Hip hop artists 80 Empire, otherwise known as Niagara-on-the-Lake brothers Adrian and Lucas Rezza, release their new album Intermission to streaming platforms this Friday. It’s a follow-up to 2021’s Anthems & Icons release.
“We really went at it for that one,” Adrian says about last year’s collection. “But Intermission, this one’s a bit therapeutic. We did this one much more quickly, we don’t have a lot of featured artists on it, no real huge, big names. It was nice to get some young up-and-coming artists like Nejma Nefertiti.”
To date, four tracks from the album have found their way to Spotify and Apple Music, in an attempt to build a buzz for the full album, which the Rezzas say is a return to their roots as young rappers living north of Toronto. That’s clear from the image on the album cover, a vintage photo of the brothers as teens in their baggy jeans, Adrian scratching a record on the family’s turntable.
First came Business in May, followed by Paintings, a song whose video was partially shot in local visual artist Filomena Pisano’s Virgil art studio. Pisano makes a cameo in that video.
Next came GBS, featuring 17-year-old Coney Island, New York rapper Lil Dee. That single, with its turntable scratches and the 1980s-style rapping from their guest, is a true throwback to the legends of rap such as Kool Moe Dee.
Just two weeks ago 80 Empire dropped Somedays, with a guest rap from Buffalo female rapper 7xvethegenius. The track has been featured on US Apple Music’s Best New Songs and BARS playlists, as well as Spotify’s Beats and Rhymes playlists.
The brothers are expecting more adds when the other four songs on the collection come out Friday. The Local had a sneak peek listen to the full album this week.
Dear Younger Me is a nostalgic reassurance to their past selves that everything in life is going to be okay.
“I actually rap on the second verse for about eight bars,” Lucas laughs. He’s usually the beatmaster and producer on their music, while Adrian handles the singing and rapping. “Adrian brought me out of rap retirement for the first time in 21 years.”
The high notes reached by Adrian on the opening part of the song are some of the best work he’s ever done. It’s probably the most soulful 80 Empire track ever, with a sound somewhat reminiscent of early 2000s Las Vegas rapper Ne-Yo.
A listening session with the brothers is always amazing. At times they talk over each other, at others they finish each other’s sentences. Both bilingual (Italian and English), they also uncannily mimic accents and famous actors in conversation with great precision. Over cappuccinos and scones from Willow Cakes and Pastries, they unveil the rest of the new release.
The cinematic Rap Pistolero could work on the soundtrack to a modern western or an episode of television show Breaking Bad. Adrian says the title refers to the pair being “lyrical gunslingers.”
“We took kind of a Latin folk song as our inspiration,” Adrian says. “It sounds very Buena Vista Social Club, but with rap over it. I even rap in Spanish over it.”
Cuban-born Toronto-based trumpeter Alexis Baro is featured on Rap Pistoleros, adding a mariachi feel to the song and taking an expert, atmospheric solo to close out the final two minutes.
“We mixed an instrumental of that one,” adds Lucas. “I actually have an instrumental version of this whole project. We want to drop it as a full album just before our next one.”
Despite its ominous title, Prepare to Die is actually based on a line from the film The Princess Bride. Jamaican rapper Nadirah X lends her patois to a couple of verses, giving the song a bit of a reggae/dancehall feel.
Finally, Live My Life, weaves Adrian’s clever pop culture references into another reflective song, this one about being true to yourself, whether or not it wins you friends in the end. Another blazing falsetto from Adrian, and brilliant production from Lucas, make this a potential hit.
Though Intermission comes out Friday, the brothers are already more than halfway finished with their follow-up collection, to come out in 2023. Called Welcome to the Falls, the Rezzas call it an homage to Niagara.
“This album is really a lot of fun,” says Lucas, who calls himself a NOTaLian.
“It’s very Italian,” adds Adrian. “We even took an old tape of our Nonno (grandfather) and put it into one song. He jumped into the studio back in 2002 and laid down some vocals for us that we never got to use.”
That song is called Take the Cannoli, a famous line from The Godfather. Another song, called Paul G, is a tribute to the recently departed New York actor Tony Sirico, who played Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos.
Lucas says his daughter Vanessa loves the upbeat Take That, and requests it in the car as her hype song before soccer games.
Good Morning references Niagara Falls restaurant Casa Mia and the Niagara Escarpment and features a cameo from American actor Jennifer Esposito. The Dons refers to the brothers’ first band name, the Rezzadons. Lucas rapping on the coda sounds like Wolfman Jack crossed with Prince, and makes Lucas shake his head in wonder and awe, even though he’s surely heard it numerous times.
The session wraps up shortly after Adrain receives a call from his mother. Before hanging up the phone he makes sure to tell her he loves her.
After listening to the powerful bluster of both Intermission and the future release Welcome to the Falls, it’s a quick reminder that the hip hop veterans, as authentic and revered amongst some of the finest in that genre as they are, are also soccer coaches and family men at heart.