Meet Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist

Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Flameholder, aka Ruffstylz, aka Dan Lloyd – Cardiff based hip hop pioneer, emcee, activist. 

I grew up in London until I was about seven or eight years old, enough to get the London attitude towards life into me but not long enough so it consumed me; making a three year detour through living in Kent to coming to Cardiff was great for me I think in that it gave me the best of both worlds – that big city energy mixed with some breathing space.

In Kent I was there when hip-hop started to blossom, me and my friends were actually out there dragging our lino round to different places, breakdancing on the streets and seeing the early hip-hop classic films when they came out. It was Michael Jackson’s Thriller era too, it was a blessing to be there around the start of these huge cultural phenomenons.

We came to Cardiff and I became a right little nerd (there’s a family video of me that might make you want to end my life). I went from being the sort of kid who wouldn’t be scared to get in a fight to a shy and vulnerable type. I went through the typical growing up process and after years of introspection, curiously questioning everything about life and learning individuality I reconnected with my early hip-hop roots when I tried writing lyrics. I instantly came out with something that had talent in it but I was really aware of the corny bits. I definitely didn’t want to let it go though, I had a spark and I knew that if I kept changing what I didn’t like about it I’d be left with what I did like. Hip-hop was a huge part of the development of my confidence.

It was in Cardiff I became fully fascinated with music, always listening for what was new and interesting. In particular I’d become fixated on remixes; if something was a remix I had to hear it. I loved Shep Pettibone, he was a producer who did remixes for everyone up to Madonna and the way he sampled and played with people’s vocals was a whole new world to me. I started using a mechanical double tape deck to make remixes of tracks using the pause button. I got really good at it and pushed the boundaries of the equipment I was using beyond what it was meant for but people never really heard them, I didn’t push my talent out there enough. Part of me thinks if I was focused enough with what I was doing then I could have been a nationally recognised Radio 1 DJ today or something similar. I think it’s good to tell people thoughts like that about what we feel we haven’t achieved, we all probably have them in our head to some degree.

I periodically kept up the writing, called myself Ruffstylz and became really focused on the strength of maximising the power of words – the same principle behind what poets like Saul Williams and Buddy Wakefield do. I sharpened it and sharpened it until I felt I got rid of the weak spots. Ultimately though the Cardiff music scene was still apathetic at the time, before the 2000 mark. I was passionate about getting things going with emceeing or DJing but I could barely find anyone with the same enthusiasm.

I moved back to London for two years and started to make some sort of name for myself. I was received there in the way I’d always wanted. I also got myself into music journalism, I wrote for Ministry (Of Sound) magazine, Music Week and Hip-Hop Connection. The biggest thing I did was being sent to review Eminem’s show by his record company. A big part of my passion was in wanting urban music to be treated with the same respect as all the jangly indie stuff that was celebrated by the radio and I tried to bring more light to the talent in the UK that I felt was unfairly overlooked.

I came back to Cardiff when I’d ran out of money and the time was right for me and two friends Dregz and Kaptin (now head of music at Boomtown Fair) to start a night called Higher Learning at The Toucan Club (the best club in Cardiff hands down if you ask me).

Boom, that was it, as soon as we provided a stage for local talent all that untapped energy I knew was in Cardiff exploded and I lost count of the amount of classic nights we had. We brought everyone from Task Force to Rahzel and Arrested Development there. People loved it, it was amazing. Also my friend Dan came up with the idea of starting a label called Associated Minds. We did it, grew to a team of eight and put out loads of great material. I never felt the press in the area ever really recognised us or supported us but we played all over the UK. Me and Beatbox Fozzy had a really special and innovative show that killed it everywhere we went. Fozzy’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, he’s never stopped blowing my mind.

We once supported Rhys Ifans’ group The Peth, they nearly took us on tour with them. I also went to work for and then be tour manager for Killa Kela, a beatboxer who’s performed with Prince, Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake. It was an honour to be around his talent and his whole team Spit Kingdom operated properly to a world class standard, it was highly inspiring.

