INTERVIEW| MJ CHOPS IT UP WITH JERSEY’S RENOWNED GRAFFITI ARTIST LEON RAINBOW @Aerosoleon

 IMG_20170921_091309Leon Rainbow is a Graffiti Artist and founder of Jersey’s biggest Hip Hop Festival, Jersey Fresh Jam.  The festival was established in 2005 and has grown to be one of the most respected celebrations on the east coast of Hip Hop Culture and all of the elements. Each year Leon brings together aerosol artists from all over the world, indie and legendary emcees, deejays, and photographers. This annual celebration of Hip Hop is well known in the communities attended by babies, kids, adults, and families!

MJ: First and fore most I want to con­grat­u­late you on the con­tin­ued suc­cess of Jer­sey Fresh Jam and mak­ing it a mis­sion to cel­eb­rate the cul­ture of Hip Hop.  Share some his­tory about the fest­ival and how you came to play a major role in it.

LR: Thanks MJ. In 2005 one of my friends con­tac­ted me about paint­ing at a ware­house he was work­ing at. It was a young, hip com­pany with big ideas and lots of blank walls. That is when I met Tom Tsza­ky, the CEO of the com­pany Ter­ra­cycle. This now Trenton based com­pany was talk­ing about worm shit like it was gold, and in a way it was. So they were tak­ing worm shit, mak­ing a tea out of it, pack­aging it in recycled Pep­si bottles and selling it as plant fer­til­izer.  Go to https://www.terracycle.com to find out more about the com­pany. So when we met Tom, Will Kas­so, Brandon Jones, and myself did a test wall. We have been paint­ing the whole build­ing ever since. It was import­ant because it gave us a loc­a­tion to do classes, bring people from out of town to paint and throw events.  Our first Jam was 15 graf­fiti artists from NJ, Philly, and NYC, a boom box and a few cases of beer. The first few years it was called the Ter­ra­cycle Jam or The Worm Poop Jam until even­tu­ally we came up with Jer­sey Fresh Jam, a nod to the state’s agri­cul­ture cam­paign. Only we were grow­ing a Hip Hop com­munity. Things star­ted out slowly and grew very organ­ic­ally. We star­ted hav­ing music one year and that really made it into a fest­ival. I still don’t know how it worked. I helped Pose 2 with Philadelphia’s Legendary BBOY BBQ and I just tried to cre­ate a sim­il­ar qual­ity event. It’s a little bit harder in Jer­sey because it’s a smal­ler mar­ket but we have made a name for ourselves and I am proud of what the event has become. Each year we try and do a little bit more and improve. Right now we have all 4 ele­ments rep­res­en­ted as well as vendors, and spon­sors. It has evolved into a strong com­munity Hip Hop event. We have had amaz­ing artists like El Da Sen­sei, Cap­padon­na, and Mas­ta Ace.
MJ: Take it back for our read­ers. How were you per­son­ally drawn into the art form of Graf­fiti?  We hear so many stor­ies of how emcees and dee­jays got their start, but it is very rare we get the his­tory of Graf­fiti artists.

LR: When I was a kid Hip hop was big in the 80’s. I loved Rap, Dee­jay­ing, Break­in, and Graf­fiti and how it blew up on the scene. At the time I lived in San Jose, CA. Like many graf­fiti writers my first influ­ences were books like Get­ting Up, Sub­way Art, Spray Can Art and the movies Style Wars, Wild Style, and Break­in. As soon as I saw Style Wars I was drawn to graf­fiti. Then I star­ted tag­ging loc­ally, Bus Hop­ping, as it was called at the time. We would cut class and steal mark­ers and paint and tag the buses all over our city. Loc­al influ­ences were King 157, Picas­so and Dare Wcf.  In ‘92 I moved to New Jer­sey and graf­fiti was put on the back burn­er. I got into drink­ing and get­ting high. Dur­ing that time, I just drew on paper in Black Books. I got clean and moved to Trenton, NJ in ‘97. I star­ted going to school at Mer­cer County Com­munity Col­lege for graph­ic design and walls in Trenton in 1999 and 2000. In 2003, I met Philly artists Pose 2, Joe Base, Sew and oth­ers. They really schooled me. I was doing it wrong, hahaha. There are cer­tain things that are bet­ter learned from another artist than a book, magazine, or the inter­net.

