New York Avenue in Trenton becomes “Wall Street” for the day when the walls of TerraCycle Inc. become blank canvases for scores of artists participating in one of Trenton’s signature summer events — the Jersey Fresh Jam.
The Saturday, August 6, event also has a reputation as New Jersey’s premiere hip-hop festival and one of the most respected hip hop celebrations on the East Coast, say its organizers —members of the Trenton-based Vicious Styles Crew.
Free and open to the public, the aerosol extravaganza now attracting hundreds started in 2005 with a modest handful of Trenton street writers — aka graffiti or street artists — coming together for a day of painting walls at the Trenton-based company known for recycling — thanks to TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky’s appreciation of the art form.
Thanks also goes to 40-year-old Trenton artist Leon Rainbow, who coordinates the annual event and handles the less colorful aspects of an arts festival: getting permits, setting schedules, raising funds, and whatever else needs to be done to get the art on the walls and the music playing.
“Jersey Fresh Jam is a celebration of hip hop in its purest form,” says Rainbow. “(It’s) basically going back to when people would set up in New York City parks and have shows, showcasing the best DJs, MCs, Breakers, and Graffiti writers.”
The event attracts artists from New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, and New Jersey, including known area artists Kasso, Mek, Ras, Demer, Rain, Azma, Snow, 4Saken, Menas, and Muzik. Also participating is guest artist Isaias Crow, whose work is the subject of the exhibition “Be Music” at Galeria Casa Cultura, Trenton’s only Latino gallery, opening Friday, August 5, and on view through September 5. Crow — birth name Gibran Isaias Lopez — was born in 1978 and raised in both El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.
The artist was inspired to paint at age five, after seeing his father paint on a poster board. His interest led him to graffiti art and then to the Art Institute of California in San Diego, where he graduated with a degree in media arts and animation.
Today, as one review notes, “Crow’s work is all encompassing of his lifestyle, from painting large-scale murals to showing at galleries to teaching life skills via art workshops domestically and internationally.”
“I became involved in graffiti art because it helped me express my emotions and stay sane in the difficult world of my childhood,” says Crow in a publication.
A teacher of murals for schools and prisons, Crow sees working with other artists as a way of engaging energies toward a unified end. That includes encouraging “the viewer toward introspection; to prompt him to look within and see the power within him or herself. Our team works together to inspire each other and then we paint and with our painting we hope to collectively inspire the people.”
In 2008 he and several associates created the Przm Process, an organization that provides programs and services for the public, through the arts, culture, and civic engagement. The organization uses “creativity as a transformational tool for inner and outer peace.”
Rainbow met Crow in 2007 when he joined other artists to create a 100-by-10-foot mural in Rosarito, Mexico. Rainbow says he was struck with Crow’s individualist approach to “mixing colors patterns designs and figures. I respect him as an accomplished artist. He really has his visual library together and can pull a trick out of his hat at a moment’s notice.
“He is (also) always willing to push his own limits and challenge his self. Isaias has so much energy. When we paint walls together, he is all over the place. He really goes with the flow and can do everything — characters, background, pieces, layout — all quick and on point.”
Rainbow was also impressed by something else in the artist. “He is a real and good dude. Aside from the art, he has shared his experiences and how he has grown into the person he is today. He has always taken me in and treated me so well. He is truly a family man. Everything revolves around his family. Painting with those guys and experimenting really inspired me and recharged my battery.”
Talking more about this year’s Jam, Rainbow says, “The addition of break dancing this year is going to make Jersey Fresh Jam truly a five elements of hip-hop event. We will have Dv8tors Dancers from Jersey City and Souljerz BBoy Crew from Newark.”
The five elements, according to hip-hop writers, include graffiti as in writing a story or history, emceeing as an oral expression, DJing using beats, B-Boy/B-Girl-ing for break dancing, and knowledge of purpose. Among the dozen or so bands participating this year are Molly Rhythm from Trenton, Respect Tha God (Perverted Monks) from Brooklyn, Weapon E.S.P. from Massachusetts, and Trenton rappers Valona Denise, Rell Gambino, Val Dagrain, and Levi Lennon.
Rainbow says the number of musicians involved made it necessary to change the festival, with bands playing in front and in back of the building and an area for break dancing.
Summing up the spirit of Jersey Fresh Jam, Rainbow says, “It is truly for the love and to showcase your talents. It has an interesting mix of people, lots of different races and ages, and things seem to come together fine.”
It also does something else. “It gives the city one day that (people) can come out and enjoy a free festival with great talent. Get to meet and learn from artists and styles from far and wide. And you never know they could become one of the participants.”
Thinking philosophically, Rainbow, who mixes his art with his web design work for Inforest Communications in Princeton, adds, “Once upon a time I used to go to an event called the BBOY BBQ in Philly. I got involved. That event paved the way for the Jersey Fresh Jam.”
The Jersey Fresh Jam, Saturday, August 6, noon to 7 p.m. TerraCycle Complex, 121 New York Avenue, Trenton. Free. www.jerseyfreshjam.com.
Isaias Crow’s “Be Music,” Galeria Casa Cultura, 222 South Broad Street, Trenton. Opening reception Friday, August 5, 6 to 9 p.m. On view through September 5. Free. 609-468-4231 or www.facebook.com/gallerycasacultura.