Reel Life Productions

Reel Life Productions
Reel Life Productions
Reel Life Productions.png
Parent company Aknu Media
Founded 1988
Founder James H. Smith
Distributor(s) Overture Records (1998—2001)
Overcore Records (1998—2001)
Pollution Distribution (1998—2001)
TVT Records (1998—2001)
Aknu Media (2007—present)
Select-O-Hits (2007—present)
Genre Hip hop
Country of origin US
Location Detroit, Michigan
Official Website

Reel Life Productions, also known as Gothom Records, is an independent record label based in Detroit, Michigan that specializes in hip hop music. The label was founded in 1988 by James H. Smith and his younger brother, rapper Esham. Since its formation, RLP had released much of Esham's discography, and had been home to a number of other artists, including Natas, Dice, Mastamind, T-N-T, Kool Keith and The Dayton Family.

While the label was once cited as a vibrant example of independent success in Detroit hip hop,[1] Reel Life Productions' peak in success occurred under distribution through TVT Records and an association with Overcore Records.

James Smith was imprisoned in 1994, and Esham later signed with Psychopathic Records in 2002, achieving his highest level of success with Psychopathic's support. Since leaving Psychopathic and reforming Reel Life Productions, however, Esham has been the label's primary artist, and has not achieved much success without Psychopathic.



Establishment (1988—1997)

James H. Smith founded the label in 1988 with his younger brother, Esham, a rapper.[2] According to Esham, by the time he had started to rap, Detroit did not have a prominent hip hop scene. Smith states that "Everybody was just imitating what everybody else was doing".[3] His older brother, James, encouraged him to seriously pursue a career as a rapper because of the city's limited hip hop scene.[3] At the age of 13, Esham released his debut album, Boomin' Words from Hell, in 1989.[4][5] In 1990, Reel Life Productions reissued his debut album with an alternate track listing and artwork.[5] Esham found it difficult to develop a fanbase, because many wrote off the dark content of his lyrics and imagery as shock value, while hip hop fans did not connect to Esham's albums because of his heavy metal influences.[3]

Esham met Mastamind as a student at Osborne High School, who gave him a three-song demo tape of his music, leading the two to form the group with Esham's longtime friend, T-N-T, deciding on the name Natas, an acronym for "Nation Ahead of Time And Space".[6] In 1991, Esham met Joseph Bruce, a member of the group Inner City Posse, who praised Esham and Reel Life Productions, and gave Esham a copy of the group's EP Dog Beats, beginning the two rappers' friendship and professional relationship.[1]

In 1992, Natas released its first album, Life After Death on Reel Life.[4] Following the release of this album, Esham, Natas and Reel Life Productions were the subject of much controversy when a 17-year-old fan killed himself while smoking cannabis and playing Russian roulette while listening to Life After Death.[7]

In 1994, James was incarcerated for rape, leaving the future of Reel Life in doubt.[8] In 1995, Reel Life began its association with the Detroit rapper Dice,[9] who did not sign a contract with the label, but made appearances on albums by Esham, Natas and Mastamind. Reel Life released Dice's debut studio album, The Neighborhoodshittalka the following year.[10] Dice left the label following the album's release, claiming that he received no royalties from his album, which he estimated to have sold 200,000 copies.[10] Esham's album Dead Flowerz was the first RLP album to appear on a Billboard chart, peaking at #38 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[11] However, the label went bankrupt that year.[10]

Rebranding as Gothom (1997—2001)

In June 1997, Esham rebranded Reel Life Productions as Gothom Records, and released the album Bruce Wayne: Gothom City 1987, which charted at #57 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[12] Esham later signed a distribution deal with Overcore, a subsidiary of Overture Music, which later became distributed by TVT Records.[4][8] Gothom signed the band 20 Dead Flower Children and released their album Candy, Toy Guns & Television on June 24, 1997.[13] The following year, Gothom signed the rap metal band The Workhorse Movement, and released the band's EP Rhythm & Soul Cartel.[14][15][16] The following year, Gothom announced that it would release The Workhorse Movement's debut album, Sons of the Pioneers, but the band left the label and signed with Roadrunner Records, which released the album in association with Overcore, with no involvement from Gothom.[17]

In 2001, Gothom signed Kool Keith and The Dayton Family,[4] and had its highest charting success with Dayton Family member Bootleg's solo release Hated By Many Loved By Few, which peaked at #174 on the Billboard 200, #6 on Independent Albums, and #38 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.[18] Gothom achieved the most number of chart positions with Esham's Tongues, which peaked at #195 on the Billboard 200, #7 on Indepedent Albums, #46 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and #14 on Top Heatseekers.[19] Tongues featured appearances by Kool Keith, The Dayton Family and Insane Clown Posse's Violent J.[20] However, following this success, TVT and Overture went bankrupt, forcing Esham to fold RLP.

