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Bringing the Rich History of Hip-Hop to Wales’s Museum Audiences

Kaptin Barrett is a rapper, DJ, artist manager, radio host, and promotor best known for being the Head of Music for Boomtown when it was the UK’s largest independent festival. Kaptin is now working with Amgueddfa Cymru to bring the rich history of hip-hop to Wales’s museum audiences. As a hip hop archivist, Kaptin explains how he is working to engage new audiences and shine a light on previously overlooked musical maestros and hip-hop contributors.

Amgueddfa Cymru is a family of seven museums located throughout Wales, including National Museum Cardiff and the National Roman Legion. With Kaptin’s expertise and support, Amgueddfa Cymru is building an exciting exhibition detailing hip-hop’s surprising Welsh history, set for release in July 2025.

We asked Kaptin more about the experience of building the exhibition so far, covering celebrations and challenges, and highlighting just how important it is to bring diverse voices to any museum project.

Hip-hop roots: a fresh perspective

Kaptin is the first to admit that he doesn’t come from “a museum background”, but his wealth of experience in the world of hip-hop drew Amgueddfa Cymru to him.

Kaptin says, “I ran a hip-hop night in Wales for 12 years, was a promoter and a DJ, briefly a rapper, and ran several workshops. A lot of my work was centred around the community and promotion of the hip hop scene, and trying to give local artists a platform.

“As a rapper, I got into the festival scene. I got my first gig at Glastonbury in 2004 and decided that I had to spend more time in fields. Through connecting with a lot of bands, I began programming Boomtown.

“I was Head of Music there for 10 years. After lockdown, I started to think events was not a secure industry, and the audiences were getting younger and younger. It felt like time to hand it over. That’s when I moved into the museum role.”

Head of Music vs. Hip-hop archivist

Festivals to museums might sound about as dramatic as a career change can get, but for Kaptin, the similarities were evident.

“In both industries, you’re trying to push the importance of creative and cultural arts – particularly alternative arts. I’ve always been a music pusher first and foremost, and working in festivals gave me experience in just how diverse the hip hop scene is.

“Museum work is a more manageable pace. In festivals, everything needs to be done yesterday, while museums provide more time to reflect. But in both events and museums, there’s an intense focus on understanding your audience.”

A less linear approach

When you think about hip-hop, Wales may not be the first location that comes to mind, but Kaptin knows better than most just how rich the history of hip-hop is within the valleys. There have been countless contributors to Wales’ diverse hip-hop scene, and Kaptin is keen to shine a light on as many of them as possible. To do this, the exhibition is set to take a less linear approach.

“I wanted to step away from the tried and tested narratives, and make it more inclusive. This involved collecting oral histories from 60-plus interviews with different people and unique experiences.

“From there, it was about finding common themes. The main themes of the exhibition are competition, culture, and community, as well as exploring Welsh identity, and how hip-hop has impacted Wales. We begin by showing how hip-hop has been grounded in Wales since at least 1982. But from there, it’s split more into different elements and genres, rather than periods, in a very image-focused way.”

The power of technology

Although discussing the history of hip-hop in Wales, Kaptin isn’t afraid to look ahead. Technological innovation is proving key for creating an engaging and participatory museum experience for future visitors.

“The exhibition shows the evolution of how we consume hip-hop, moving from Walkman and tapes to magazine covers, old-school televisions, and computer screens. And, of course, more recently, smartphones and social media.

“Technology shapes our relationship with hip-hop, and the exhibition reflects that. We’re creating a dance space within the exhibit too, and that’s also very image and video led. Within the dance space, there’s going to be an opportunity for people to learn to dance.  We’ve got a lot of ideas for other immersive elements too, including beatboxing, workshops, DJs and more.”

Engaging diverse audiences

Of course, technology is not the only innovative part of Kaptin’s work with Amgueddfa Cymru. Building relationships with local people within the hip-hop industry has allowed him to not only gain access to rare, insightful artefacts, but also to showcase just how diverse the Welsh hip-hop scene really is, from rap to dance to beatboxing and beyond.

“By conducting interviews, I can bring as many voices as possible into the museum space, from the current DMC UK champion (who is from Wales) to one of the founder of DMC UK, who was also from Wales. He was also gay, so we’re highlighting LGBTQIA+ stories and rebalancing the perception of hip-hop as a very straight, male industry.

“We’re also covering more contentious topics like graffiti, trying to humanise it and showcase the sense of community behind it.”

Advice for other museum professionals? Honest narratives aren’t clean cut

Speaking to so many passionate, experienced hip-hop contributors and lovers has given Kaptin a wealth of information to draw from, and this makes it all the more challenging to create a clean cut narrative for an exhibition space. That’s because, as Kaptin says, the truth isn’t meant to be straightforward.

“This experience has introduced me to a huge range of exciting people from all over the industry, and a lot of them have different ideas of what hip-hop really involves. That honesty is what will make the exhibition so exciting. I want everybody’s voices in this.

“If your view is that it’s not hip-hop, I want you to be saying that from the inside rather than from the outside. People love authentic debates, and we’re giving everyone a space in this exhibition.”

When it comes to other museums undertaking similar projects, Kaptin’s advice is to embrace the chaos. True stories aren’t clean cut, and representing all parties means undertaking a collaborative approach.

“Engaging communities is the most important part of any cultural work. The hip-hop community is actually a cumulation of many different communities, with different people, age groups, genders, races, sexualities, and experiences. It can’t be easily defined, because it’s difficult to define something that’s constantly evolving. That’s the beauty of working together.”

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