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.
Top image: Marco Cervantes, a.k.a “Mexican StepGrandfather” at Level One Studios. Photo courtesy of Francisco Cortes