Third Root
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Third Root

San Antonio, Texas, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF

San Antonio, Texas, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2012
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A couple weeks ago, Third Root, an activist hip-hop crew that includes Austin DJ Chicken George and San Antonio emcees MexStep and Easy Lee released the lead single and video for their new album “Libertad” due out later this year. The album is a collaboration with local super producer Adrian Quesada and the track “Reflection of the Times” includes vocals from Reggie Coby of the League of Extraordinary Gz.

The track is an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, an outcry against injustice and a call to rise. The powerful video, directed by Eric Morgan of local hip-hop duo Crew 54 spells out the struggle in stark and unambiguous terms. - Austin360


If we put a mirror up to our nation right now, would we like what we see? How far do we have to go back – or forward – to behold an image that harmoniously acknowledges all beings regardless of their race, religion, class, gender or orientation?

For their latest album, Libertad – which will debut later this summer – hip-hop group Third Root of San Antonio, known for their cultural and social sensitivity and authenticity lyrically and sonically, has chosen to debut their first music video, Reflection of the Times, on the Rivard Report to keep the dialogue flowing.

Third Root, comprised of Charles “EasyLee” Peters of MoJoe, Marco “Mexican StepGrandfather” Cervantes, and DJ Chicken George, brought in director Eric Morgan of DVZN Media and producer Adrian Quesada of Level One Sound Studios in Austin to bring life to a video that, whether you like it or not, is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to revealing the tenuous ground on which our country is trying to stand.

Morgan went through hours and hours of footage to provide the backdrop to Cervantes’ and Peters’ didactic lyricism.

“It’ll mess your day up and I didn’t want to do that to anybody,” Morgan said about his choice of video coverage. He avoided using any real violence or shooting in the scenes. “But I want them to know the power of it all.”

It’s a careful line that all artists walk when attempting to reveal their truth while presenting material that can be digested by their audience.

“When you push too far you can turn people off, they can become indignant to what you’re trying to say,” Morgan said. “Not to tone it down, but say, ‘Hey, these are some of things that are really going on.’”

The frightening, albeit powerful, nature of the video is its seeming timelessness, and not in a positive way.

“We are just reporters, talking about the things that we see whether it be drug use, violence, these are the episodes we deal with daily,” Morgan said, echoing lines from Ice Cube while with NWA in the late ’80s. “This is the sign of the times, you could be watching this video in 1965, 1974, or 2016. These things aren’t changing.”

Peters, often referred to simply as “Easy” by his co-conspirators in the search for truth, believes that even the most controversial of what people say is simply a reflection of what society is craving at the time.

“Artists have the responsibility to timestamp the world,” Peters said, calling out poets and prophets such as Bob Marley and Marvin Gaye. “Those that stand the test of time are the ones that document the times.”

In Peters’ mind, “Reflection of the Times” is an opportunity for the group to present the foundation for conversation, and the rest of the album digs into the other vantage points and opportunities for action.

“We’re not just saying something’s wrong, but opening that up about what we do from here, how do we react to the times,” Peters said. “The beauty of the art depends upon how we use it.”

Third Root isn’t a stranger to raising awareness in San Antonio and beyond. They’ve had national collaborations such as Hip Hop 4 Flint that demonstrate their commitment to action beyond the words.

“MexStep (Cervantes) has been doing that in the community out at UTSA,” Peters said. “As a teacher I’m doing the same thing every day, making sure (my students) are using their newfound skills to secure their freedom.”

While Peters is changing the game from the classroom in Atlanta, Ga., Cervantes is spreading his message right here in San Antonio and will lead “From Son Jarocho to Hip Hop: Cultural Afromestizaje Symposium and Concert” with Bocafloja (Mexico) and Krudas Cubensi (Cuba) this coming Wednesday at UTSA’s Downtown Campus. This multi-dimensional and culturally potent evening will discuss overlapping African and Indigenous cultural expressions as points of decolonial praxis within readings of Black, Chicana/o, Mexican-American, and African American culture and history. The event is free and open to the public.

Peters practices what he preaches, which is for writers of all ages to truly understand what they’re trying to say.

“The greatest writers are great leaders and great listeners,” Peters said. “Dialogue and activism involves teaching these kids to think differently in how to use their skills of speech, writing, math and science.”