Decline (2006 onward)

After RLP folded, Esham signed with Psychopathic Records, releasing two solo albums before leaving that label and reforming Reel Life Productions.[4][8] Since leaving Psychopathic, however, Esham's only charting releases have been the mixtape The Butcher Shop, which peaked at #86 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums,[21] and Sacrificial Lambz, which peaked at #42 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and #50 on Top Heatseekers.[22] In 2009, Esham and Natas performed at the Gathering of the Juggalos. Following the event, a friend of Esham's handed Joseph Bruce a copy of Esham's album I Ain't Cha Homey, which depicted a clown committing suicide with a gun on the front cover. Bruce listened to the album and saw it as a diss towards Insane Clown Posse.[23] While Esham claimed that the album was not a diss in his podcast,[24] the album strained the relationship between Bruce and Esham, and the two have not spoken since its release.[23] In 2011, Gothom released the documentary Death of an Indie Label, which was originally announced as a bonus feature on a deluxe edition of DMT Sessions, but was instead uploaded onto Gothom Inc.'s YouTube channel.[7][25] In 2011, Reel Life signed a new artist, Chupacabra.[26] Esham produces a semi-regular podcast, which appears on his official website.[6]



Artist Year signed Description
Esham The cofounder of Reel Life Productions, Esham (East Side Hoes And Money) is known for his hallucinogenic style of hip hop, which fuses rock-based beats and lyrics involving subjects such as death, drug use, evil, paranoia and sex. This style, which Esham refers to as "acid rap", strongly influenced Eminem, Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse.[27]
Daniel Jordan 2008 An American rapper from the San Francisco Bay Area.[28]
Chupacabra 2011 An American rapper. Reel Life promotional materials claim that she had recently been released from a psychiatric ward before being signed to the label.[26]


Artist Year(s) signed Albums released on Reel Life Productions Notes
Dice 1995—1996
An American rapper from Detroit, Michigan, Dice released the album The Neighborhoodshittalka on Reel Life, then left due to a disagreement with the label.[10]
20 Dead Flower Children 1997—2000
A rock band from Detroit, Michigan consisting of drummer Jason "J-Hauz" Garrison, bassist David "Dirt-E" Biganeiss, singer Dennis "D-Hauz" Hogan and guitarist Keith "The Suit" Lowers. The band released one album on Gothom, Candy, Toy Guns & Television.[13]
The Workhorse Movement 1998—2000
A rap metal band from Detroit, Michigan consisting of vocalist Myron, guitarist Freedom, bassist Jay and drummer Joe Mackie. The band released one EP with Gothom before signing with Roadrunner Records.[14]
T-N-T 1992–1999; 2006–2009 An American rapper from Detroit, T-N-T is founding member of Natas, with Esham and Mastamind.[4][6] A solo album, Suicide Bomber, was planned for a Spring 2009 release.[28]
The Dayton Family 2001
Composed of Bootleg, Shoestring and Ghetto E at the time, the name Dayton Family derives from Dayton Avenue, one of the most crime-ridden streets in their hometown. Released solo albums on Gothom, and later signed with Hatchet House.[4]
Kool Keith 2001
A founding member of Ultramagnetic MCs, Kool Keith has recorded prolifically both as a solo artist and in group collaborations, and is the self-proclaimed inventor of horrorcore.[29] He released the album Spankmaster on Gothom.[4]
Natas 1992—1999; 2006
A hip hop group from Detroit consisting of Esham, Mastamind and TNT.[30] The group's name is an acronym which has meant both "Nation Ahead of Time And Space" and "Niggaz Ahead of Time And Space".[6]
Doc Hollywood Hustle 2008 An American rapper, Doc Hollywood Hustle produced tracks for Natas. A debut album, Speaking From Experience, was planned for release.[28] He is currently in prison.[31]
Filthy Rockwell 2008 An American rapper from Detroit, Filthy Rockwell produced tracks for Esham and made his solo debut on the mixtape The Butcher Shop in 2008. A debut album, Enemy of the State, was planned for a Summer 2009 release.[28]
Poe Whosaine 2008 An American rapper from Detroit, Michigan. Later founded his own label, Whosainiyak Muzik.
Mastamind 1992—2003; 2009
A student at Osborne High School, where Esham attended, Mastamind gave him a three-song demo tape of his music, which led to him being signed to Reel Life Productions and joining the group Natas.[28] Mastamind released two solo albums and an EP on the label and has since formed his own label, Toxsic Records.[4]