A number of years back I went to a theatre audition in London my friend Jason Camilleri (the aforementioned Dregz) at Sherman Theatre/Welsh Millennium Centre referred me to. As a result of getting it I got trained in acting, improvisational skills and physical theatre. We then put together a show called Freestyle Forums with the directors Kwesi Johnson (someone who’s addicted to always trying something new) and Felix Cross from Nitro Theatre where we performed a 20 minute play about a young person getting involved in a gang and getting stabbed, then we’d say to the audience we’d perform it again and this time at any point they could put their hand up, say “Freeze”, we would freeze still, then they could come down and take the place of the main character, make different decisions and see if they could make the story have a different outcome while we improvised the rest of the play around them in freestyle rap.

In addition to being really innovative it had a good social purpose of making young people think about how they have the option of making different decisions in bad situations. We did a few performances in schools. I was playing the leader of the gang and in a school in Bristol one of the boys who seemed like he was part of a little gang of troublemakers came up to me and said “Whoa, you’re evil” with wide eyes. It made me happy that I did it well enough that he wasn’t just laughing along with the badness. We also did a Whose Line Is It Anyway variation style of the show where we improvised freestyle along with video footage. All of this really used us to the full, it was super challenging and very satisfying when we succeeded.

I then got involved in a show called Serious Money with director Mathilde Lopez. She’s a genius, working with her is perfect. I had to convert two Ian Dury songs into rap versions for the cast to perform. The Guardian gave it 4 stars. Then I was in Praxis Makes Perfect by National Theatre Wales which was Gruff Rhys’ group Neon Neon’s album/theatre show combined into one. It was immersive theatre, where the set, the actors and the audience all move around each other all the time. The response was overwhelming, damn near everyone treated it like one of the biggest triumphs in theatre from this area. I’d always wondered to myself if I’d be able to act and I never guessed how all these things I got involved with would move me into new and uncharted territory each time.

Following that I was getting very dismayed with the state of the world and I really latched onto some of the internet documentaries that came out that decoded and explained how society actually works. I loved the Zeitgeist films and ended up supporting the Zeitgeist Movement heavily, just because it was so inspiring and the ultimate in open-mindedness. I suppose you’d call it activism. I also went and got involved with the Occupy Movement in London, Cardiff and Bristol and gave a talk about the idea of a resource-based economy at Occupy Bristol and also at Cardiff’s Philosophy Café (I’m actually the only person I’ve seen who’s been allowed to speak there who’s not an academic). Occupy was amazing as an open forum on the streets but the only thing they weren’t really willing to question was money itself. Zeitgeist has the best ideas I can find but I realised in the end it’s too intellectual for people, we need something that communicates the same messages that hits them in the heart. I think Russell Brand came really close.

I’m not a vocational person, I’m a leaf in the wind just trying to do good things. I’m allergic to settling for second best; I think I’m a visionary who can see the potential of society and I’ve done everything I can to try and contribute to its growth. I want an unprecedented, historic, life-changing, global spiritual evolution – the big one we’ve all been waiting for but have been made to feel too small to talk about or create. The removal of limits in our minds and the will to change our social system from a competitive to a cooperative one. The reclaiming of us living in a way where we’re hungry to dive into the mystery of life. Metaphysical thinking. The reduction of science to its appropriate size in the grand scheme of things and a humility for the sheer brain breaking, mind-boggling unknowable size of everything we don’t know, in line with the indescribably beautiful poetic way the whole of existence works in perfect harmony. Let’s go for Utopia. If anyone has the resources to go for the best meal/the best job/the best house/the best partner then we’re all over it. Apply the same thoughts to changing the social system and people go ‘Whoa…’ and say it’s not possible. All it is is fear and negativity and negativity is weak.

i don’t feel comfortable talking about myself, it makes me self-conscious straight away because with everything I do I want people to take away the meaning or inspiration of what I’m showcasing and do something with it themselves but I can say throughout all of this Cardiff has been a great base to do my thing in. There’s nothing specific I could say about why but it just continues to have this lovely extended circle of hundreds of really cool people who are interesting and interested in things, I feel you can talk to people here in Cardiff and they listen.

Dan Lloyd now performs and produces as Flameholder: find out more …

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