May 13, 2015//
Meet Marco Cervantes. Better known by his stage name, the Mexican Step Grandfather, this UTSA faculty member uses music to share his experiences and insights with the world.
I wanted to tell my story – the story of the Chicano in Texas – the best way I knew how: through my music.”
– Marco Cervantes
Cervantes has toured and performed as a rapper and DJ at venues across the country and abroad, including stops in Mexico City and Spain. He has released several albums under the Mexican Step Grandfather moniker, including "Occupied State" and "Estere-ere-o."
Cervantes' hip-hop collaborative – Third Root, with Charles "Easy Lee" Peters and DJ Chicken George – has even performed in high-profile music festivals like South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin.
Born and raised on the north side of Houston, Cervantes was exposed to hip-hop and rap at an early age. The music was a part of his daily life growing up.
"In my neighborhood, I saw the daily intersections between Latinos and Black Americans and was affected by the ways our cultures interacted," he said. "Hip-hop was such a huge part of my life. You couldn't go anywhere in my neighborhood without hearing it blasting from stereos or seeing young crews practicing their rhymes."
By middle school, Cervantes had already been a part of several hip-hop groups, performing at school functions and neighborhood events as a rapper. By the time he entered high school, he was in the studios recording mix tapes and having his songs played on local radio stations.
As he grew as a musician, Cervantes sought to use his music to explore his experience as a Chicano – Mexican-American – living in the U.S. through the medium that he knew best: hip-hop. Culturally and socially conscious artists, he said, have always influenced his music.
"I was inspired by artists like Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique and Chuck D, who weren't afraid to share their truths in their music," he said. "I wanted to tell my story – the story of the Chicano in Texas – the best way I knew how: through my music. I want to explore the systems that have created inequality in our society, the socio-economic divides and prejudices that are ever-present in so many peoples' lives."
Cervantes' love of hip-hop has even bled into his scholarship. As an assistant professor in the Mexican-American Studies Program, his research specialty is the blending of Black and Latino culture through music.
"When I began studying Literature in college, I found myself interested in examining hip-hop as literature," he said. "This music was just becoming accepted as a scholarly pursuit. It was exciting to see academics examining the music of my youth as literature, and I decided that this was what I also wanted to focus my career on."
In his classes, Cervantes explores Latino cultural expressions, Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, and the history of Black and Latino cultural relationships. As a professor, he has used his musical connections and background to bring unique viewpoints into classroom discussions.
"My solo music has to do with understanding the Chicano experience and politicizing our community," he said. "Through the musical component of my classes, the students and I can have frank discussions about issues facing Mexican-American and other minority populations today."
Cervantes is currently working on a new album, a book exploring Black and Chicano musical interactions throughout history, and he is even branching out into poetry, which he sees as an extension of his work as a performer.
Listen to Marco Cervantes' albums on BandCamp: https://mexicanstepgrandfather.bandcamp.com.
Listen to Third Root's albums on BandCamp: https://thirdroot.bandcamp.com.
(Photo by Deborah Silliman Wolfe/College of Engineering.)
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