This question ties into the broader inquiries underlying Escobar’s art. “I’m just trying to reconsider or pose questions about what it means to be a performing artist in America in a group that is comprised of Black and Puerto Rican membership,” he said. “What does it really mean to engage with your audience? What are the implications of that?”
Escobar, now in his late 20s, grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, playing instruments in church, but drifted away from music until coming up with a collection of tunes as he was completing a degree in journalism and design. A group gradually formed, originally called Children of the Corner in homage to the 1990s Harlem rap collective Children of the Corn. Its first two albums, a self-titled debut in 2016 and “Red Burns” the following year, were released independently on limited edition vinyl.
The group signed to XL Recordings in 2018 but has yet to release an album for the label. “The way in which most people engage with music is to record it and release it and make a product,” Escobar said. “I do struggle with this notion of what it means to make a product and what that does to the meaning of performance. Once a tune is recorded, it’s definite, it becomes actualized and concrete, and to me that’s really complicated.”
Escobar’s compositions are “written in his own way,” said Caleb Giles, a multi-instrumentalist, rapper and rotating member of the troupe since 2016. “A lot of it is in his head. He’ll come to rehearsal and just sing all the parts for 10 or 12 songs. At one point he was writing things down in a little notebook, and he’d show us the shorthand he’d written and have us figure it out.”
The ensemble’s power, Giles said, stems from its friendships and energy. “That is at the core of the power of the music: true joy, true friendship, true companionship, camaraderie, sisterhood, brotherhood,” he said. “That’s what people hear.”
The director Melvin Van Peebles — known for his 1971 independent feature “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song” — who also released almost a dozen albums, is a source of inspiration. (Van Peebles appeared in the video for Standing on the Corner’s 2020 single “Angel,” and Escobar said they became dinner companions until Van Peebles’s 2021 death.) Like Standing on the Corner’s recordings, Van Peebles’s music featured a woozy, off-kilter vibe replete with sped-up voices, theatrical characters and a delivery derived from the dramatic German tradition of Sprechgesang.