Cultural and racial issues with education and textbooks persist today, especially in Texas, and it wasn’t any different when Peters was growing up. “None of the messages said ‘Mobilize your community’ or ‘Stand up when you see something going wrong.’ That is the biggest challenge with our youth,” Peters said. “It’s a modern day form of slavery when you’re refusing to educate kids at the same level, when you have schools without proper textbooks.”

The individuals that Third Root involves in their projects are those who have learned how to channel their words into progressive and positive action, including vocalist Reggie Coby.

“My overall thing is love, I just wanna be honest and true to my feelings, thoughts,” Coby said. “There’s a lot of posturing…it’s crippling to society when artists aren’t telling the truth.”

At times artists can hold back and twist things around to fit the material needs of society so that their product will be consumed.

“We often don’t articulate fully, but when we can that expands consciousness and progressive conversations, it helps us evolve,” Coby said. “I put my honest spin on it, anything I say is said with love.”

Oh, we don’t write these songs. We hear what you’re saying, we just play along. This is what you made. How could you say we’re wrong. The buildings on fire but the band plays on.

Coby’s hook builds an image in the mind that conjures a sense of seemingly irrational yet necessary resilience, of a people so lost in the zone, in the passion, the heat of the moment, that nothing can stop them from speaking their minds – not even the fire burning all around.

“It’s very clear that the oppression of the darker races is still going on,” Peters said. “It’s not about one white family, it’s not about privilege, but it’s about the way our country has been built. If you wanna tear down these walls you have to have a message that is bold enough to knock out the first brick.”

You can dig Third Root’s music here and connect with their album when it drops later this summer. - Rivard Report


MCU Contributor Ja’han Elliot Jones is a scholar, journalist, and documentarian with works spanning the gamut of race, culture, media, history, and geopolitics. Jones has penned works featured in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Arizona Republic, and on Buzzfeed.

I’ve wondered at the weight of a spirit. Do they wisp about freely or do they trudge along, saddled by their perceived impunity? In what do they take interest? Are there no matters more pressing than the goings on of mortals, or do spirits steal away to concerns of their own? But I’ve learned. I’ve listened, and so doing, I’ve discovered a spirit may occupy whatever space it so chooses, whether that space be an ornate vestige of Americana in Detroit, Michigan, or the soul of a Blues man riffing on the corner of 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard, or—as proven to me—a circular disc of plastic and aluminum.

Third Root’s Revolutionary Theme Music is Martin King. It is Ernesto Guevara, it is Ida B. Wells. It is John Coltrane—Victor Jara—Anna Nieto Gomez. It is the fearful vision of a maritime destiny through the gaze of enslaved Africans imprisoned in the Castle of Elmina—it is their transportation across the ebbing Hell of the Atlantic Ocean to worlds unknown—it is their implantation into the fields of Cuba, Carolina and lands between—it is their arched, aching backs searing under the scorching sun—it is the pain of subservience—it is anger, it is love, it is Black, it is Brown—it is the swift hand delivered to the powers that be. It is the collective work of three men—three students—three teachers: Easy Lee, MexStep, and DJ Chicken George. It is the spirit of revolution objectified, and it weighs .58 ounces. Revolutionary Theme Music is professorship meets prophecy. I spoke to its creators.

JJ: First and foremost, can you each offer your account of how this group came to be? You all have very unique lyrical content, and I’m sure plenty of folks wonder how you all came to know one another.

Easy Lee: My background starts with poetry: spoken word—open mic—slam. I did that in the late 90s. 1998 until about 2000—2001. Then I started putting music to my poetry and that turned into a collaboration with a brother named Treson Scipio. We formed a band called Mojoe. We made soul music, Hip Hop, and rap with live instrumentals and live bands. That led me to do a feature on MexStep’s album. I was featured with him in a song for his Occupied State album called Stand for Something, and after I recorded it I invited him to come perform it with Mojoe at our SXSW set in 2011.

From there, we kept building. Once I realized what he was on and he kept speaking what I was on, we decided to turn some of our conversations into songs, and that became our first album, called Stand for Something. That’s when Third Root was established.

