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Tre’ Stylez: The life, death and legacy of a Greensboro hip-hop icon

by Mark Burger

Slain Triad rapper Tre’ Stylez, left, remembered in documentary film. (courtesy photo)

His name was Trey Michaud and his whole life he loved music. Under the hip-hop moniker Tre’ Stylez, he made music — some of the best and most influential rap tunes in the region during the early 21 st century.

The music and message of Tre’ Stylez are the subject of a new documentary feature, Tre’ Stylez: Music is Life, which will premiere Saturday at the Carolina Theatre (310 S. Greene St., Greensboro). There will also be live music before and after the screening, featuring DJ Phillie Phresh and Stitchy-C as the opening act.

The film was produced and directed by Vincent Savage and Russell Ingram, and features extensive interviews with and reminiscences by Tre’s friends and collaborators, as well as rare footage of Tre’ Stylez performing at various venues in North and South Carolina.

For Savage, the film is truly a labor of love:

“I knew Tre’ all my life,“ he said. “I am his uncle. His mother is my sister.”

The film, which runs 140 minutes, focuses primarily on the music. Savage chose to interview Tre’s closest friends and collaborators, rather than his family. In a very real sense, the film is made for the people who knew him.

“The documentary is full of Tre’s family — just not the typical family,” he said. “I wanted to keep the film about Tre’ Stylez, not Trey Michaud.”

In a very short time, Tre’ Stylez made remarkable inroads into the area’s hip-hop scene, both as a booster and as a performer. All his life, he wanted to make music, and when he got the opportunity — through diligence, hard work and ambition — he reveled in it. Yet he never lost touch with his roots, according to the film.

On the morning of Dec. 5, 2005, Tre’ Stylez was shot and killed at a party in Greensboro, tragically cutting short what might have been a successful career that likely would have taken his music to the next level. He was 23 years old.

Tre’s death is discussed at great length in the second half of the documentary, and it’s clear that, nearly seven years later, many of his closest friends still aren’t sure what happened. Although never officially solved, the case is for all intents and purposes closed.

As far as getting a police spokesperson to comment, “no way they would go on camera and discuss his case,” said Savage. “I could probably do a documentary just on his case. It was hard to decide how much to cover about his death in the film — [I] couldn’t ignore it, [and] had to cover it but somehow I didn’t want the documentary to be about his death nor the botched police investigation; [I] definitely wanted to keep it about the life of Tre’ Stylez. It was a thin line of enough/too much.”

Savage was inspired to begin work on the film immediately after Tre’s death.

“I wanted to do the film because when Tre’ was killed, his life quickly became about his death — and his story was being told by all the wrong people,” he said. “Some local media didn’t take the time to get his name correct, much less cover the story. So, about a day or so after Tre’s death is when I decided to make the documentary. I wanted to tell the story of Tre’ Stylez. The story of his life, not death.”

The work went quickly at first. “It took about eight months to shoot,” Savage said, “then it took me a while to edit and finish the project because of the emotional toll it seemed to take at the time, so in total it took about two and a half years.”

Interviews with Tre’s friends make it clear that he was a catalyst and that since his death, those still active in music regard it with a bit less satisfaction than they did when he was alive. He was the force that brought many of them together. Without him, it’s simply not the same. It can still be good, but never quite that good again.

Nevertheless, said Savage, “I definitely see Tre’s music living on… maybe living on through other musicians, [it’s] hard to say. I do know if you met Tre’, he made an impression on you, so it will be neat to see if or how his music lives on. It will as [long] as I’m alive, that I know.”

According to Savage, Tre’ Stylez: Music is Life was a film he had to make, and he made it the way he wanted to. Now that he has, it was easy to let go of it.

“The film is final,” he said. “Each time I view it I see things I’d like to change or refine, but I’m not doing anything else to it. For some reason, I just don’t feel right changing it — seems like it should be the way it is, flaws and all.”

Showtime is 7 p.m. Tickets are $13 (advance) and $17 (at the door). After the screening, there will be a premiere party at Somewhere Else Tavern (5713 W. Friendly Ave.), with live music. Admission is free with your ticket stub. For tickets or more information, call 336.333.2605 or visit the official Carolina Theatre website: www.carolinatheatre.com.

wanna go?

Tr’ Stylez: Music is Life Sat, June 12 7pm Carolina Theatre 310 S. Greene St, Greensboro 336.333.2605 carolinathreatre.com

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