On Friday, August 25th, I attended The Culture 2 at Cathedral Hall. It was a night of local music and art fueled by positive energy. The event was organized by Jersey City's King Tjay and Lexy Loaiza. To be completely honest, I’d never heard of him before then, but his performance and the vibe from that night left a strong first impression. With his follow-up event, The Bonfire, it became fairly obvious to me that King TJay is one of the most ambitious and innovative artists in Jersey City.
September 23rd was a hot night for music and events across Jersey City with multiple shows taking place on the same evening. King TJay described having The Bonfire as "a calculated risk.” A backyard family style cookout full of music and local vendors was the complete inverse to last month's The Culture 2. However, those calculations worked in his favor as the faith he had in the community pulled through to create a packed crowd at one of the most unique, but strangely familiar events that I've attended this year. The setting may not have been as big as Cathedral Hall or as heavily advertised but both events shared one important theme, HEART. It was present at The Culture 2 and it was in full force at The Bonfire along with the titular flame that burned all night adjacent to the stage.
“I started making music and no one would put me on stage. As an artist it’s mad stressful so you’ve got to bring your homies up with you. We’ve to support each other,” King TJay explained. He was true to his words as the night’s lineup was composed entirely of direct or mutual friends to TJay. His social circle was full of energetic and diverse performances.
Book-ending the show were The Kyng Ras and Rashad Wright, two slam poets. They performed pieces addressing the lack of respect the world holds for women along with the troubled experiences of black youth in the United States. These raw performances encapsulated the night perfectly with powerful messages of love, respect, and soul. Other acts included Kyle Blvd whose smooth flows started off the rapper's for the evening. Following, was Ki Bohiti whose street-focused lines got the crowd engaged enough to warrant a surprise. Several members of the Jersey City collective made guest appearances during his performance. Chase Xavier gave one of the hypest performances of the night while dedicating his songs to his family and the residents currently recovering from Hurricane Maria. Finally, King TJay finished off the night with his heartfelt set that included his hit single, "We Those Kids."
Aside from the loaded line-up of emcees and wildly entertaining dance battles in between sets, the sense of community was heightened even further with the wide variety of different vendors selling and showcasing their hard work. Jahlill had his latest fashion line on display from his self-built clothing company, Reigning Bucks. "I want to express my art when I make clothing. When people wear my clothes, it's like having a walking museum of my artwork," he said. Sweet Ash from Bayonne handmakes her own soap, which is available in a variety of enticing scents and shapes. She was also advertising her first fashion show coming up this December in Union City. Vera from Vnique of Inglewood started her handbag business after seeing a coworker’s bag and thought, "I could make this myself." After her shift she went home and immediately started making them and never stopped. She creates one-of-a-kind items with her hand stitching. In this small intimate setting, there was a lot to do, listen to, and of course eat.
Jersey City is currently going through a time of great change and many people fear for the loss of the authenticity in the culture and community. However, artists like TJay are making sure that doesn't happen, “My goal is break barriers, to shift generations. To be myself and influence you to be yourself. My goal is to give back.” It's not just the talent or the artwork or even the collections of local businesses that make his events special, it's the soul and that raw sense of Jersey City love that sets them apart from the rest. From successfully throwing a monster of a show at Cathedral Hall to an intimate family style cookout in a friend's backyard, all I can ask myself is "What will TJay do next?" and I can't wait to find out.
Photos provided by Ashton Jay