MexStep: I performed as Mexican Step-Grandfather throughout the mid-2000s, and I met up with Easy and Mojoe when I was putting together an event called SonidoColectivo, which was a move to bring together talent of different genres as well as different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And it was through those shows that I got to work with Mojoe and talk with Tre (Treson Scipio) and Easy. Tre did a lot of keyboard work on Occupied State, and I was also talking a lot with Easy about collaborating on project together, and I knew we’d create a mixtape featuring our lyrical skills.

As we kept talking about some of the history here in San Antonio, as well as some of the work I do at the university, we realized our music should be more politicized. It should be a project on Black and Brown cultural overlap. So we started sharing ideas about the best way to approach the rhymes, the beats, the political message; and we started constructing songs—it happened very fast. Me and Easy just shared lyrics back and forth and we came up with the “Stand for Something” song. We also built with my homeboy DJ Chicken George out of Austin—[he and I] grew up together in Houston. It was one of those things where it just felt right to get him involved in this project, given the political direction and the message we were trying to convey. I’m also a professor of Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and my main focus is Black and Chicano cultural overlap and political solidarity.

DJ Chicken George: I grew up in Houston and I’ve actually known Marco for well over 20 years. We used to rap together in high school. We put out a few projects together; one of which later became “Wasted Youth,” and we each sort of went our own ways after high school. Marco pursued his path and I pursued mine musically, and I’ve been in the industry for about 20 years now. I started doing promotions and DJ’ing at the same time, and then I moved to Austin, Texas, in 2003, where I continued to build my name nationally and internationally. I put a few projects out.

But when I heard the Stand for Something album that he and Easy put together, it really moved me—it touched me, so I just wrote to Marco, saying, “Hey, I really would like to be a part of what you all are doing.” And it also gave me an opportunity to work with him after 20 years. So we all collaborated on “The Mind Elevation Mixtape,” which was my induction into the group—it was my way of saying that I’m a part of Third Root. We put that album out on MLK Day of 2012, dropped a few videos, and just kept performing, and now we’ve reached this new project.

JJ: I wanted to ask—and Marco touched on it earlier—about the role Black and Brown Coalition plays in your music. Where does the inspiration to get so political come from for all of you?

Easy: The possibility of poetry. Because of poets like Nikki Giovanni, Gil Scott Heron—I always was aware of the power of poetry to make political statements, so there was something deep down inside of me. But for years I made soul music, so it was all about my blues—my personal struggles—my personal stories, and I’d never really thought about using political views and opinions for songs and albums. But when I met Marco and realized the work he was doing as a professor, he challenged me to start thinking and finding out more about what he was studying, and researching, and publishing articles about. As a matter of fact, he would send me articles when we first started. He was like, “Read this. Check out this article. Check out this book.”

I would go home with two or three books sometimes, and it helped me understand the Chicano soul, and also the history of slaves being sent over to South America before even coming to America. As a young man, a lot of us believed the slave trade traveled straight from Africa to Mississippi, you know? And Marco really helped me with my research, so that’s where my introduction to this political, politicized type of Hip Hop came from.

MexStep: Going through grad programs, and getting the reading on social injustice, and doing the research I was doing, I started to really think about my own past and my own history, you know, growing up in Houston, and how my experience is going to be different from some of the Chicano scholars who came before me. Growing up in Houston, there were definitely areas where there were overlaps of Black and Brown groups through cultural expression, political experience, and at times facing some of the same experiences with inequity, education, the justice system, access to healthcare, and those types of issues.

So as I thought about my history and how I was approaching my scholarship, it really made me think about how the music I’m creating and the scholarship I’m engaging in are really pulling from that overlap—and that really is a big part of my identity. That’s a sentiment shared by many Chicanos—Mexican Americans—Latinos—where Black and Brown culture has become blurred, in many ways. And I just felt, through the music I was creating along with the scholarship I was engaged in, it was really time to explore these histories. And knowing that Hip Hop started as a movement to resist power structure and disrupt an oppressive system really connected me and us to this current movement we’re in—that spirit of shaking up the hegemony that’s disempowering Black and Brown youth today in many areas. Also, you become aware of how systematic processes work; this album speaks to where I’m at—what I talk about in class.

