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Spanish Professor Retakes the Stage


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José Magro

Magro grew up in Alćorcon, Spain, just southwest of Madrid,
a town that became the hotbed for Spanish rap, by and large due to the
influence of a nearby party-centric American military base in Torrejón.

His journey began at a rap-battle party in 1992, where he
watched his future bandmates perform. Two weeks later on a flight to New
York, he met one of them, an MC named Rachid “Kamikaze” Baggasse, and
accepted an invitation to collaborate on some songs. CPV was born
shortly thereafter, and its music aggressively critiqued the recently
formed democratic government in Spain that included members of the regime of the late dictator
Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975.

“[Hip-hop] was our tool to communicate and express our
frustration, especially in a country with youth unemployment over 50%,”
said Magro, who adopted the stage name El Meswy. “We were living under
mostly the same regime with the appearance of being in a democracy.”

In 1994 the group released its debut LP, “Madrid Zona
Bruta,” one of the first of its kind in Spain. Its rowdy, rebellious
music was an activating force for the communities that El Meswy,
Frank-T, Kamikaze, Paco King, Supernafamacho and Mr. Rango grew up in,
drawing from American rap styles to put their struggles into the art
form that was taking off all over the country. CPV songs like “Defase”
(Gap) denounced the neo-Nazi presence in Spain at the time, “Turns out
he’s a fascist, and in my hand I have an ax, I split his head in two,”
rapped Frank-T.

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Following the release of CPV’s third album, “Grandes Planes,” the magazine Mondo Sonoro described it as a departure from its often angry, aggressive attacks on the social order of Spain.

“Their albums, until now, reflected an almost constant
annoyance with everything around them. With power, with the musical
world, with priests, with the police,” it read. “They seem more fun now
and we’d like to think it’s because they take themselves less

CPV became the first Spanish hip-hop group to produce an
album at the famed D&D Studios in New York, which boasted talent
like Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, Foxy Brown and Nas.

“For us as youngsters, we would see who we were listening
to—to us they were superstars…we saw Jeru the Damaja, and of course,
Killarmy was there mixing the album and we did one track with Dom
Pacino,” recalled Baggasse.

Despite “Grandes Planes’” status as the most-sold Spanish
hip-hip album in 1998, the group members were still hustling other jobs
to make ends meet and soon went on hiatus. “We were never meant to be a
group, but rather a collective of artists, a club of poets—we became a
group by accident,” Magro said.

Each member put out his own solo projects. Magro extended
his linguistic flair and theme of antiracism into his own music that
reflect his own experiences, including his debut album “Tesis Doctoral”
and “Tesis Postdoctoral,” released 20 years later. His last full-length
project was released in 2021.

“Belonging to the hip-hop community has always been very
closely linked to being a linguist … that experience helped a lot with
understanding language, how language works, and how language is
performed,” said Magro.

Magro’s past as a performer informs the way he thinks,
writes and teaches. After receiving his bachelor’s in 1995 with the
Universidad Complutense de Madrid, he moved in 1999 to Brooklyn, where
he earned his master’s in Spanish education and doctoral degrees in
Hispanic linguistics. He became involved with the KIPS Bay Boys &
Girls Club in the Bronx in 2010, developing a program teaching critical
thinking to at-risk youth via hip-hop, serving as the inspiration to
take up education full-time.

A few months after completing his Ph.D. in 2016, he arrived
at UMD, where he infuses his classes with a variety of Spanish hip-hop
lyrics for insights into the cultures and struggles of Latino and
Hispanic countries worldwide.

“Those communities that are underrepresented, they have a voice through hip-hop,” he said. “It’s a very useful tool.”

In addition to his Spanish classes, Magro works as an
independent antiracist consultant on and off campus. In May, he released
his first book, “Language and Antiracism: An Antiracist Approach to
Teaching (Spanish).”

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