It’s crazy,” says 33-year-old Houston native Marco Cervantes, reflecting on a rite of passage for many young Texans. “In third grade we did a reenactment of the Alamo. They built a big Alamo out of cardboard. The privileged students got to be the Alamo defenders, there were like five of them, and all the rest of us were Mexicans. We were actually told ‘Act like you’re tired. OK, you’re dirty. You haven’t taken a shower.’ We were supposed to act mad and tear down the Alamo.”
For the past six years, Cervantes has led a sonic assault in his adopted Alamo City hometown as Mexican Stepgrandfather, a DJ, MC, producer, promoter, and professor carved from the same wood as political hip-hop acts Brand Nubian, X-Clan, and Public Enemy. Last summer, he dropped Estere-Ere-O, a proper San Antonio debut laced with sharp lyrics and rich production and stacked with textured samples reminiscent of a young Prince Paul. Since then, Cervantes has taken the role of Professor of Shared Spaces and Transculturation in African-American and Mexican-American Studies in UTSA’s Bicultural-Bilingual Studies department, where he will begin teaching classes next fall.
“A big part of what I’ll be doing is showing the intersection between black and Chicano cultural studies,” says Cervantes. “Showing how there is that shared colonization, even shared histories, and a lot of the things that have been erased as far as Mexican identity. A big part of what I’ll be teaching is the blackness that has been erased from the Mexican collective memory. How we’ve basically denied our black identity throughout history and talk about why that happened and what does that tell us about the way power is enforced in nations and in this nation particularly. Really to show there’s a lot more coalescence than conflict.”
Cervantes began rapping at the age of 14, battling on lunchroom tables in Houston during the early ’90s. Within two years he was working at Track Designs, becoming accustomed to the booth in the same studio where Texas hip-hop icons UGK and Willie D of the Geto Boys were recording H-Town classics. He credits these early encounters and experiences for laying the foundation for his career in hip-hop as an artist and scholar.
Mexican Stepgrandfather crafted Estere-Ere-O on a perpetually overheating Dell laptop using software like Reason, Fruity Loops, and Sonar. Although the album is impressive throughout, highlights “A Stereotype,” “Texas Mexican,” and “In Session,” really set him apart as a complex San Anto artist on the rise. Cuts like these recall gifted Alamo City MC and producer Notes at his finest and coincidentally are Cervantes’s favorites.
“It’s autobiographical,” says Cervantes of “A Stereotype,” which tells the story of a frustrated dishwasher. “There were points where I was just really, really broke and worked all these crazy jobs. I think that those jobs really gave me a sense of the migrant struggle from hearing their stories. I’m not saying I completely understand what that is because I was born here in Houston, but I think hearing those stories really helped me connect with a lot of people. It was a big learning experience for me to be in those situations, learning ‘OK maybe I’m here for a reason. Maybe I’m here because I’m realizing that this oppression is really crossing all sorts of lines.’”
Cervantes plans to release a follow up to Estere-Ere-O sometime in February, which will benefit from a studio-equipment upgrade and promises further deconstruction of history and politics. Hip-Hop Studies, although often maligned in the ivory tower, are alive and well in academia. Harvard is now home to the nation’s Hip-Hop Archive and across the country lies California State University’s Northridge Hip-Hop Think Tank. All of which sits well with Mexican Stepgrandfather and his new gig.
“Right now, that’s what’s driving me,” says Cervantes. “I think there’s potential for a real big social movement if some of these histories are uncovered. I think that’s the problem, not enough awareness and so much separation instilled in our brains. So it really does inform what I’m doing and it’s just going to continue. I can’t act like I didn’t read a certain book.” •