Even if you couldn’t put a face to his name, you know and love his music.
Alexander "Eskeerdo" Izquierdo was a high school dropout when he reached the 10th grade. At 15, he picked up two jobs to help his mom raise him and his brother. By 19, Eskeerdo left Dade County, Florida – the only place he'd ever called home – on a Greyhound to New York. A "dream and the hunger to get me there" in tow, he had little to no education on writing a hit record. "I’ve always loved writing," he said, tying his hair in a knot. "I took a page out of Jay’s book and wrote a lot in my head." The Cuban-American, however, was a far cry from your average daydreamer. On the cusp of adulthood and consumed by wanderlust, he would also take buses to L.A. and Atlanta, sleep in hostels and spend laborious hours in some VIP's studio just to get fed twice. With a brother doing time behind bars, hustling wasn't an option for Eskeerdo. It was his saving grace.
Somewhere in present day Hialeah, USA, Eskeerdo is eating croquetas and sipping café con leche in the lap of luxury. The Grammy-winning producer/songwriter spent a near decade writing for artists like Diddy, Rihanna, Cody Simpson, Diggy Simmons, Pitbull and Big Sean. He even lent his wizardry to Kanye West on "Clique" and "I Don't Like (Remix)" for G.O.O.D. Music compilation, Cruel Summer. When was the last time you heard a "5 beats a day for 3 summers" come-up story? Yet, the 27-year-old is far from feeling like he's arrived.
Eskeerdo is now switching narratives and pulling pen across his own page, describing the world from his own perspective, 16 bars at a time. After releasing his self-titled EP in April of last year, the Miami rapper is fine-tuning a highly anticipated follow-up called Cuban Jesus, set for release any day now.
VIBE Viva: In "For the City" you have a line that goes "I'm from the city where n*ggas get deported." What are your thoughts on immigration in the United States?
Eskeerdo: It’s terrible. Unfortunately for Cubans—well, fortunately for Cubans it’s not fair. We have what’s called the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. We touch land, we don’t get deported. Because Cuba is a communist country. But Haiti, for example, isn’t, and if you’re illegal you get sent back. That goes for Nicaragua, all of South America and a bunch of other countries. I don’t necessarily agree with it. This is the “land of the free” and people come here to better their lives. That’s really the only thing I’ve ever had a problem with. My own people can touch land and not get sent back. It’s fortunate and unfortunate at the same time. It sucks.
Your story is different from Rick Ross or Trick Daddy. How important is it for you to tell your own story, as a Cuban raised in Hialeah?
It’s everything to me. It’s the main reason why I did the self-titled EP Eskeerdo. I didn’t want to do any singles, I didn’t want to go to radio, I wanted to shoot six videos to six songs that were [pieces of] a story, letting you know who I was. There aren’t too many [Latinos] in the game. And I don’t just rep for Cubans, I rep for all Hispanics. I really think that there is a void, a voice that isn’t really being spoken for. I intend to do that.
How do you feel about the U.S. trying to reconnect with Cuba?
It’s definitely something that is still in the works. It’s going to be a while before everything is actually all good. I’m a little scared of it. I don’t want the country to lose its essence. I don’t want the country to become what it was going to be in 1950. I don’t want it to become Vegas. That’s what, originally, Cuba was going to be. I don’t want it to be a strictly tourist attraction and lose its culture. I don’t want it to become Americanized. Nothing against America, I love America. But I don’t want to go there and just hear English, because it’s so Americanized. I want to go home and feel like I’m home.
I do like the [idea] that we’re going to be able to trade goods and have the opportunity to provide the Cuban people with better sh*t, you know? That’s what I am glad about. But I’m just watching right now. I’m a spectator. I mean, just watching the flag being risen here and over there was f*cking insane. I honestly didn’t expect that.
Musically, is there anything you want to do in Cuba?
Hell yea! And that’s what’s crazy. Now that the whole embargo got dropped, and we’re able to go in, we’re waiting to see if we get a permit to go over there and actually record. Cuban Jesus was initially going to be done in Cuba.
But you haven’t put it out yet.
No, no. It’s finished. It’ll be out in January.
It was supposed to drop earlier, though, right?
It didn’t, purposely. It was supposed to be created in Cuba and it was going to be this extremely Latin-influenced project. But we couldn’t get the proper paper work done in time. We wanted to shoot the videos over there, we wanted to photograph there, we wanted to do a bunch of sh*t.
That would have been ill.
That’ll be for the next project. Now, we’re working everything out so we can go over there and put a studio out there and really just work on everything out there. We’re eating that food every day, vibing with the people, using local musicians. Just really, really [engulfed] in it all.
Cuban Jesus took a turn. It’s more female-friendly. More than half the album is more commercial. But then there’s a really good transition. It transitions well. There are still records that feel like the first album, but the vibe is different. I’m singing on this sh*t. [Laughs] It’s all strategic. With my writing background, I’m familiar with melody and [pop] sh*t. I write that for everybody else. The only reason why I didn’t do this on the first album is because I wanted to tell that story, I wanted to make you feel like you were Cuban, growing up in the ‘80s in Hialeah, eating croquetas and drinking café con leche. I wanted you to feel that.
How is that transition, anyway, between writing rap songs and pop hits?
