James H. Smith founded the label in 1988 with his younger brother, , a rapper. According to Esham, by the time he had started to , did not have a prominent scene. Smith states that "Everybody was just imitating what everybody else was doing". His older brother, James, encouraged him to seriously pursue a career as a rapper because of the city's limited hip hop scene. At the age of 13, Esham released his debut album, , in 1989. In 1990, Reel Life Productions reissued his debut album with an alternate track listing and artwork. Esham found it difficult to develop a fanbase, because many wrote off the dark content of his lyrics and imagery as , while hip hop fans did not connect to Esham's albums because of his influences.
Esham met 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". In 1991, Esham met , a member of the group , who praised Esham and Reel Life Productions, and gave Esham a copy of the group's EP , beginning the two rappers' friendship and professional relationship.
In 1992, Natas released its first album, on Reel Life. 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 and playing while listening to .
While the label was once cited as a vibrant example of success in , Reel Life Productions' peak in success occurred under distribution through and an association with Overcore Records.