Review: Reel Wolf 10th Anniversary at The Grand Gerrard Theatre in Toronto

 

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The Wolf Pack at Reel Wolf’s 10-Year Anniversary Show

Reel Wolf Productions has been a staple in underground Hip-Hop for the last decade, having produced over 100 music videos with both reputable, international artists, and local Toronto-based artists. They’ve built a long list of collaborators over the last ten years, including names like D12, Jedi Mind Tricks/Vinnie Paz, Ill Bill, Slaine, Necro, Madchild, Immortal Technique, Tech N9ne, Kool G Rap, Havoc (Mobb Deep), R.A. The Rugged Man, and Snowgoons. Known for bringing dark, cinematic overtones to their videos, Reel Wolf has been behind the visuals for some of Hip-Hop’s most hardcore, grimiest emcees, and have since also evolved into their own record label. They would be celebrating their 10-year anniversary and all their accomplishments with a special invite-only showcase at The Grand Gerrard Theatre, including screenings of their music videos and short films, and live performances by artists signed to their label.

Things would get started off with the First Lady of Reel Wolf, Stacee Brizzle, doing a speech on how her involvement with the team began at an Apathy & Celph Titled show at Nocturne Nightclub in 2013 (I was there!), where she became the host for all their live events ever since. She would then introduce the man of the hour, Tom Vujcic, who is the lead director and producer of most of the films and music videos created under the Reel Wolf umbrella, although he would be quick to point out that Reel Wolf is more than just him – it’s a team and a family. Tom would take us through some of his work, previewing an upcoming short film of his called Priceless starring Peter Greene (The Mask, Pulp Fiction), screening a 2-minute scene of raw footage straight from the editing room. Bringing perspective to the amount of work that goes into turning raw footage such as this into a final product, he would also screen his 2016 debut short film Q in its entirety, a witty, darker, and modernized new look at the character Cupid.

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Tom Vujcic & Stacee Brizzle

After the film screening, we would get into the music video portion of the show, with screenings of seven music videos handpicked by Tom himself (cut down from ten due to a late start). Tom would give commentary on each music video as he introduced them, starting with the first video that really got Reel Wolf to blow up in 2010, R.A. The Rugged Man’s “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story.” Widely considered the best rap verse of the 2000’s, the video strictly focuses on Rugged Man’s featured verse on the Jedi Mind Tricks song, and gave the song new life four years after its initial release. With the authentic true story Rugged Man tells in his verse about his father’s Vietnam War experience, this video gives the song the right visuals to bring his story to life.

Tom would then speak on the Reel Wolf brand, and would screen the video that solidified and captured the essence of that brand, “The Underworld.” The 2013 single is of course the title track off of Reel Wolf’s debut album, and features 13 emcees. Loosely inspired by 1999’s “The Anthem” by Sway & Tech, this more hardcore, grimier version features all 13 emcees filmed in 13 different scenes, and is still Reel Wolf’s biggest video to date. The song features verses by D12’s Bizarre & Swifty McVay, Army of the Pharaohs’ Reef The Lost Cauze, Vinnie Paz, Apathy & Celph Titled, La Coka Nostra’s Ill Bill & Slaine, The Goondox’s PMD & Sean Strange, Slipknot’s Sid Wilson, King Gordy, and Reel Wolf’s first ever collaboration with Tech N9ne. This monster collaboration was a game changer.

To show that Reel Wolf isn’t strictly limited to Hip-Hop, Tom would next introduce a Hard Rock video they did for Q-Unique called “Better You Than Me.” This is one of the few Reel Wolf videos that Tom didn’t direct himself, and was actually directed by their lead cinematographer Delaney Siren. The song features Iron Myke on guitar and Ill Bill on bass, and the video itself very much has an old school Much Music Wedge or Loud feel to it.

Tom would bring it back to hardcore Hip-Hop with one of the coolest concept videos he’s done. Admitting to being a bit of a Batman nerd, the next video he would screen would be a song off of Reel Wolf’s 2016 The Underworld 2 album, “Hail The Villains,” where each emcee on the song portrays a different Batman villain. The song is produced by German group Snowgoons, and features underground emcees Necro, Sid Wilson, Mr. Hyde, as well as one of the first groups to sign to Reel Wolf’s record label, Psych Ward. With the rap verses actually subtly referencing the villains they’re portraying, the video features a standout verse and portrayal by Necro as Mr. Freeze, Sid Wilson slyly portraying The Riddler, Mr. Hyde with a vicious verse as Scarecrow, and the trio of Psych Ward each portraying Two-Face, The Penguin, and The Joker.

Continuing to show the diversity of Reel Wolf Productions, Tom would go completely left with his next video. He would speak on how Reel Wolf has allowed his team to not only work throughout the continent of North America, but also go overseas, and that his favourite location to work outside of America had to be Australia. His next video would be for an Australian band called Between Kings, with a song that had more of a Pop-Rock feel called “When We Were Kids.” The soft, mellow tune was pretty much the opposite of the hardcore aggression normally associated with Reel Wolf videos.

