Cardiff rapper set to perform at one of the world's biggest music festivals

By Reem Ahmed

A dad from Cardiff who started writing songs as a "side hustle" and aspires to be a full-time rapper is set to perform at one of the world's biggest music festivals.

Mason Burnett, 27, began writing songs as a child, but it remained merely a hobby for several years while he worked as a barber and in an office job.

After the birth of his son, the dad decided to follow his dreams and start making music more seriously.

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Under the stage name Mace The Great, he has released 12 songs, including an EP, in two years - all while working his current job and raising his baby.

Through his rap music, Mace has catapulted his name far beyond Cardiff - earning himself an invite to the MOBO Awards and a coveted spot to perform at South by Southwest music festival in Texas.

Now working on his debut album, the rapper strives to diversify the image of Welsh artists and promote Welsh music of black origin.

Born and raised in Cardiff, Mace's music has taken him around the UK but he's "always been based" in the Welsh capital, where he still resides.

His school years saw the humble beginnings of his music journey, when, aged 13, he started making music with a group of friends.

"As we got older, certain things happened, and my friends went on to do different things, but I just stuck with it because I was still enjoying it," the 27-year-old explains.

After high school, he trained to be a barber and remained in the job for six years, before moving out of his mum's house into a flat and taking on a nine-to-five office job.

But his dream simmered quietly, yet fiercely, in the background, and Mace found himself unhappy with his "normal" day-to-day life.

Mace The Great decided to take making music more seriously after the birth of his son in 2019 (WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

"I was still doing the music on the side. Then it came to a time where I just thought, if I want anything to happen, I need to take it more seriously. If I treat it like a side hustle, it's always going to be a side hustle."

Realising he was at his "happiest" when he was making music, Mace finally decided to put his "side hustle" centre stage after the birth of his son in 2019 and quit his office job.

In 2020, he took on another job, but now devoted more energy to his passion, with "a lot more planning" in terms of song releases, music videos and funding applications.

Over two years, he released 12 songs - eight of which were included on his EP 'My Side of the Bridge' released in March 2021 - all recorded at Silkcrayon Studio in Cardiff Bay and produced fully independently under his own label MTGM (Mace The Great Music).

Describing his creative process, Mace says he finds inspiration from "everyday life" and "turning pain - or that pleasure - into something better".

"The good times, bad times, pressures of what's expected of me in my situation, things I've felt in the past, things I've made people feel, if I've done someone wrong, or someone's done me wrong - it's all ammunition to use in my music," he explains.

As all his new music was produced during lockdown, it was only in September 2021 that he was able to put on his first performance as "Mace The Great" - as a supporting act in Clwb Ifor Bach.

"I only performed three songs, and the crowd just went crazy," he recalled. "I was like, oh my God, I don't believe this," he said.

"From there, one booking led to another booking, which opened another door and so on and so on.

"I think it was important that I released music of good quality all through lockdown - so as soon as the doors opened for events, they said they wanted to book Mace."

He describes one particular single 'Brave' - released at the height of the BLM Movement in 2020 - as not only a crowd-pleaser but also his own personal favourite and a "stepping stone" for his journey.

"That's because of the reaction it gets when I perform it. I just feel like people really love that song," he says.

"It was made at a time when people needed something," he continues, and adds that the song's powerful music video features newspaper cuttings of racial tensions at the time.

His music and journey have resonated with younger people in Cardiff, with some citing him as their inspiration.

"That just gives me a little pat on the back to keep going," he says. "For me, it's all about being the person that I needed when I was growing up - that's all I think about. I'm not out of reach - I'm just normal, like everyone. It's about letting the young people know that they can do this, they can do better - go for it".

But appreciation for Mace's new music has transcended the city, his own fan-base, and crowds at his concerts - his work has earned him unprecedented national - and soon-to-be international - recognition.

Mace won the Triskel Award created by the Welsh Music Prize in 2020, then was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize itself in 2021 (WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

In 2020, he won his first-ever award - the Triskel Award for emerging artists, created by the Welsh Music Prize, a feat which garnered him support on the television and radio, as well as a cash prize.

The achievement only spurred Mace on to "keep going" - and in 2021 his EP was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize itself, which is awarded to the best album by a Welsh artist each year.

"I was grateful to just be included and involved. I just thought, if I got this far off the EP, who knows what could come when I actually make an album then?" he says.

"Where I come from, we don't get noticed. So for Welsh Music Prize to tell me my project had made it to the shortlist for 2021 out of hundreds of projects - in the top 12 out of the country - it's crazy.

"Obviously I believe in myself, but when you don't get support for so long, naturally you don't think they're going to support you," he says.