Easy Lee: That was the big light bulb, man. When you start to understand systematic oppression, if you don’t use your art to say something about it, it’s like you’re approving it.

DJ Chicken George: For me, my path was a little more simple, and that’s because I grew up listening to Public Enemy, and KRS-One and all these other artists. I feel like Third Root is just an extension of what I’ve been listening to—what spoke to me. That’s how I was educated: through Hip Hop music and the message.

Easy Lee: And Chicken George makes sure we maintain the tradition of the artists he mentioned, from the way he runs the shows to suggestions for songs. He makes sure that we carry on the tradition of the Public Enemies, and the Poor Righteous Teachers, or the Brand Nubians.

JJ: You mentioned those iconic groups. Oftentimes they’re burdened by the “conscious Hip Hop” title, and that almost seems like a pejorative when I hear that, because it suggests that Hip Hop isn’t inherently conscious. So how do you all cope with the possibility of being boxed in as a group of “conscious Hip Hop” musicians?

DJ Chicken George: I’ll just say this: The response I’ve been getting from people who hear us—I mean, the subject matter is very socially conscious. We’re trying to expose things to people and give them a message, but at the same time, the music has a high entertainment value, as well. They can still bob their heads to it. So we’re not prophesying or beating people over the head with an overly-conscious message, but at the same time we’re not holding back either.

MexStep: I agree that the idea of “conscious Hip Hop” or “conscious rap” demonstrates neglect in understanding the history of Hip Hop and where it came from. So as far as being boxed in, we try to make music that entertains, of course, but music that also expresses who we are—our identity—how we feel about things. So if that’s labeled “conscious,” people can call it whatever they want. We’re just speaking about reality and the reality we’re trying to create—

Easy: Dope is dope, man. We have conscious conversations about making sure a beat sounds a certain way or a certain tempo, so that it doesn’t feel like the heavy lyrical content isn’t taking care of people beat-wise, you know—musically. When you think about Public Enemy, the “conscious” songs they wrote were dope! The Bomb Squad was doing beats nobody was doing; Dead Prez got Kanye early in his career! That “Bigger than Hip Hop” beat was Stic Man (of Dead Prez) and Kanye West making a beat that broke through because it was dope, so we’re on the hunt for progressive sounds that allow us to spit the content but not lose the Hip Hop musicality that draws people to it.

JJ: Sure. As I listened to the album, I noted what seemed to be a concerted effort to give voice to historic female freedom fighters. You’ve included a Nikki Giovanni poem; the song “Soldaderas”; and obviously, the song featuring clips from historian “Michelle Alexander” (Author of “The New Jim Crow.”) Was giving a voice to some of the uncelebrated, female heroes of the freedom fighter movement intentional on your part?

DJ Chicken George: Absolutely.

Easy Lee: Yeah. When we started working on the new album, Marco made the call and said we’d have to make sure we do something for the sistas and the soldiers of the revolution who don’t often get recognized, because women get looked over a lot. I know he brought that to the table, and once he said that, we all were looking for an opportunity to put that in the album somewhere. That we included the Nikki Giovanni poem, read by one of the most celebrated people in Philly radio, Dyana Williams, “Soldaderas,” and Michelle Alexander –that meant a lot to us.

MexStep: In our music, we definitely have a goal to help people become more conscious and aware so that we can make movements toward getting social justice for our communities. And we feel like any movement for social justice needs to include women. We’d be thinking of the marginalization of women and how patriarchy has damaged social movements—stagnated the growth of those movements. We thought it was important, given the fact that this is 2014, to address those issues. Of course it’s on this album, but this will be something that is always on our agenda.

Easy: Let’s be honest: Michelle Alexander is on the front lines of one of the most important revolutions of the modern time, man. So bringing some awareness to her work and what she’s sacrificing to get these messages across about mass incarceration and the caste system in America is really important.

JJ: I hear you. One of the things I noticed about that song and, more generally, the entire album is that the language is very incisive. It seems a theme in the album is speaking truth to power. That requires a lot of maturity and I’m wondering what paths you all took to reach that level of maturity. How did you achieve comfort in speaking about patriarchy, and racism, and classism?

