If you ever catch yourself in Cardiff on a Wednesday night, there’s only one place you should go. At Porter’s, a 100-capacity venue in the city centre, you’ll discover a thriving rap scene that rivals pretty much anything else in the country. From drill to grime, garage to hip-hop, you’ll hear it all in this brick-walled, concrete-floored bar, which also hosts live comedy and pub quizzes. It’s just across the road from the Cardiff International Arena, which has previously hosted stars like Stormzy, Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj. But right here, in the Welsh capital, a cauldron of homegrown rap is bubbling – and it’s starting to spill its raw guts all over the place.
Over the past year, young rap artists from the ’diff have played across the world and streams are starting to surpass the million mark. Last summer, 22-year-old rapper Juice Menace released an exclusive track for the Welsh women’s football team’s 2023 World Cup qualifier campaign, while Mace the Great, 28, released an energetic, patriotic track celebrating the men’s team’s successes. Venues that were once reserved for alternative, emo and metal are taking plenty of notice too: Clwb Ifor Bach, historically associated with indie music, now often puts on gigs filled with MCs and grime fans. Needless to say: Welsh rap is a thing, and it’s only getting bigger.
Venues once reserved for emo and metal are now putting on gigs filled with MCs and grime fans
This isn’t Wales’s first rodeo as a nation with a vibrant rap scene, though. ‘There were disco DJs playing tracks from people like Sugarhill Gang and Furious 5 in Wales in the early 1980s,’ says Kaptin Barret, DJ and former head of music for Boomtown Festival, who curated an exhibition on Welsh hip-hop for the National Museum Wales. ‘A few years later, MCs started coming out from the area: artists like 4Dee and MC Eric.’ Born and raised by Jamaican parents in Cardiff, MC Eric started out toasting on his brother’s sound system, before making a more direct move into hip-hop. Eventually, he ended up as part of Technotronic, and was involved in the iconic late-1980s track ‘Pump in the Jam’. Similar waves followed in the late 1990s and early 2000s: grime-punk band Astroid Boys were perhaps the biggest, performing a Fire in the Booth freestyle performance in 2012. But a few names aside, all this talent has largely remained underground. The fire faded before the mic could be passed on to the next generation of Welsh-rap stars.
Luckily, a new generation has found ways to ignite its own flame, with artists like Juice Menace leading the charge. The drill rapper came onto the scene via street dance when she was about 16. ‘I always listened to R&B and hip-hop through my parents, but street dance made me want to perform on some level,’ she says. Around the same time, she started studying music technology at Cardiff and Vale College. ‘When I was 18, I said to my [college] tutor: I’ve been asked to go to London because someone wants to manage me, if I’m not in school next week that’s why,’ Menace says. ‘He put it down as work experience.’
Rapper Mace the Great, meanwhile, says that Newport, roughly ten miles away from Cardiff, had the bigger hip-hop scene when he was growing up. ‘There was a YouTube channel called Smokey’s TV – it was someone from Newport just filming MCs clashing in car parks and that,’ Mace says. ‘I started going to Newport to get involved. That was back in 2012 – it fizzled out but I kept doing my own thing in Cardiff, writing and playing shows here and there. It took off properly eight years later, in Covid, when I put out a song called “Brave”.’
While much of the music is rooted in grime and drill, it’s hard to assign labels to the Welsh scene – artists are very much creating their own sounds, borrowing elements from various influences that speak to them personally. Other artists at the top of the game include Deyah, who borrows from R&B; Luke RV, from nearby Neath, who has a strong hip-hop sound; and Sage Todz, who is one of the few rapping in Welsh.
It’s that sense of individuality – each artist creating their own personal rapping style – that makes the Cardiff scene so exciting. Plus, there’s the fact many artists reference Welsh soil in their music. Mace the Great’s soon-to-be-released LP is called ‘Splottworld’ – a name taken from the area of south Cardiff he’s from and a nod to the Travis Scott album ‘Astroworld’ – while Luke RV often drops references to Neath into his bars.
Why would I go to London when I can be at the forefront of everything that’s emerging where I’m from?
And when asked whether there’s any pressure to move to the capital to be a part of the London music industry, Juice Menace says: ‘Why would I join a queue when I can be at the forefront of everything that’s emerging where I’m from? You have to look toward cities like London and be influenced by what they built and how they built it, but I’m not going anywhere.’
When it comes to building a scene in Cardiff, Prendy is a name many people bring up. The events promoter and artist manager has been key to helping bring fresh talent from their bedrooms and studios into live environments. ‘He has a very good eye for what’s going on,’ says Menace. ‘And he’s not picking the same five artists over and over, he’s giving people a chance, rookie or not.’
Prendy is from Somerset but studied in Cardiff and has stuck around ever since. ‘I’m not saying there weren’t any events on here when I started, but there have been a lot more since I have been,’ he says. ‘There’s also more eyes.’ These days, Prendy is more concerned with trying to bring bigger artists to Wales, and get MOBO genres into larger venues around the capital and beyond. ‘I want supporting artists to be up-and-coming local talent where possible,’ he says.
As well as the events at Porter’s and Clwb Ifor Bach, there’s some groundbreaking work being done by Ladies of Rage, a Cardiff-based initiative supporting women and non-binary people in rap and electronic music. ‘As well as there being more opportunities, line-ups in Wales are getting much more diverse: by gender, ethnicity and style of music,’ says Unity, a rapper and founding member of Ladies of Rage. ‘The scene has a real cross-contamination of artists doing their thing, and everyone is very supportive of each other. We’re heading in the right direction, but we still have a way to go to get the same reception here as indie artists.’
This all points to a grassroots scene, keen on championing good music wherever it comes from and one that’s rapidly growing. Ogun, a hip-hop artist and campaigner from Newport, says he now feels he’s at the stage where he’s being more selective about which gigs he says yes to. ‘I’m at a point where I can just do gigs that pay, plus it keeps slots at smaller places open for people who need them,’ he says. Meanwhile, artists like Mace the Great are now making a living by being a musician full time, which is impressive for something grown from scratch in a world of Spotify streams. And while many players in the scene are now putting on shows all across the country, if you really want to experience the beauty of it – those small rooms sweating with some of Wales’s most exciting talent – you’ll have to head to Cardiff.