Meet UMD Rapper & Professor, Dr. Jose Magro

In the 1990s, Jose Magro would throw hip-hop parties in Alcorcon, Spain, a city southwest of Madrid.

At one of these parties in 1992, a group of guys who Magro did not know came and performed. Magro said, “They all performed and they were pretty good. I performed there and they thought I was pretty good, too, but we never talked about it.”

About two weeks after the concert, Magro ran into one of the performers on a plane while heading to New York. The performer invited Magro to stay with him in South Bronx. During that time they developed a friendship, and together they formed connections with other performers and El Club de los Poetas Violentos was created.

Image result for el club de los poetas violentosEl Club de los Poetas Violentas (CPV)/Youtube

In addition to bringing real hip-hop to Spain, Magro is a professor at the University of Maryland. There, Magro teaches Spanish courses and incorporates hip-hop in his teachings to enrich the study of Spanish.

Magro said that when thinking about CPV’s influence, “You must think of the situation in Spain in the early 1990s. We were fresh out of a dictatorship so Spain was pretty homogeneous...The music that was coming out of the neighborhoods was not representative of the time.”

He added, “We brought a very aggressive approach to music, but we were socially conscious of what was going on.”

With CPV Magro has made over five albums. In these albums CPV aimed to bring awareness to what was happening in Spain at the time. Magro said “We were really the first group that did a real hip-hop album in Spain. Before that it was just attempts from different groups to try to rap in Spain, but it was a disaster.

Our group was the first to bring in, adopt and adapt the hip-hop language structure to Spanish and localize hip-hop and make it our own style.”  

Magro, 46, has also created nine solo albums, under his rap name, El Meswy. Each of Magro’s solo albums represents a different stage in his life, while all of them deliver anti-racist messages.

His first album is titled “Doctoral Thesis,” which he released in 1997. In 2017 he closed the album theme with the release of “Postdoctoral Thesis.”

In his academic journal, “Talking Hip-Hop: When stigmatized language varieties become prestige varieties,” Magro explained how “Spanish is a tool used by artists to express emotional closeness. On the other hand, the switch to English is used to represent distance, which is also a practice used in NYC's Hip-Hop in Spanish.”

Despite going solo, Magro is still very close with all the members of CPV and continues to perform with the other members. In 2017 Magro performed with CPV in Spain, in what he says was a “really good concert.”

While in Spain, Magro got a degree in social psychology. Years later, he moved to New York, where he lived for 10 years.

While in New York he started a program in South Bronx for at-risk youth utilizing hip-hop. Because he enjoyed working with children in this way, Magro decided to pursue a master’s degree so he could become a certified New York State Spanish teacher.

Magro then decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Hispanic linguistics. His dissertation was titled "Language and Racism-Motivation, linguistic proficiency and awareness in the Spanish as a second language classroom: Integration of contents related to the socio-political nature of language in a content-based approach," his UMD biography states.

Magro spent two and a half years working at George Washington University before Manel Lacorte, an associate professor at UMD, contacted him two years ago about a job.

When asked if Magro’s artistic past played a role in UMD hiring him, Eyda Merediz, the head of the Spanish department said, “Obviously it made him a lot more attractive as a candidate.” Adding, “He does have a Ph.D. in sociolinguistics and so that was very attractive to me. He also had plenty of experience in public schools in New York and he also had experience in higher education. So that combination obviously made him a perfect candidate.”

Jose Magro/University of Maryland

In his classes, Magro incorporates hip-hop by asking students to write rhymes in Spanish. While teaching Magro is full of energy and makes engaging jokes. He usually exudes a simple swagger while wearing jeans and T-shirts.

One of Magro’s previous students, Kyle Starling, said, “I believe that he used rap as a means to be relatable to us students and make Spanish more enjoyable.” Starling then added, “I love Jose, so yes, I enjoyed the class.”

When asked if it’s difficult for him to get respect in the academic community, Magro said, “The field of hip-hop studies is very developed...so only conservative, very traditional scholars have some rejection toward it.”

Magro added that the feedback he’s received from students on his integration of hip-hop into classroom setting has been “very positive” and his focus when teaching is solely on the students.

Lacorte said, “He’s quite an attractive resource for [UMD] and a person that students really like and are eager to learn from...He teaches introductory courses and students are quite amazed at the things they do in class.”

When asked about a defining moment in his life, Magro responded “There are so many moments...Always when your first kid is born, that’s a defining moment,” he jokingly added, “Because your life is over and now it’s all about them.”

Magro lives in the Washington, D.C,. area with his wife and two kids. His two kids both love music and his daughter was featured on one of Magro’s songs.

Magro plans to stay in the United States, continue teaching and also plans to write and perform more songs. He is currently working a few songs that he hopes will be a part of an album in the future.