The Rezza Brothers have known screaming fans. While being driven in a limo to gigs where they performed for tens of thousands of people, they’ve heard giggling girls request their songs on the radio.
More recently, they’ve come to know the serenity of family life in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “We really love the life here. We go get ice cream with the kids and watch the sun set.”
The path of this transition is long, winding, and littered with dropped names. Within fewer than six degrees of separation from Adrian (42) and Lucas (39) Rezza, you might find Drake, Simon Cowell, The Weeknd, Misha Brueggergosman, C-Lo Green, Eminem, Taylor Swift, Sam Roberts, and even actor James Gandolfini.
Like Gandolfini — famous for his tough-guy role in the television drama The Sopranos — these brothers play at a gangster lifestyle in their alter-ego life as 80 Empire (the name of their band, as well as their singer/songwriter/production team). Their social media feeds and online presence are filled with sinister sunglasses, straight-outta-Compton hand signs and headgear, and nasty sneers and pouts.
In direct contrast, the Rezza boys in person are gentle, engaging, and mainly parental. Their four children (two each, all between the ages of five and twelve), answer the door at Lucas’ pleasant family home off Charlotte St.
The two young families moved to NOTL from Toronto in 2014, following their parents’ move of 12 years prior. Adrian says, “We just loved the pace, the small community — but with lots of arts and culture, very cosmopolitan. This felt like the place to raise our children.”
Lucas says, “One evening I posted on Instagram, ‘A great walk after a great night in NOTL. I could live here.’ Out of the blue, six weeks later, we put an offer on the house.” When he saw the listing, he sold his wife Muy on the move by saying, “We can actually have trees, honey!”
In the time they’ve been here the Rezzas have grown more than roots — they’ve sprouted big dreams. For themselves, for their clients, and for the town.
“NOTL is more than the place we go to sleep at night. We want to grow old here. We want to say that we helped to build a scene here.”
The Rezzas were signed to a major record label in 2000, and have recorded since then as the Syndicate Boys, the Syndicate of Sound, the Rezza Dons (TRD), the Rezza Brothers, and now, 80 Empire. Their current oeuvre also includes their own indie recording label, Gladiator Records.
“We chose the Gladiator name for our Italian roots. Gladiators were slaves fighting hard for their freedom — we’re fighting for our own financial and artistic freedom. We’re David against the Goliath of the major recording studios.”
They are writers (with a publishing deal with Universal Records), producers, musicians and mentors. Their recent endeavours include co-writing and co-producing the theme song for the television series the Real Housewives of Miami, as well as producing a song for an indie film, and scoring the complete soundtrack for another television series.
Lucas has installed a full recording studio in the basement of his unassuming Old Town home — a fact which even the next door neighbours did not know. In this subterranean suite of cool, the brothers record themselves and a variety of clients.
There are roles: Adrian is Sir Analogue, with a passion for all things vintage. Lucas is Sir Digital, a Star Wars and sci-fi geek, the man behind the monitors — and keyboards. “Adrian was always the voice — I was always the pianist. I went to York University to study jazz, but after my first year became, according to them, too experimental. So I switched focus, and got a degree in digital recording and mixing.” Paving that path for 80 Empire and Gladiator Records.
The latter now represents several young talents, including up-and-coming artists Heather Russell (once part of Simon Cowell’s stable), Brazilian singer Julianna, and performer Taveeta, known for her role on the Canadian teen dance drama series The Next Step.
The Rezzas co-write and co-produce music for these artists, record, mix and master everything in their studio, and then head out into Niagara to create videos for the songs.
They’ve used the town as an inspiration and backdrop for a number of music videos, one featuring Taveeta, Shaw actor James Daly, and American actor Robert Funaro (of The Sopranos, Vinyl, and Law & Order). “We flew him up from Jersey for the video — filmed it in the bar at the Old Winery Restaurant.” Also in this video is local Leo Medici — who couldn’t have known when he parked his 1970 pink Cadillac at ValuMart on Queen St his life would take an interesting turn.
“I saw the car and knew it needed to be in our video. I waited in the parking lot until Leo came out, and I asked him if he wanted to be in a video,” says Adrian, typically energetic and excited. They love to improvise and spontaneously add local colour. Another video was filmed at the Niagara airport, where the Rezzas convinced a helicopter pilot to allow them to film his landing and add it to their oeuvre. Other local film sets include the Exchange Brewery, and Fort George.
Not only do they see the town as a set, even as a character in itself — they also see it as a future super-power in the music industry. “We want people to look to NOTL like [famous sound studio] Muscle Shoals, or Stax Records, or Toronto’s current world-leader hip-hop and R&B scene. Why can’t we build something here where years from now they’re doing a documentary on NOTL and the Gladiator sound?”
Niagara-on-the-Lake is also home. “I’m a Niagara person for life. The schools are nice, there’s a sense of community. Our kids are growing up with a sense of history — Black Loyalists, Indigenous history — it’s all here.”
Back in the ‘real world,’ Adrian drops the Pharrell Williams hat and commutes to Toronto daily for his work as a high school teacher, and Lucas loses the mirrored aviators and travels Niagara as District Manager for Yamaha Music. Of course they’re fathers and husbands too. And children themselves.
“Everything we’ve become, everything we do, is thanks to our amazing parents. They are our greatest influences. They took us to see every Motown and hip-hop band that played in Toronto while we were growing up. We would go shopping with them for eclectic music: calypso, African, reggae, funk, motion, hip hip, all of it. They exposed us to everything, and supported us all the way.”
In fact, the greatest arbiter of taste in their ‘empire’ is Gangsta P — their mother, Patricia. “We run everything by her because she really listens, and she’s truthful.”
Gangsta P is helping Sir A and Sir D build quite a legacy.
“Art lives forever. We’re going to die, but our art will live on. Our grandkids can say, ‘These guys really tried, they really were gladiators.’”