  1. ^ a b Bruce, Joseph; Hobey Echlin (2003). "Paying Dues". In Nathan Fostey. ICP: Behind the Paint (second ed.). Royal Oak, Michigan: Psychopathic Records. pp. 164–167. ISBN 09741846083. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Ketchum III, William E. (October 15, 2008). "Mayor Esham? What?". Detroit, Michigan: Metro Times. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Esham". All Music Guide to Hip-Hop: The Definitive Guide to Rap & Hip-hop. Backbeat Books. 2003. pp. 60–163. ISBN 0879307595. 
  5. ^ a b Smith, Esham A. "Discography". Reel Life Productions. Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  6. ^ a b c d Hess, Mickey (2009). "Esham". Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide: Volume 1: East Coast and West Coast. ABC-CLIO. pp. 411–413. ISBN 0313343233. 
  7. ^ a b deathofanindielabel 1. Gothom Inc.. Event occurs at 11:39. 
  8. ^ a b c Bruce, Joseph (June 25, 2004). "Weekly Freekly: 2". Psychopathic Records. Archived from the original on 2002-09-03. Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  9. ^ Turner, Khary. "The Motown Lowdown: Detroit Hip-Hop City". CMJ New Music Monthly (82): 79. doi:Jun 2000. ISSN 10746978. 
  10. ^ a b c d Davison, Kahn (2006-07-19). "Dice roll". Metro Times. Retrieved 15 July 2011. 
  11. ^ "Charts & Awards for Dead Flowerz". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  12. ^ "Charts & Awards for Bruce Wayne: Gothom City 1987". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  13. ^ a b "Candy, Toy Guns & Television - 20 Dead Flower Children". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Ankeny, Jason. "The Workhorse Movement". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  15. ^ DaRonco, Mike. "Rhythm & Soul Cartel - The Workhorse Movement". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  16. ^ "The Workhorse Movement". Roadrunner Records. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  17. ^ Wesolowski, David Peter. "Sons of the Pioneers - The Workhorse Movement". Allmusic. Retrieved 8 July 2011. 
  18. ^ "Hated By Many Loved By Few Charts". Allmusic. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  19. ^ "Charts & Awards for Tongues". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  20. ^ "Charts & Awards for Tongues". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  21. ^ "Charts and awards for The Butcher Shop > Overview". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  22. ^ "Charts and awards for Sacrificial Lambz". Allmusic. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  23. ^ a b Weingarten, Christopher (October 28, 2011). "Insane Clown Posse's Violent J Picks 11 Horrorcore Classics". Spin. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  24. ^ Smith, Esham (August 31, 2009) (MP3). Bomb Ass Podcast: Panties in a Bunch Edition (podcast). Detroit, Michigan: Reel Life Productions. Retrieved 2009-09-28. 
  25. ^ "Controversial Detroit Artist Releases Shocking New Album". PR Web. June 21, 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^ "Esham AKA Bill Yen: Esham AKA Bill Yen". Reel Life Productions. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  28. ^ a b c d e "Upcoming Releases: Future projects from RLP/Gothom and". Reel Life Productions. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  29. ^ Kane; QED (July 19, 2007). "Kool Keith Interview". Original UK Hip Hop. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 
  30. ^ "NATAS: Nation Ahead of Time And Space - The Wicket Shit Will Never Die". Reel Life Productions. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  31. ^

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