A freshly sprayed farm design created in a matter of hours at a previous year’s Jersey Fresh Jam.
A freshly sprayed farm design created in a matter of hours at a previous year’s Jersey Fresh Jam.

Jersey Fresh Jam hip hop festival to return to Trenton Aug. 9

By Dan Aubrey

The business scene at the Trenton-based company TerraCycle is routine for 99 percent of the year, even though the company built on recycling consumer products is known for innovation.

But once a year, that one percent transforms the company’s parking lot, walls, courtyard, and delivery areas into a venue for a capital city phenomenon: The Jersey Fresh Jam.

Organizers call it New Jersey’s premiere hip hop festival, and who can argue? The Jam attracts hundreds of graffiti artists as well as young musicians, entrepreneurs, art supporters, and visitors to Trenton for a day of emcees, bands, and the main attraction of aerosol art.

Held annually “at the twilight of summer” since 2005, this year’s Jam is set for Saturday, Aug. 9, from noon to 6 p.m. at the New York Avenue-based Terracycle. It is free and open to the public.

The term hip hop (“hip” as in cool or current and “hop” as in moving or bouncing) signifies an artistic self expression rooted in urban, mainly African-American street arts: graffiti, rap music, and breaking (a dynamic and fluid combination of dance styles and athletic movements). It is, perhaps, best thought of as a sensibility rather than a fixed definition.

However, there are some constants: honest or frank expression and an inclusionary mixing of cultures and traditions. Although graffiti and hip-hop artists are often taken less seriously by the mainstream, exhibitions of their work at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles have broken attendance records, and its artists also take it serials.

The company is equally serious about its support of those who use the medium to explore techniques and ideas, rather than just deface a wall. In addition to giving both its exterior and interior walls to the art form, the company arranges insurance for the day and allocates between $2,500 and $3,000 — giving a portion to Vicious Styles Crew (VS Crew), the nationally recognized Trenton-based artists collective that coordinates the Jam, to purchase paint and other supplies or support materials. TerraCycle also provides the manpower for security.

Trenton-based street artist Leon Rainbow remembers when he first was introduced to TerraCycle, back when the company’s main product was fertilizer made from worm excrement. A friend who worked with Szaky invited Rainbow to a Princeton party.

“I was there and there was a little table with some bags with stuff in it. It was some worm [excrement], and I thought it was crazy. A couple of years later, my friend said that the same guys moved to Trenton and wanted us to do some art there,” he says.

Rainbow (his actual family name) says that he, Trenton-based graffiti artist Will “Kasso” Condry (Kasso is short for an early nickname, Picasso), and other VS Crew artists visited the office to paint a test wall.

“We painted it, and they loved it. They said that we could paint anywhere outside, but one wall had to be something with TerraCycle,” he says. Albe Zakes, global vice president for communication at TerraCycle, calls it the boring wall.

The first Jam was mainly for the artists, and about a dozen artists participated, including a mixture of respected painters from Philadelphia, New York and Trenton, says Rainbow, who also worked with a coordinator of a jam in Philadelphia.

“He showed me how he got sponsors, artists, and organized walls. We started to bring those elements to the Jersey Fresh Jam, and started slowly,” he says. “When we started to do the music, it started to change the atmosphere to the Jam. It brought a lot of people who were interested in street art, but it brought a lot of people who were interested in hip hop music.”

Rainbow says the event’s name also grew, starting with Trenton Jam. “Then the (State of New Jersey’s) Jersey Fresh campaign got into it. Then it was called the Jersey Fresh Graffiti Jam. We wanted to make it more accessible and added music, and then we began to call it just the Jersey Fresh Jam.”

The partnership between street artists who want to keep creating and a company that wants to keep its edge is a positive and ongoing relationship.

“We just don’t paint during the Jam; we’re there all year round. Some of the walls may run for six months or a couple of weeks. It’s constantly changing,” Rainbow says. “When you paint a mural or wall, no matter how exciting it is, after you walk around it for a while, it becomes part of the background. But if it changes, it’s more exciting. All the walls will change the day of the Jam. And if you go back three months later it will be different. They have a lot of people who come there to do (media) articles, and (the art) always make its interesting shot for them. It’s something interesting in the background.”

Artists, in turn, receive commissions from TerraCycle and other companies that want graffiti art in their offices; one such client was Inc. Magazine in New York.

Rainbow said each year is a little different in terms of how they use the small amount of funds available to pay hard costs and attempt to accommodate more artists who apply to participate.

Each year also engages more artists from around the East Coast, the country, and the globe, including writers from Brazil, Holland, and Japan. But one thing is consistent: the desire to create accomplished art.

“One of the main things I look for in a good graffiti piece is letter style, use of color, flow, use of the wall and originality,” says Rainbow, who also took formal art classes. “Graffiti as an art is full of contrast and contradictions. Anyone can make a mark or go out and do a piece, but to do a piece that is accepted as great by your peers is what matters in graffiti. Many of the same rules in fine art play a part in graffiti.”

The Jersey Fresh Jam, Saturday, Aug. 9, noon and to 6 p.m. Pre-event party, Friday, Aug. 9, 6 to 10 p.m., TerraCycle Complex, 121 New York Ave., Trenton, free. For more info, visit jerseyfreshjam.com or go to Jersey Fresh Jam on Facebook.