Mexican Stepgrandfather’s Secret Identity Revealed
Mexican Stepgrandfather and Marco Antonio Cervantes, Ph.D. are a study in contrasts since they are one and the same. But what each does is different and worlds apart.
Simply known by the shorter version, Mex Step was selected “Best Hip Hop Artist” during the 2009-2010 San Antonio Current Music Awards poll by popular vote. In the same contest, his compact disc, “Stand for Something 2012” on the Hip Hop Grew Up label, came in as the “Number 2 Album of the Year” of all combined music genres.
During the same period, as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he completed his doctorate at the university’s English Department with a focus on Black and Latina/o Literature, Cervantes was awarded a Ford Dissertation Fellowship for his work on African American and Mexican cultural interconnections.
As Mexican Stepgrandfather, Cervantes professes the complexities of Mexican American culture and identity in national and international concerts. Therefore, there are his academic standing and his standing as a hip hop artist. That’s quite a stretch for the once little kid who was first influenced by the music of Fito Olivares and Rigo Tovar, especially his version of “El Pipiripau” – all music that came out of his grandmother’s (Anita Garza De La Rosa) radio and record player, plus some disco and country, which his parents (Louis and Esmeralda Cervantes), listened to.
“It felt as though music moved my soul and then my parents bought me a little keyboard on which I memorized a little tune and tried playing it like Herbie Hancock,” Cervantes said during an interview at the Hispanic Entertainment Archives.
“I was in the seventh grade in Hambrick Middle School when a lot of people were getting into rap in the cafeteria and I liked it. I also like the idea of putting thoughts into music and that’s when a couple of classmates and I formed Sound Effect. Why that name? Because we wanted to make an (audio) effect with our sound,” the Houston-native said.
In 1992, Cervantes joined the Bass Tribe, a trio of Afro Americans – Charles Johnson, Jerry Henry and Jeffery Henry. The foursome all wrote and rapped so shortly thereafter they
entered a professional recording studio to record a CD of all original songs.
When the Henry twins left to attend college, Cervantes and Johnson forged ahead as Wasted Youth; and in 1994 they released “Get Wasted” as a vinyl single. That record was recently available on e-bay for $100.
“Our logo was a trash bag looking thing and we gave away decals and you could see those stickers all over the neighborhood and as you walked into our school,” the 37-year-old ultra- educated rapper continued.
That same year, Cervantes graduated from Douglas McArthur High School in Houston, joined the U.S. Army and was ultimately stationed in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he continued to write and listen to Wu-Tang Clan, a hip hop band; Sublime, a ska punk band; and Cypress Hill, the first Cuban American/Latino hip hop group to have worldwide platinum and multi-platinum albums.
Cervantes was a Spec 4 when he received his honorary discharge, went back to Houston and joined Revolt of the Sun for whom he would make all the music and Jesús Ávila would make all the beats.
In 2002, the Army veteran received his Bachelor of Arts in English, cum laude from the University of Houston-Downtown and the following year he moved to San Antonio to be in the graduate school Latin literature program at UTSA.
“My grandmother had remarried (I was not born) and when my step-grandfather Tony De La Rosa (not the conjunto musician) passed on, he left me a lot of Mexican records, which I would play in between hip hop tunes and everybody went crazy dancing all the polkas. So when I started DJing, I took the name of Mexican Stepgrandfather.
“While doing that, I was still rapping and I sample a lot of old Mexican music. I have a drum machine and a sampler so I play an old song for about a measure. I got the loop and when it’s looped just right, I add the drum machine, mix the two combinations of drums and sample. So a lot of those beats are remade from a remix of old records.”
By this point in his life, Cervantes had already learned to play bass, guitar and drums.
“And as (Mexican rapper) Bocafloja, I kind of started early because rap is a big movement here. Another part of my music is where I put my identity and culture into it, talk about border issues and discrimination in the United States.
In doing research for his dissertation, “Afro-Mestizaje: Tracing Blackness in Tejano Fiction, Poetry, and Music” and for other subjects of discussion, Cervantes noted that a lot of our history is missing in text books, for example slavery in the history of the Alamo. Therefore the UTSA assistant professor started inserting some history into his lyrics.
“Reading a lot about the Chicano movement also influenced me in shaping my music. So my music is educational. It’s scholarly rap,” the 5-foot-6-inch tall singer-songwriter-educator said.
In 2009, circa the same time he obtained his doctorate in Latino literature, Cervantes released his “Estere-Ere-O” compact disc and that translated into lots of gigs here and in Austin plus a demand for him to perform in Mexico and Spain.
This CD includes congas by Jai and additional vocals by Vocab and Joaquin in “The Money” plus guest vocals by Astex y Lupho de Ultimatum in “Con Mi Gente.” Jai also added some vocals in “Caminos.”
In “A Stereotype,” which features a pop bolero beat, the doctor of philosophy in English blends the feeling of a ciudadano Mexicano and a Tejano-pocho-chicano, who share the same stereotype working for minimum wage washing dirty ass dishes in a restaurant, getting s …t on and asking themselves the same f…king question as they work together to make things better for down and out Mexicans from different areas breaking barriers under the same order separated by a language and border.
In “Texas Mexican,” a rap tune with a Mexican beat, the Chicano role model reveals that since he was young, that’s what he considered himself, “in Spanish, I’m an hermano Tejano because in Mexico they know I’m not from Mexico.”
“Con Mi Gente,” the catchiest tune in the CD, starts with a sampling of “Fiesta Negra” as Mex Step sings, “Azteca rapiando con el abuelo Mexicano.”
“Mexican Stepgrandfather,” as one might guess is autobiographical and if this writer miss-understood any portion of these tunes, it must have been due to the generation gap.
A year later, he recorded “Occupied State” and his popularity soared even higher.
“Over the last year, I teamed up with Charles Peters “Easy” Lee of Mojo, who is signed to the Matthew Knowles label. He’s also the poet who found a poetry night in S.A. called Second Verse, has released two books and done educational tours,” Cervantes said of his colleague.
“We had been talking about doing a music project together and ended up doing a group album, “Stand for Something / Afro American Meets Mexican American” as Third Root. In this CD, in I mention Sunny (Ozuna), Steve Jordan, Flaco Jiménez, Latin Breed, Randy Garibay and other SA musical icons in the lyrics. To listen to these shout-outs, go to http://thirdroot.bandcamp.com/track/bendici-n-down-in-sa-featuring-henry-the-invisibles-dj-chicken-george-prod-mexican-stepgrandfather.
On January 20, Third Root also celebrated the release of “Mind Elevation” with DJ JJ López, Pop Pistol, Vocab and Greg G.
Up to this point, few people knew Mex Step’s real name so this article is like everyone finding out that Superman’s real identity is Clark Kent.
To learn more about Cervantes as a scholar, go to http://education.utsa.edu/bicultural-bilingual_studies/profile/mcervantes, http://utsa.edu/today/2009/05/cervantes.cfm or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdgG4LqIsIM.
To see the mild-mannered professor turn into the animated Mexican Stepfather in action, check out his twenty music videos on www.youtube.com and for booking, email him at [email protected] and [email protected].