There would be a quick intermission for a smoke/drink break before Tom would return with a special screening of an unreleased music video. It would be another Hard Rock/Metal song called “Under The Bus” by the band Kings Bounty, which has the aforementioned Q-Unique as their frontman. It was a cool, graphic video that featured a lady vampire killing several victims for their blood, with some wicked visuals. Tom gave some insight to the business side of things, and how videos can get paid for and completed without being released, simply due to politics such as members leaving the band and having different ownership rights. He said Reel Wolf has about 6 videos like this that were unreleased despite being polished, finished products.

To cap off the music video segment of the show, Tom would screen what he called an improvement over the original “The Underworld” video, of course the sequel “The Underworld 2.” With a similar concept to the first video, “The Underworld 2” features 12 emcees filmed in 12 different scenes, and as with the rest of the album, brings together internationally-known underground Hip-Hop legends along with local Toronto-based emcees. The video includes appearances by Mobb Deep’s Havoc, Psych Ward’s Kid Fade, Kottonmouth Kings’ Johnny Richter, and underground legends Kool G Rap, Chino XL, and Slaine, before DJ Illegal cuts up the track and flips the beat. After the beat-change, there are more verses by hardcore emcees Necro, Ruste Juxx, D12’s Kuniva, and Non Phixion’s Sabac Red & Ill Bill. The only emcee who doesn’t appear in the video is Brooklyn legend Sean Price, who passed away in 2015, just a couple months before they were scheduled to film his scene. The room paid tribute to him as they screened the video and Sean P anchored the cypher.

After another intermission, it was time for the live performances. There would be one Hip-Hop set by The Wolf Pack, followed by a Heavy Metal set by Dominant Species. With DJ Chino holding it down on the turntables, Stacee Brizzle would set off the Hip-Hop showcase, getting the crowd to move up to the open floor in front of the stage, and introducing each member of The Wolf Pack. The members of the group would go up one at a time and perform a verse as Stacee introduced them, similar to how we recently saw RZA bring out The Wu-Tang Clan at MattyFest a few weeks ago. Although the room was filled with close affiliates to Reel Wolf, bringing the members out one at a time was a great way to put names to faces for any newcomers.

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One by one, Stacee brought out The Wolf Pack members: Mersinary, Resin, Seen B, and Swann. Each of them performed a different track as they were brought out on stage, and while I’m admittedly unfamiliar with several of the songs, I did recognize Swann spitting his verse from the newly released “Ghost In The Machine” featuring Madchild and Sean Strange. Once all four of them were on stage together, they ran through several hardcore tracks, including the hype “Warfare,” and a few joints from some of their solo albums. Stacee Brizzle would get in on the mic action as they performed the song “Howl,” which features a rapid-fire verse from her, and more Wolf Pack affiliates would join the squad on stage over the next few songs.

With an aggressive style of rapping similar to Army of the Pharaohs, La Coka Nostra, and other hardcore artists Reel Wolf is associated with, The Wolf Pack continued to attack the mic with their verses. They would be joined on stage by Suspect of the group Marmel, and after ripping a track together, would make way for Psych Ward to perform a couple tracks. To close out the Hip-Hop portion of the show, damn near every emcee in the building would get up on stage to perform “The Underworld (Cold North Remix),” even if they didn’t appear on the original remix featuring several Reel Wolf artists. With so many emcees taking turns sharing the mics in true cypher fashion, there were some who got stuck with a dead microphone, but still pushed through their performance.

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Dominant Species

There would be another short intermission for the Heavy Metal gear to get set up, and pretty soon it would be time for Dominant Species to close out the night. The band’s frontman is actually Tom Vujcic himself, as he took the stage in a completely different outfit, ready to rock out. While the venue did have some sound issues during the Hip-Hop set where the mics were sometimes drowned out by the beats, this wouldn’t be much of an issue for the Heavy Metal, as Tom would be the first to admit you can barely understand the lyrics in Death-Metal songs; all we needed to hear was the screaming over the hard-hitting guitars. With his booming, hoarse vocals matching the aggression of the nasty guitar riffs, Tom went full-metal as he performed with his band.

Dominant Species would have some crossover appeal to the Hip-Hop heads, as Swann and Resin of The Wolf Pack returned to the stage to rap over the song “Children of the Fog,” making for a dope blend of rap and metal. Similar to a Vinnie Paz, Swann’s voice sounded especially built to rap over heavy metal tracks. Mersinary and Seen B would also join them on stage to perform the more rap-oriented “Ferocity” off of Reel Wolf’s Sinema album, and the entire Reel Wolf family would take time out to howl in celebration as the clock passed midnight, making the anniversary official. While Dominant Species don’t yet have an album out, they proved to have a dope collection of songs to perform live, and could be yet another of the many successful avenues Tom Vujcic has taken on over the past decade.

It was an honour celebrating the 10-year milestone with Reel Wolf. This was a nicely structured event that celebrated all aspects of Reel Wolf’s history, going from the short films, to the music videos, to the live performances by their in-house artists. As a fan on the outside looking in, it was dope getting all the little tidbits and stories behind some of these famous music videos. In their first ten years, Reel Wolf has become a widely reputable brand within Hip-Hop’s underground scene, and has already seen some branching out beyond Hip-Hop. With a heavy roster of musicians, performers, actors, film crew, designers, engineers, producers, makeup artists and more, there’s no limit to the creative output that can come from this team, and they’re sure to continue building over the next ten years!

 

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