Hip hop at Festival of Voice

By Kaptin Barrett

Kaptin Barrett / Higher Learning 

@kaptinisdead (Twitter / Instagram)

I’ve been involved in DJing and promoting live music for about 17 years now. I’m currently Head of Music for the UK’s fastest growing festival (BoomTown) and I get to DJ all over the world and at all my favourite festivals here, from Glastonbury to Green Man, Bestival to Big Love. However, it all started for me at the Toucan Club in Cardiff. My long-time partner in crime Dregz was working there introducing the live bands and being general host with the most, I was living up in Birmingham and working in an internet company selling domain names. I’d been making mixtapes for Dregz for as long as I could remember, so he came up with the idea of me DJing the backroom of the Toucan at the weekends. I’d never considered being a proper DJ really but it meant I could get down to Cardiff regularly to see my girlfriend at the time and hang out with Dregz and the rest of the Cardiff family, so that’s what happened.

At the time the Hip hop scene in Cardiff and Wales in general felt like it was really kicking off with so many exciting acts such as Headcase Ladz, Tystion, Green Giants and Dregz’s own group Potato Skinz plus labels such as Rounda and SFDB. I set up a website while I was in Birmingham documenting all of the music back home but eventually I wanted to be back in the heart of it so I returned back to Cardiff.

Although there was indeed loads of great Hip hop acts, we became frustrated at the lack of representation for the scene anywhere and the fragmented nature of it that meant nobody really knew each other and there was a fair amount of distrust between everyone. We decided the only remedy was to set up a regular night and so after much negotiation with the Toucan Club, the night called Higher Learning was born.

It was Dregz and Ruffstylz alongside myself, and our main concern was to bring the artists that were inspiring us, up to Cardiff and having a place to showcase all of the amazing acts that we had in Wales. That was back in 2000 but our mission remains the same. Although Higher Learning has been on hiatus for a while, Festival Of Voice approached Dregz about representing Hip hop within the festival. It’s now exactly 30 years since the first Hip-Hop jam in Wales so it feels like the perfect time to shout about it and for Hip hop to be finally recognised as an important part of Welsh music history. With such a great festival willing to acknowledge that, then of course we had to be a part of it.

For the night, which takes place at The Tramshed on June 4th, we have put together some of the most exciting Hip hop around in the UK right now. Topping the bill is The Four Owls, arguably the biggest act in underground Hip hop here in the UK and part of the High Focus label (Fliptrix from the group runs the label). I always have to book at least one High Focus act for BoomTown or feel the wrath of their fans which are many. Last year we had nearly all them and they packed the place out all day.

I first saw The Four Owls at The Moon Club in Cardiff a few years back and they’ve come a long way since then, I’ve also just realised that was the first place I saw The Mouse Outfit, who have similarly reached new levels of greatness, becoming one of the most in demand festival acts around and undoubtedly the greatest live Hip-hop band in the country.

Hailing from Manchester, the group combine tight funk laden beats provided by a full 9 piece set of players with some ridiculously skilled MCs such as Dr Syntax and Sparkz. The only live Hip-hop band I’ve seen come close to the energy they create are The Roots from Philadelphia and unlike many great live bands, their recorded material is equally as enjoyable.

Over the years, as well as Hip hop pioneers such as Flash, Bambaata and the first Hip-Hop DJ Kool Herc, we’ve had pretty much all of the classic UK artists at Higher Learning, from Black Twang to Jehst, Task Force to Foreign Beggars. The main ones that eluded us over the years were Roots Manuva and Rodney P & Skitz. Now we can remedy that to some degree as we bring down Rodney P & Skitz, arguably two of the most important artists to have emerged from the UK Hip hop scene ever.

Rodney P first made a name for himself in the mid-eighties with London Posse. Before them nearly every rapper in the UK had a fake American accent but they came through with their own accents and slang and totally changed the game. Rodney then hooked up with Daddy Skitz (who had already helped to launch Roots Manuva’s career with the track ‘Where My Mind Is At’ in 1996), first appearing on the producer’s Countryman album, a true classic that really helped the UK Hip-hop revival which kicked Higher Learning into full gear back in 2001. The pair then went on to host their own show on BBC 1Xtra and have been rocking parties all over the world ever since.

Of course we couldn’t do a night without representing the scene here in Wales, that’s been part of our mission since day one and we’ve never had a night without at least one Welsh artist. As this is such a big event for Wales it’s also only right that we represent both North and South so with that in mind we’re bringing down Mr Phormula from Llanfrothen who as well as being a master beatboxer, has done more than anyone to spread the Welsh language in Hip hop with his bi-lingual raps and working with people like Daedelus, pioneer of the Los Angeles electronic scene, and Hip hop legend KRS One amongst others.

From closer to home we have Beatbox Hann, Sakridd Daly and Melo, all of whom are flying the flag high for Hip hop in Cardiff right now, plus we’re still looking at bringing as many others as we can fit in on the night.

Of course any Hip hop jam in Cardiff wouldn’t be complete without the man who started things 30 years ago by setting up his decks outside Rudy’s Donut stand and holding a jam with MCs such as MC Eric (Me-One), DK and 4Dee. He remains one of the city’s greatest and most respected DJs, and is still as passionate about music as ever, DJ Jaffa. Anyone who’s been to a decent venue in Cardiff should have heard him play by now and some of you will remember his epic 70 hour DJ set some years ago. He’s by far one of my favourite DJs out of anyone and I’m really looking forwards to what he’s going to pull out of the bag for this one.

Oh yes, and I shall no doubt be playing some tunes also! Hope to see you there for Higher Learning as part of Festival Of Voice on Saturday June 4th at The Tramshed.

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