Aurora Festival focuses on hip-hop culture

26-year-old Elgin resident Anthony Martinez loves hip hop and many of the elements that have become part of his culture.

“My little brother likes tagging and graffiti and pretty much art, and I have a couple of friends who breakdance and I like to support them,” Martinez said as he stood on Water Street Mall at the downtown Aurora late Sunday afternoon during the eighth annual On the Wall hip-hop festival. “My favorite part of it all is really just hip hop in general – all of its culture.”

The event featured live graffiti, music, a car show, a breakdancing battle, artist booths and various activities for children including face painting.

Aurora’s Marcus Randle said his daughter Nevaeh, 16, just started face painting at a recent back-to-school event and “probably did at least 50 or 60 faces” on Sunday.

“My daughter didn’t just want to be at this back-to-school event, she wanted to be a part of it and from there things just snowballed,” Randle said.

Sunday’s event was sponsored by Culture Stock, The Bad Apples and POBUMS Society, and included a long list of sponsors, including the African American Heritage Advisory Council, as well as various businesses, municipal organizations and city council members.

Aurora’s Nicole Mullins, chair of Culture Stock’s board and head of events for On the Wall, said the festival which began nearly a decade ago is being held “mainly for two reasons”.

“The main reason was that hip hop is widely stigmatized for being solely associated with gangs and drugs and we wanted to promote the positive sides of hip hop and its culture,” Mullins said. “The festival spotlights all elements with DJs, breakdancers and more.”

Mullins added that the annual event is also an attempt to provide more exposure to hip hop for families.

“We’re collaborating with two hip hop crews that have been in Aurora since the late ’80s and early ’90s,” she said. “A lot of them are now grandparents and they always said there weren’t many opportunities to take their kids or grandkids to see them in action with painting, dancing and DJ stuff because it was always in town during the night. We wanted to do a family event for all ages.

New this year, Mullins said, was the use of two different areas, with the car show being offered at the Farmers Market grounds and it was the first time it had returned to the Water Street Mall since 2018.

The event, she says, usually draws between 300 and 400 people.

While a late rain drenched the crowd and wiped out some of the chalk art that had been produced at the site, the party continued into the early evening of Sunday as the crowd watched the breakdancing competition as well than artists like Ilario Silva, 43, of Joliet, who was creating an apple mural on a wall.

“My artist nickname is Sonryze and I’ve been doing this since I was a kid,” Silva said while continuing to apply spray paint to the mural. “One of the bands doing this is called Them Bad Apples, so we painted the different apples with skulls. It rained, but I’m just working with them.

Aurora’s Jose Sanchez said he comes every year the festival takes place.

“If they don’t have that, it’ll die, but it keeps hip hop alive,” he said. “I do murals and make-up myself. At this festival, I don’t do any of that because I always come to see my friends.

Randle said the festival “was beautiful, multicultural and people don’t want to leave”.

“It looks like it’s going to rain here around 5:30 p.m. but people still don’t want to leave. They are always together with the car show on one side and the vendors on the other with the DJ and the breakdancer in the middle,” he said. “It (the festival) just brought the community together for a great day. I give it five stars. It’s not about gangs or drugs – it’s a culture and it’s no different from skateboarders. It’s all inclusive and brings people together.

David Sharos is a freelance journalist for The Beacon-News.

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