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Scene Report

Dreams do come true at Taiwan’s Hip Hop Island

A huge area on the side of a cliff is turning into a Hip Hop paradise

LiFTED | Marcus Aurelius | 13 Apr 2021

For many years, Jacky Zhuang and his friends would watch the videos of The Notorious IBE events in the Netherlands and think of it as the Holy Grail for Bboys. “If you went into the city where it was held, The Notorious IBE was everywhere. There were parties, classes, workshops, battles, and markets on every street. It was a huge event for Bboys,” Jacky said in an interview with LiFTED.

This Saturday and Sunday, Jacky and his crew are gathering DJs, MCs, a band, Bboys, Bgirls, poppers, rockers, graffiti artists, yoga teachers, kids, and more together to celebrate Hip Hop for The Joint Jam’s fifth anniversary called Hip Hop Island.

“After our event got canceled due to COVID-19 last year, we were devastated because we put a lot of money into it. I tried to motivate people by talking about doing something that would make people live in Hip Hop for two or three days. It was a dream at first, but then I put out a call on Facebook if anyone knew about a venue that this could happen at. I soon got a reply and went to check out this amazing place. We were dreaming and now it all comes true.”

For The Culture

Jacky got bitten by the Hip Hop bug in 2002. He loved dancing, but really found a love for rockin’ and teaching kids. As a Taiwanese man, Jacky had to do his mandatory one-year military service in 2010 but talked the army into letting him do Hip Hop performances so he wasn’t bored out of his mind like many of the other soldiers.

During the military service Jacky was involved in translating Hip Hop documentaries into Mandarin so people in Taiwan could learn about the culture. This also helped him practice his English. After finishing his service, he headed to New York City for a year to soak in Hip Hop culture. Coming back from NYC, He started teaching workshops and hosting panels that were big or small. He even helped create Taiwan’s first Bgirl crew, Breakin’ Sistars, and began his own dance crew, Rock Fantastic. “I was tired and busy, but I enjoyed it,” Jacky said. “I enjoy the company of kids.”

The Joint Jam

In 2017, Jacky wanted to host a bigger event once a year, so he started doing The Joint Jam. There is no official leader of the crew. “It’s not my event. It’s not his event. It’s not her event. It’s our event,” said Jacky, even though he claims “I probably talk the most out of anyone.”

For the inaugural Joint Jam, they came up with an idea to get the younger generation involved. They decided to get eight famous dancers who had kids to battle each other. They thought this would be a lot of fun and look great for pictures. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. “It wasn’t successful because kids are kids and they started crying when they got on stage,” said Jacky.

While the kids’ battle didn’t go as expected, they learned a lot of things that worked from the first one including the band freestyling the music and focusing on jams and cyphers more than competitions.

The second year went even better. The Joint Jam grew enough to where they had to change venues in the third year. Year three also added photography exhibitions, discussion panels, and they got a lot of walk-ins from the street because it was an outdoor venue.

Year four was booked for an even bigger venue and the momentum was building. Tickets were being sold and everything was looking good until it wasn’t. COVID-19 shut down the world. While Taiwan has been one of the safest places, the government canceled all gatherings of over 100 people last spring.

Hip Hop Island

The Joint Jam’s fourth anniversary couldn’t go ahead. To give people their refunds, they had a small gathering at Riverside Park’s legal graffiti wall that included music, dancing, and a KIDZ Jam, where youngsters are taught the basics of the art of spray painting. The happiness this brought people in a time of trouble caused Jacky to want to do Taiwan’s own version of The Notorious IBE. This has turned into Hip Hop Island.

Over the years, The Joint Jam has applied for cultural money from the government and gotten a little bit sometimes. Last year, several foundations and some departments from the government heard about Hip Hop Island and said they loved the idea and told The Joint Jam they would give them at least NT$1 million from the cultural affairs budget.

This was it. The Joint Jam could finally make their dream of putting together a Hip Hop city a reality. On December 31, 2020, Hip Hop Island launched and people were hyped for this event even though it was four months away.

Eleven days later a local cluster of COVID-19 cases at a hospital brought Taiwan’s eight-month COVID-free streak to an end. Soon, there were 21 cases and one death, and the government ordered all Lunar New Year festivities and Lantern Festivals canceled to be on the safe side. The NT$1 million that was earmarked for Hip Hop Island was canceled, too, even though there hasn’t been a case of local spread in Taiwan since the beginning of February.

The Joint Jam is still going to put on a hell of a 30-hour party because they are a resilient bunch of Hip Hop lovers with big dreams. Jacky said, “If we lose money, we lose money, but we are making history. We have the faith to keep going.”