This article was originally written in 2015 for TMRW Magazine.
There’s a bit of a stigma in the UK surrounding music quality and geographical location. Everyone knows that the North West is the home of British rock, London is the birthplace of garage and Wales is the home of choirs – right?
The same stigma and presumptions are placed upon rap music in the UK. If you’re a rapper and you’re from outside of London, you won’t be taken seriously. Granted, a majority of the UK’s best and most famous rappers hail from the English capital, but it’s time for the UK to take note of rappers hailing from all over the UK.
“Grime and UK hip hop is very popular in London and other major UK cities and sometimes the smaller towns and cities don’t get taken seriously.” Benji, from the Welsh group Astroid Boys tells me.
Rap outside of London
Skepta, JME, Professor Green, Kano, Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Lethal Bizzle; the list of London rappers goes on and on. The list of rappers from outside London, however, is much harder to write. Mike Skinner, of The Streets, was born in Birmingham and is one of few rappers who come to mind.
One area that certainly doesn’t spring to mind when thinking about UK rappers is Wales. The land of sheep and rugby is known musically for its male voice choirs and Tom Jones, with few rappers coming from Wales.
Charlie Sloth, the figurehead of British rap, released a documentary in 2012 called ‘Rap Britannia’, which documented the lack of rappers outside of London. In it, he interviewed rap fans and asked them what they thought of Welsh rappers. To say the response Sloth received was underwhelming would be an understatement; Sloth was laughed at and no one knew of any Welsh rappers or thought any from Wales were credible.
British rap fans think Welsh rap is a joke and it’s clear to see why.
A lack of attention from the undoubted home of British rap, London, would be one clear reason. The second reason would be that the most famous Welsh rappers are undoubtedly Goldie Lookin’ Chain.
Let me say first of all that I can’t help but like Goldie Lookin’ Chain. They don’t take themselves seriously, their raps are funny and they’re a good watch live (I’ve seen them a couple of times). Their strong Welsh accents, ‘gangsta rap’ image and controversial actions have made them one of the most well-known rap groups in the UK, but they never have and never will be seen as a credible act.
In 2005, they performed before the Wales v England football match and decided to dedicate their song ‘Your missus is a nutter’ to England star David Beckham. I was there and it went down a treat with the fans, but this was GLC in a nutshell.
Goldie Lookin’ Chain, as hilarious as they can be, have unfortunately set the precedent and reputation for Welsh rappers. As a result, it has been difficult for Welsh rappers to break through and gain attention outside of their homeland.
The Resurgence of Welsh Rap?
The last few years, however, has seen a change in fortunes for the Welsh rappers looking to make it. The lack of activity from Goldie Lookin’ Chain, plus an aim to promote more music outside of London from the big time DJs and radio presenters in rap and hip hop has attributed to this.
A number of Welsh rappers have tried their hand at breaking the boundaries of Welsh rap; Flow Dem appeared on Sky 1’s ‘Must be the Music’, whilst Tiny Skitz (now performing as Fernquest) gained praise for his appearance on Fire in the Booth.
The group undoubtedly leading the way for Welsh rap is Astroid Boys, a Cardiff collective bringing a different vibe to the rap scene in the UK. Speaking about the different vibe and individualism Astroid Boys bring to the UK rap scene, MC Benji said “we play with a lot of different styles and ideas and don’t tend to conform to any set genre.”
The group were formed by Traxx (Philip Constantinou), a MC heavily influenced by his punk rock and hard-core days. It’s the band’s variety of influences and backgrounds which makes them what they are; Traxx’s punk influence, mixed with Benji’s rap background and DJ Comfort’s hip-hop style. Throw in producer Dellux’s individualism and you have an unique mix of punk-rap.
“For me, it isn’t about the music I’m rapping on. If there is a beat and a rhythm then I can find a groove and say what I need to say.”
Benji, Astroid Boys
Their journey started with the release of the Space Jam EP in 2011, before adding a live drummer, ‘Big H’, to bring a new element to their sound and live shows. It was this move that really launched Astroid Boys outside of Wales, where they had been regularly selling out shows.
It’s not been easy, though, with the Welsh rap reputation hanging over their heads wherever they have gone. Benji argues that being a Welsh rapper has it’s ups and downs. “The downside is that to begin with you have to prove that you are not a gimmick and that you don’t live on a farm with four pet sheep. Then you have to actually be talented…” On the plus side of being Welsh, the Cardiff-born MC said “being welsh makes us unique. We have a different tone to our voice which allows us to play with different flows. That helps us to stand out as rappers.”
It hasn’t held the group back, however, as the Astroid crew and following continues to grow. Appearances on shows such as Fire in the Booth, Westwood’s Crib Sessions, as well as love from Radio 1 DJs Huw Stephens, DJ Target, Jen Long and Sian Anderson have gained the band a following and fanbase outside of Wales.
It’s their live shows, though, which have captured the hearts of many and have cemented the Astroid Boys’ place amongst the best live independent bands in the UK. They’ve gone on to play at major festivals Glastonbury, Reading, Ghostfest, Download and many more.
“Our live performances are exciting and full of energy. Lots of bass heavy music that gets your blood pumping and a friendly atmosphere that makes every fan feel welcome.” – Benji
2015 has so far been a big year for the Astroid Boys group, with progress back on track. The release of their ‘CF10’ EP has been their most successful release yet. Their live shows have been taken to a whole nother level on their headline UK tour. They’ve even headed abroad this summer, playing shows in Switzerland, France, Holland and multiple shows and festivals in Germany.
Welsh rap may still not be well known across the UK, and it will probably never be on the same level as the London grime and hip-hop scene. There is, however, a resurgence in Wales, with the Astroid Boys certainly leading the breakout. 2015 has already been a big year for the Cardiff collective and with a European tour, with Deez Nuts, in the pipeline for the remainder of 2015, the Astroid train shows no sign of stopping.
It may be one act, but the Astroid Boys are going a long way to change the UK’s view on Welsh rap.