Artists: Nuttin' But Stringz
Brothers Damien and Tourie Escobar a/k/a Nuttin' But Stringz are everything the music game's been missing. Armed with classical sounds of the violin —yes, violins—retro-fitted with Hip-Hop and Rock beats, the South Jamaica, Queens natives bring a sophisticated twist to the musical landscape. With their music leading the way, the Escobar brothers are simultaneously seeing their brand become a global phenomenon—already Nuttin' But Stringz (NBS) won a pair of Emmy Awards, scored feature films, released a platinum album; and they're only just getting started.
"We perform like Rock stars," explains Damien, 24, the younger sibling by two years. "We call it Urban because it's that Hip-Hop feel; we have the groove from the street. It has a heavy Classical undertone. The perfect marriage, we call it Urban Rock."
The old adage says you need to crawl before you can walk. Well NBS have paid enough dues that they are now in a full on sprint. But taking it back to the beginning, it started when as an 8 year-old third grader Tourie brought home a violin, and his younger brother was enthralled by its possibilities. Tourie actually would put the violin down, but Damien became so proficient in the instrument he was deemed a child prodigy. At the age of 10, he auditioned for and was accepted by the prestigious Julliard School of Music, and inadvertently began preparing for his career. Remembers Damien, "I went to regular school—I took regular classes in the afternoon—then I had to get straight on the train go to Julliard. I [played my violin] on that train going back home to make money, and that was my daily routine."
After seeing how much attention Damien was receiving from their mother thanks to the violin, Tourie decided to start playing the instrument again. Classically trained in the like of Bach and Vivaldi, they mixed in their homegrown musical influences to create their own unique sound. "Coming from where we come from, living in the hood, Hip-Hop was in our blood," explains Damien, who notes that Tourie's love of Jimi Hendrix spawned NBS' rock influences. "Going to after school programs and studying Classical music, I felt like I was leading a double life. During the week I was with Bach, on the weekends I was with Dr. Dre. So when it came time to create music, that's what came out."
The duo formally formed NBS in 2003 and then took their performances from subway platforms to the Amateur Night at the Apollo Stage in 2005. A lengthy run at the world famous Apollo got them a write up in the New York Daily News, which led to an appearance on The Today Show, which led to appearances on The Ellen Degeneres Show and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "The performance is key," says Damien of NBS's scintillating stage shows, which they were now showcasing to national audiences. "People love our music when they hear it. Once they see it live, it's indescribable. You get a whole different experience."
Maybe just as amazing is that NBS' television appearances to that point—as many as 30 in 2005 alone—were all secured while the group was still an unsigned act. With labels unsure of how to promote their style of music Nuttin' But Stringz formed NBS Entertainment and found a suitor in Koch Records to distribute their music. Their outstanding debut album, Struggle from the Subway to the Charts, took three years to make (money made performing on the subway paying for early studio sessions) and was released in 2006.. Struggle from the Subway to the Charts was a concept album ("It charted everything we've been through living in Jamaica, Queens," says Damien) but unfortunately after poor marketing efforts from the label, NBS found themselves without a deal by early 2007. "We literally had to go back to the subway because we didn't know how to survive in the music industry," recalls Damien.
Undeterred, NBS regrouped, and still managed to perform at the White House (which led to their two Emmy Awards in 2008), and Sony Japan picked up Struggle from the Subway to the Charts. Re-released overseas in 2008, the album would go platinum in Japan and eventually platinum stateside as well. The album's epic lead single, "Thunder," was licensed and used in a number of commercials.
NBS was asked to audition for the third season of NBC's reality/talent series America's Got Talent. NBS would settle in for a long run on the show, eventually placing third. With even more national visibility from the show, NBS would perform for the 2008 Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama and for the Prince of Dubai, appear on ABC's Dancing with the Stars and is prepping an advertising deal with McDonalds.
While NBS has displayed impeccable savvy in marketing themselves, it's the duo's music that is still paramount. NBS's new album is called Themes from a Musical. Plans for the album include a tour with a coinciding Themes from a Musical Broadway play. Ambitious, but NBS is capable of pulling it off. After all, the Escobar brothers are not just musicians but are well established producers too, having scored episodes of TV's Law & Order and The Black Donnellys, films including Step Up (which they also appeared in) and Robert DeNiro's What Just Happened? But one of their biggest accomplishments to date is beating out Timbaland to score a piece on Michael Phelps for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Not bad for a pair of African-American and Puerto Rican brothers raised by a single parent mother in Queens, New York. With their violins firmly in hand Nuttin' But Stringz's new age symphonies are sure to rope in more listeners and fans.
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