Then, in 2021, he was announced as the Welsh Ambassador for Independent Venue Week 2022 - a week-long celebration of independent music venues around the UK - following his performance at the festival in Newport the year before.

The dad says he jumped at the opportunity to represent Wales at the festival, which will take place in early February this year - not only to promote music of black origin at his headline show, but to diversify the image of Welsh artists and music.

"For so long, people like myself, people who look like me and come from where I'm from, don't feel like we get put at the forefront of Wales," he explains.

"And this is partly the reason why everyone outside of Wales thinks there's no black people here, because for so long they put indie bands at the forefront. But - no disrespect to the indie bands, because I think some of them are great - there's a lot more culture in Wales that should be put at the forefront as well."

The feats don't stop there. Mace has also made the MOBO UnSung: Class of 2022, an annual talent competition run by the MOBO Organisation that helps provide a platform for black unsigned artists.

The dad beat off hundreds of other artists to be shortlisted to the final 20. He had to perform in front of judges in London, after which he made the top ten final acts for the prestigious program.

For Mace, the achievement is "crazy", and could not have come at a more "perfect time".

"Now I've got that support all through 2022 with the MOBO UnSung," he says. "They're going to help me with funding, brand collaborations, booking agents - everything I need next year, they're going to help me with basically - touring, festivals," he says.

"My dream is just to be able to pay my bills, feed my son and do what I love full-time. So I feel like I'm getting a bit closer to that."

Mace still has another job and hopes he can turn making music into a full-time career (WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

As a result of making the top ten, Mace was invited to the MOBO Awards in December 2021.

"It was mad. It was just like a taste of what like could be like," he says. "It was inspiring meeting some of some of the people who I think are crazy talented - being able to talk to them and have a simply conversation with them, and then being able to just party with them after. It was really good - I could do it again tomorrow. It was just amazing."

As the only Welsh person on the MOBO UnSung list, Mace says while he's used to "being the Welsh guy in the room", he hopes he can now "set the tone" for change.

But Mace's biggest feat is still yet to come and will see him put Cardiff on the map for a huge international audience.

After he performed at the FOCUS Wales festival in 2020, a promoter encouraged him to apply for this year's South by Southwest (SXSW), one of the world's biggest music festivals, held in Austin, Texas.

He found out the news that he had been invited to perform a set at SXSW while in a caravan in Tenby with his son and partner.

"I was like, oh my God, I don't believe it. It's crazy. Literally unbelievable," he says. His triumph is more impressive still as he will be the first Welsh rapper to perform in person at the event, which is will take place in March.

For Mace, the aim is to "take it all in, enjoy it and come back with more than I left with" - and he's also looking forward to sampling some Texan cuisine.

"It is like a dream for me, because I've never been to America," he says. "So the fact that the first time I'm going is to perform my own music - it's like, whoa, this is huge for me."

The rapper also hopes to release his debut album in the second half of 2022, which he's been working on for the last few months.

"I'm really looking forward to it, because I think it's some of the best music I've made yet," he says.

"It's paying homage to a lot of music that influenced me as a kid - so you'll hear a lot of familiar references on there that will remind you of certain songs from years ago," he continues, adding that it is "more stripped back, honest and vulnerable" than his previous work, exploring stories of his "family, childhood and values".

The 27-year-old admits it's been a "constant chase" ever since he decided to release his music more consistently.

"Everyday, I've just got to make sure I'm working towards my vision. I can't waste days," he said.

Mace admits the last two years have been a "constant chase" as he works towards being a full-time rapper (WalesOnline/ Rob Browne)

But despite his relentless drive and meteoric success so far, the dad is still very much grounded in his everyday responsibilities, which he admits can be "tough", as his goal is to make music full-time.

"I still have a job," he said. "I still balance work, and music and life and being a dad and stuff like that. It's like I'm juggling lots of things - but I can deal with it, so it's okay," he laughs.

Meanwhile, Mace's family have been a "massive blessing" in his journey

"My family are all super proud of me. My mum knows not it's more than a little hobby. She's always asking me how the shows are going. My dad also supports me massively. My little brother comes to all my shows with me. My nieces and nephews think I'm some rock star," he laughs

And, though his name is growing in both national and international renown, Mace insists he's "not leaving Cardiff any time soon".

"I've got priorities here. I can't just up and leave, my roots are here. And I'm happy I'm happy to be here. My family's here. My son's here. My life is here," he says.

"We need to show people that there's not just one kind of person in Wales - there's people of all cultures, all backgrounds and they're all talented," he continues.

"I need to be here in Cardiff, kicking doors down and being here with the people. And I'm happy to do that - I don't want to move to London."

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