It’s kind of crazy. I haven’t done any urban stuff for other people in a long time. I’ve been doing straight pop sh*t. That was all strategic as well, because I wanted to focus on all the urban sh*t for myself.
It’s not difficult anymore. At first, it was because I was so programmed to think like [someone else]. I was always trying to capture someone else’s emotions. That was the hardest thing. I was a trained chameleon. I was so overwhelmed with, ‘Ok, so how do you perceive this?’ I was overwhelmed with so many questions. I just had to say ‘fuck that’ and do my thing. That’s why the first project was so needed, for me to get back to where I was. Once I did that, it became much easier. I’d go to L.A., for example, and go write some sh*t for someone, leave that session and then go to another that’s for me. Right now, it’s a perfect balance. I’m in the greatest creative space ever.
That’s so dope and so hard to accomplish. Writer’s block is the enemy.
I took a trip overseas. On some backpack sh*t and staying where ever the f*ck. Just unplugging for a couple weeks. After that, I finished Cuban Jesus in a month.
When is Cuban Jesus dropping?
It’s an album, but not a debut album. We’re putting it out for free at the top of 2016.
And you’re independent. Do you want to sign?
If the deal is right, sure. I’m [in New York] sitting with labels, that’s the reason why I’m in town. But I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yes. If the deal makes sense, then yes. If it doesn’t, then we’ll wait and figure it out. But we’re moving. The project is coming out. I’m going to radio. We have four singles. I’m ready to go.
As far as Miami is concerned, who are your musical heroes?
If I have to narrow it down, Trick was a big influence on my music. I was raised on Trick Daddy. JT Money, was really big. Uncle Luke, Uncle Al. Those four, for me, really big. But Trick Daddy was the one who really made me want to put on for the city, like really rep. He made me feel proud to be from Miami. And not only that, he made me feel proud to be from Hialeah. He was always shouting out ‘them chicos.’
Realistically, Hialeah was left out of everything, because it was this predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. Ain’t no white people there. It's this area where you cross a bridge and everything just changes completely. Ain’t nothing in Hialeah. They just started putting commercial sh*t out there. Shout out to Trick, he was the best f*cking thing.
As someone from the South, were there any influences from New York, the birthplace of it all?
Oh, of course. Nas is one of my favorite rappers of all time. I got his words tattooed on my arm: I shall stay real, stay true, stay holdin figures. Never put a b*tch over my n*ggas. I shall never cooperate with the law… He’s my favorite rapper. I love lyrics. There’s a quote by J. Cole where he says he used to put Nas’ lyrics on the wall and how those were pictures he saw. Listening to Nas, I felt like I was there. Fat Joe is also my man. Pun, Jay—I love all East Coast music. I really love music in general, because I even love West coast too. I love when Houston had their crazy run with Slim Thug and all them boys down there had their sh*t going.
Describe Eskeerdo in one line.
There so much dynamic to me. The only thing is, I’m someone who just doesn’t really give a f*ck. I do whatever the f*ck I want to do. And I say it when I want to say it.
Did you go to school?
I have a 10th grade education. I left school at 15. I was always in AP English, I was only bad at Math. But I’ve always loved writing. I took a page out of Jay’s book and write a lot in my head, just for the performance factor of it. School just wasn’t my thing. I was working two jobs at 15. I had to help my mother, who was a single mom raising two boys. I had to help out. My dad left when I was six.
You've written for people like Kanye and Rihanna. Whose hit record do you especially want to write?
Man, I want to write the most unorthodox sh*t. I want to write with Adele, to be honest. I love that music. That’s the only sh*t I’ve been listening to.
Adele.  was everything I expected. Balance. So I want to write her hit record. Not only ‘cause she’s selling all those records out the gate, but because she’s truly amazing.
Are there any Latinos whose work you really dig?
I love J Balvin, he’s my man. Pit is my guy, too. Any Latinos putting on for the culture, really.
What do you think about Pitbull’s evolution?
Man, I love that sh*t. I love that sh*t! I remember when Pit had braids, doing all those Dominican parties, Baja Panti and sh*t, and literally performing for a crowd of f*cking 15 people. To see that man where he’s at right now, there’s no hate. I have nothing but respect for that man. I got the pleasure to write “Fun” for him and Chris Brown, and I’m in the video. I got a chance to chop it up with him there. He was like, ‘Chico, we come a long way.’ And I was laughing, thinking I’m not as far as you, but I will be. He was just really—I love that sh*t. The suits, everything! [Laughs] Can’t hate on that man. It’s 305 this, 305 that. Very few artists from the crib do that.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
That you can do whatever you put you mind to. We weren’t supposed to win, not to give the Khaled talk—they don’t want us win! [Laughs] Nah, but realistically, I got a 10th grade education. My brother’s doing a long, long time in prison. I got homeboys who are down for murder. Statistically, we’re not supposed to win. But we buckled down, really put our minds to this and manifested our destiny. Nobody could've told me I would’ve sold 20 million records and become a Grammy-winning artist. Me, a Cuban-American from Hialeah, Florida with a 10th grade education, who didn’t know anybody at 19-years old, when he started writing music and taking Greyhound buses to New York, to Atlanta, to LA, sleeping in hostels, doing everything possible to get a meal. All I had was a dream and the hunger to get me there. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind. That you can do it if you put your heart and mind to it. They don’t preach that sh*t where I’m from.