Changed Everything?
Yes, it’s my next full-length project.
What’s the concept behind the new album?
I wouldn’t call it an album because I want my debut album to be something a little different. It’s not an EP. It’s going to be over 40 minutes. Ten songs, and basically it’s me explaining my transition with success. I wasn’t really aware of certain things until money became a conversation. People’s motives, people’s intentions being around me, women trying to find love, certain family members all of the sudden —
Learning to gauge that truth.
Exactly. So, it’s really me bringing that to light and not running from the truth behind the stigma that money [does] change everything. A lot of times people think that you changed, so they change. You feel me? People around you all the sudden start to act different because they feel like, “Oh, you’ve evolved career-wise.” They all the sudden think that they gotta treat you different. That’s just one aspect of it, but also they feel a sense of entitlement as well — to your success! So just explaining all that stuff.
Where were you living before moving into your new home?
We owned a warehouse in Allapattah [Miami]. It was a big old workspace where me and my team shared a workspace slash living space. I came into the new year saying, “I actually want a home. I want to be able to look outside. I want to look at windows.” We were settling for so long. We just were living below our means and I said, “Fuck that shit. I deserve that shit. I work really hard.” So I went for the gusto and got a house on Alton Road.
Why live beneath your means?
Because realistically, music money is uncertain. You never really know when you’re gonna get another big check. I’m not getting paid for shows at the moment. I’m not bringing in $20,000 every show — $5,000 every show at that. I’m not doing numbers where Eskeerdo the artist is paying the bills. But Eskeerdo the songwriter is paying the bills and allowing Eskeerdo to live. Being an artist is expensive. Everything takes money: marketing, shooting videos, radio. This is us. We work like a Def Jam. We work like them. If I’m not successful as a songwriter, then Eskeerdo the rapper can’t be successful. At the moment. There’s some deals on the table that we just don’t feel like are worth it for us.
What’s the ultimate goal?
The thing is is that there’s so many goals. The ultimate goal is, obviously, we’re not doing this to be second best. We want to be the best. No. 1. That’s top of the list — to be the best. But eventually, I want a label that’s considered a major. An independent but looked at as a major like what Cash Money has done and No Limit did. Def Jam started out as an independent. I just want to build HIA Entertainment into a household name.