MJ:  I am curi­ous to learn; do you dabble in any of oth­er ele­ments of Hip Hop? Does Leon rap? Your pieces of art offer a visu­al story with knowledge…I guess I answered my own ques­tion, but would love to hear it from you.

 

LR: Oh man when I was a kid I dabbled in Break­in. I have a lot of love for Dj’s and MC’s but I’m just not music­ally inclined. Rap and Poetry inspire me because the words are so visu­al but I only cre­ate visu­al art.

MJ: Hip Hop is for the kids! What is your reac­tion to that? How would you say Graf­fiti ties into that?

LR: Yeah Def­in­itely. I always try and inspire the youth as much as pos­sible. But I feel like sadly that they don’t want it. I guess with the inter­net things are so access­ible. When I was com­ing up if you told me to stand on my head in the corner I would do it if I thought it would make me a bet­ter artist. Don’t get me wrong there are some young people that are pas­sion­ate about Graf­fiti and Art. But as a whole not so much. I have done after school pro­gram­ming and work­shops off and on for the last 15 years.

MJ: There is a pleth­ora of unre­cog­nized tal­ent in Trenton, NJ mainly because of the repu­ta­tion the city has.  Do you think the fest­ival is help­ing to dimin­ish those ste­reo­types and spread pos­it­iv­ity?

LR: Yeah. I feel that Jer­sey in gen­er­al is just start­ing to get props. It is tough being between NYC and Philly. I think the city’s rep is what it is. It is a city that has crime. How­ever, I believe that the graf­fiti and art scene in Trenton is spur­ring a lot of pos­it­ive change. When the event star­ted in 2005, the graf­fiti scene in Trenton was in its infancy. We had graf­fiti writers that came into town from Pennsylvania or North Jer­sey but we didn’t really have a tight knit com­munity like we do now. Over the last 5–10 years’ people have been com­ing into the city mainly because of the arts and cul­ture scene. There is great under­ground hip hop and rock scenes in this city, as well as a lot of tal­en­ted artists both of my gen­er­a­tion and those that came after me. I have a lot of love for the City of Trenton. It is a city of second chances and tal­ent. The import­ant thing that Jer­sey Fresh Jam has been is a melt­ing pot. It has allowed us to bring in oth­er artists, rap­pers, djs from all over, and show­case them to the pub­lic. It is truly a com­munity event for people of all ages, races, col­ors!  All just for the love of Hip Hop.

MJ: Talk a little bit about your own pieces and what they con­trib­ute to Hip Hop.

LR: For my fine art stuff I am work­ing on a Dynam­ic Abstract series. They are brightly colored pieces that incor­por­ate pat­terns and designs into city­scapes, char­ac­ters, and scenes. For my graf­fiti, I try to be well roun­ded. Tak­ing tra­di­tion­al styles, good let­ter struc­ture, and col­or schemes and giv­ing them my own twist. I like to do themed pieces where the back­ground goes with the let­ter­ing and char­ac­ters. I take a letter’s first approach. Basic­ally, all the oth­er ele­ments sup­port and exem­pli­fy the pieces.

MJ: As we wrap up is there any­thing else you would like to share?

LR: Go after your dreams, con­tin­ue to improve your­self, get with people bet­ter than you that can school you, pay your dues and stay humble.

MJ: Much respect and con­tin­ued suc­cess to you and Jer­sey Fresh Jam! Thank you for keep­ing the cul­ture alive!

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MJ Savino

MJ Savino

MJ is Hip Hop Blog­ger, Pub­li­cist, Book­ing Agent, Act­iv­ist, but fan first and fore­most. “Hip Hop saved my life, it is only right I give back to the cul­ture”!

About MJ Savino

MJ Savino
MJ is Hip Hop Blogger, Publicist, Booking Agent, Activist, but fan first and foremost. "Hip Hop saved my life, it is only right I give back to the culture"!