Easy: I’ve always been on a path of self-discovery, and I’ve been exposed to some things through this project. This project opened me up to the idea of continuing my education and I think as I’ve continued to study more on my own, the more I’ve matured from a socially conscious standpoint. I feel like I’ve been a mature musician for a long time, so I brought my experience with making music to the table, but my experience with social consciousness has been maturing since I’ve been in Third Root. I think this project is just another opportunity to showcase Easy’s mind and how it operates when it comes to social issues. The next one will be even better.

MexStep: Early on—even in high school—I remember being in a group with Chicken George, and we were looking at the world around us, being critical, and constructing songs that would critique the injustices that were going on during that time. So we were working on it back then, but I think, too, thereading in my grad program and on my own—beyond the syllabus—as well as listening to revolutionary Hip Hop helped. I listened to artists from different genres: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and artists that were composing political songs. I think they informed the music that I continue to make, so I was always trying to reach for that. But I’ve lived some years, done a lot of research, done a lot of writing, and I think it’s really helped inform how I produce music with Third Root. When we write these songs, we’re checking references, we’re looking things up. It’s almost like we have a works cited page for the songs we’re creating, and this is something I hadn’t done until I worked with Third Root.

Chicken George: It’s constant elevation—constant evolution. I’m constantly learning throughout this process, so I’m very interested to see what happens from here. But I know the focus will always be about awareness and education and social consciousness.

JJ: Understood. That said, what does success look like for each of you? I get the sense that success may not always be quantified by album sales but, perhaps, something more intangible.

DJ Chicken George: Personally, I feel that if we’re in our community and we’re reaching people, then we’re doing what we need to be doing. I feel we’ve already had a number of successes in San Antonio and Austin, and it’s just going to keep growing from there. Our audience is going to get bigger and bigger and farther and farther from where we’ve started. I’d like to see us perform on a global platform at some point, and that’s what we’re aiming for.

Easy Lee: I think success for Third Root is us reaching a point. Whether that point comes because albums are selling or because we’re getting around performing a lot of live shows, or because some free song got around the internet—I don’t care how it comes, but if we can put ourselves in a position to mobilize communities then the music is doing its part. It’s giving us the platform to help educate the youth about how to take action in their communities. The success is relative. It’s not about radio spins or Billboard charts; it’s more about the community using what we’re doing either now or down the road.

If another Black and Brown collaboration can study our music and say, “That’s how they did it, so we can do it like this,” we’ve done our job. And also, we just want people to open up some books and just read. When we’re making these songs, laptops are open and books are open. When you listen to the music, you might have to look something up or ask somebody about a name in a song. If we’re making people do that, that’s success. - My Click Urban


From the lilting sampled opening riffs of “Brother, Brother,” the first tune on Third Root’s sterling debut disc, the listener is immersed in a timeless sonic space, pulsing forward in an old school deep R&B groove, cascades of keys swirling all about, the mix held together with cannonades of propulsive righteous wordplay that connect rap to re-telling the history of brown and black peoples, “from Africa, to Mexico, to San Antonio and back.” Third Root, a San Anto hip-hop supergroup, brings together Easy Lee of Mojoe with Mexican Stepgrandfather (aka Marco Cervantes, my colleague on the UTSA faculty), along with a large cohort of other impressive local collaborators from Bombasta, Mingo Fishtrap, Mojoe, and some of the city’s most adept producers. It’s “the story of Saytown, connected by the culture of hip-hop … Eastside Black, Westside Brown.”

Stand for Something is an exemplar of consciousness-raising hip-hop as popular pedagogy. When the duo isn’t engaged in funky theorizing (“division is the root of all confusion … criminalize the black and brown face”) they’re likely to be running through a vast archive of name-checking their mentors and precursors (“streetwise-intelligent, Satchmo-elegant, Chuck D-militant”) eventually including Robert Johnson, Carlos Santana, Randy Garibay, Steve Jordan, and Flaco Jiménez, among many other luminaries.

Luxuriantly produced, Third Root’s disc runs from R&B and blues grooves, to mestizo mixes of accordion and brass in hip hop settings. There’s even room for bicephalic experiments that evoke Portishead and Radiohead. As they announce at one point, “so many dope styles it’s like lyrical graffiti.”

Stand for Something is a San Anto original, a mind-clearing antidote to the nonsense politics of our presidential campaign season.

- John Phillip Santos, SA Current
- San Antonio Current


If there was any doubt that 2016 was the year that ATX hip-hop artists would rise up, refuse to remain in the shadows and take their rightful place as the vital and necessary voice of the bleeding streets, let’s go ahead and put it to rest. Austin/San Antonio crew Third Root has assembled a dream team of top Central Texas emcees for this explosive “posse cut,” “Soul Force” recorded at Adrian Quesada’s studio, Level One Sound.

Third Root’s own spitters, Charles “Easy Lee” Peters and Marco “Mex-step” Cervantes, are joined by local heavies Bavu Blakes, Da’Shade Moonbeam and Riders Against the Storm alongside San Antonio standout Vocab for an exhilarating three-minute lyrical blitz that soars with an irrepressible spirit of uprise.

The project was devised by Third Root DJ, Jeff Henry, better known as Chicken George, who came up with the concept of “taking (his) favorite conscious rappers from Texas and putting them all together on one song” over a year ago. The idea was to do an old school, Native Tongues-style track, with all of the artists in the studio at the same time, feeding off each other’s creative energy. They gathered at Quesada’s South Austin studio on Martin Luther King weekend in 2015.

“We put the beat on collectively and pretty much agreed to write about things that would touch on the topic that Third Root focuses on, which is community building, activism, empowerment through hip-hop,” Peters says.

With Dr. King’s legacy lingering in the air, the artists flipped the script on a narrative of insurmountable strife, infusing their verses with conquering love.

“The idea of bringing artists together who have community and social justice in mind, you could feel it in the room, a lot of that energy,” Cervantes says.

“Let the collective supernature take it’s whole course / Step by step Barbara Jordan called it Soul Force,” Austin OG, Blakes raps on his verse, summing up sense of power through unity that reverberates through the track.

“As a community — as black communities, brown communities, communities of lower income — there was a time when it felt like the courage was being suppressed and stomped out in so many words,” Peters says. “We were scared to take action.”

He believes recent widespread media coverage of long-simmering racial strife, exposed by cell phone videos from the streets, has an empowering effect on artists and activists alike. “I think all of that has kind of helped the young people see that it’s up to them and up to us as leaders and teachers to stand up and take action to be proactive.”

Artwork for the track was created by Izabella Tablante, one of Blakes’ seventh grade students at Decker Middle School and enhanced by graphic designer Tosin Nisot. Eric Morgan, a.k.a. Master of Self from Crew 54, shot the documentary video that accompanies the release. Third Root’s next album “Libertad” is scheduled to drop next month. - Austin 360


Discography

Singles - "Call Me Black" (feat stic.man of dead prez), "Pinot Noir", "Bendicion"
LP - STAND FOR SOMETHING
MIXTAPE - Mind Elevation
Single - "Revolutionary Theme Music" featuring Big Rube

Photos

Bio

Third Root is a hip-hop collaborative based out of San Antonio, Texas that focuses on  Black and Brown overlapping culture and identity. Third Root consists of hip-hop music artists and writers Charles Peters (Easy Lee of Mojoe), Marco Cervantes (Mexican Stepgrandfather), and Jeff Henry (DJ Chicken George) whose individual histories resonate in the sound of the group. 

After a conversation on the Black presence in Mexico’s history, Peters and Cervantes agreed to build a collective centered on Black and Brown political solidarity and cultural overlap. In June 2012, they released the full length LP, Stand For Something, a call to engage listeners and artists in critical discussions on race, beauty, and social justice. Their follow-up project, Mind Elevation Mixtape, announces DJ Chicken George's official inclusion into the group and fuses DJ CG's unique Jazztronica! sound with the politcal overtones of Third Root. Their third release Revolutionary Theme Music offfered San Antonio producer Greg G's sound that raised the bar with urgent drums, hypnotic samples, and memorable melodies under rhymes of unity and empowerment.  Third Root's latest album, Libertad, produced entirely by Grammy Award winning Adrian Quesada, reflects today’s current mobilization among Black and Brown communities in the face of debilitating cycles of police brutality, flawed educational systems, privately owned prisons and detainment centers, corporately owned politicians, and racist judicial systems. 

Band Members