In the 2000s, it became a blend of the 80s and 90s–we got dance dramas and bleak and realized music dramas that contain violence and more realities of the streets, like pimping and drug slanging, amongst other life choices based on nature. From Honey and Step Up to ATL, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Hustle & Flow, we got some great films, some duds, and others that fell in the middle. It wasn’t like past films, which tried to show how others appropriate the culture, like with the drab Black and White by James Toback. Most of these dramas, which aren’t always great, understood how to frame and deliver upon the aesthetic and grounded understanding of their world, specifically in the dialogue. For example, Honey, directed by Hip-Hop/R&B music video director Billie Woodruff, felt homier, less cinematic, and framed simply, unlike Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was the opposite as it felt more like something to appeal to a broader audience. Honey only had the general appeal of a young Jessica Alba, while the other notions felt more inclusive and empathetic to its community, like Stomp the Yard.
In 2002, 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical drama starring Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, came and made an immediate impact from all angles. From the music to the performances and filmmaking, it felt like this unique moment in 2002 where something outside the norm could come and make gangbusters, considering its monstrous box office return. But 8 Mile was different; it had nuance, the cinematography was enthralling, and it rarely felt artificial. It follows a path where the surroundings and situations boast reasonings for the escalated drama. However, at the crux of the film and the reason for its lasting history is music. The soundtrack is grand, a memorable piece of art that you can have with you after seeing the film in 2002, and like the films of the 80s and 90s, it made sure it kept you centered on reality. It had retention beyond its alignment to the film, keeping a steady progression of tracks you’ll return to instantly, like “Rabbit Run.”
We return to 8 Mile because of its lead actor and presence in Hip-Hop culture, and proof music dramas of this ilk can be excellent and successful. It has the music and a script with linear direction, even if it doesn’t have the overall resounding depth beyond its central figure. None of this absolves 8 Mile for its problematic groundedness with its reflection of heavy homophobia and misogynism in Hip-Hop as leading us through this semi-autobiographical battle rap fairytale. One could excuse its representation of the era–mid-90s–its surface layer, never ushering a discussion with nuance, instead just there as we see Eminem’s character Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr come from a choke job to beating the defending champ. 8 Mile isn’t some masterpiece of Hip-Hop cinema but left an impression that made it seem artists can gravitate toward their history and deliver a grounded performance in reality in a studio film. But when it’s something that has been with you since the beginning, you can’t help but express bias-tinted lenses for the enjoyment you get watching it repeatedly, primarily because the final payoff is phenomenal for the exhilarating, emotionally draining moments.
8 Mile had a soundtrack that fluidly incorporated the instrumental Hip-Hop influenced score from the movie impacting the beats, like that of “8 Mile Road” and “Rabbit Run.” The former has these eloquent, dark, slow percussion variations that we hear during Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jrs.’ trip to work on the bus, where he writes and contemplates the next step. Though that moment, it gets reworked and slowed down to fit the mood and aesthetic, while the album version gets slightly sped up. “Rabbit Run” is the most profound, like many tracks and verses in Eminem’s career (“Speedom 2.0” by Tech N9ne, for example). It sees Eminem delivering a thin veil of duality as we see Eminem mirroring aspects of his and Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.’s life for a straight 3 minutes, which at the time, to a young Kevin, was out of this world. Obviously, we’ve seen better since, like Wayne Brady’s constant murder of Sway’s Five Fingers of Death or Chiddy Bang’s record-breaking 24-hour freestyle, but “Rabbit Run” is explosive. It capitalizes on being the closer as its harsher, bleaker lyricism contrasts the hopeful nature of “Lose Yourself.”
But 8 Mile: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture came with this plethora of audacious, original rap tracks from various artists, which kept us enthralled. It had tracks from Jay-Z & Freeway, a coy introduction to Obie Trice, and a brand new 50 Cent single, hyping us for his eventual debut with Get Rich or Die Tryin’. We got new RAKIM, some Gangstarr, and Macy Gray, all fitting an aesthetic driven by the tones of the film. The production helps embolden these tones with the dark strings, piano keys, and gripping percussion. Orchestrated by Eminem, the themes and tales the artists deliver match the complexities of the film, even if it wasn’t the case with every track. Nas came with a diss track aimed at Jay-Z, who did the opposite and delivered some flare on a reflective song that boasts his change for the better. This distinctive inflection arrives fresh as a reflection point for the underlying beef in the film; it keeps that energy flowing like those final rap battles did for us at the end.
The two main outliers are “Lose Yourself” and “Wanksta.” One speaks for itself, and the other was one of 50 Cent’s earliest hits. I remember the music video vividly. I was with my cousin, who got the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ album, while I had a censored mixed CD. That CD came with the video, and we popped it in his PS2; it further cemented a love for hip-hop, but more so an interest in rap, as before, it was all Eminem for me. It wasn’t until later in 2003, on Christmas Eve, when I caught the first few minutes of 8 Mile before my family decided to drive home. And since then, I’ve had two rotating songs on many playlists in my formative years, “Wanksta” and “Lose Yourself,” the latter left a lasting impression through prestigious eyes that can steer discussions about its quality in pop culture discussions. “Wanksta” has a fun and lively demeanor where the swag oozes with each swaggering step as he continues the dissing–in this case, fake gangsters–like the rap battles of the film. It was bombastic, gritty, and beautifully orchestrated. There are its issues, including some modest production, comparatively to said producer’s other beats, and themes that meander due to past raps about them. On “Rap Game,” where D12 raps about the effects of the industry as artists who aren’t seen on the same, a topic we’ve heard before from varying artists; however, as great as their synergy is, the track isn’t as interesting, but it flows.
What can I say about “Lose Yourself” that hasn’t been said before? The piano-driven production boasts waves of anger, resilience, and success in harmonic bliss. The lyricism brings resounding depth, wordplay, and beautifully direct storytelling. Blend these two you get a fantastic song with emphatic replay value and memorable lyricism. It also won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first Hip-Hop track to do so. Eminem & Luis Resto & Jeff Bass were the winners, and their competition was Paul Simon and U2, two artists who, back then, were more revered and loved than Eminem. He was amidst social scrutiny for his language from a barrage of angry parents, considering his skin color allowed him to have a wider reach compared to the past. A few months prior, he released The Eminem Show, containing “White America,” a satirical dig at parents who lambast his music. However, there was a shift here, and though the wins and nominations stay stagnant, having more Hip-Hop songs make the Academy’s shortlists is a proper step in the right direction for their inclusivity. It’s especially gleeful when not long after the win for “Lose Yourself,” we got our following winners: Three Six Mafia for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp,” beating out Dolly Parton. I feel like many of us reacted the same, if not more enthusiasticallyally than Queen Latifah when she handed them that award.
As the years progressed, we’ve had plenty crack the shortlist or vie for a nomination, like Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keyes, and Hans Zimmer, with “It’s On Again” from The Amazing Spiderman 2 and “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross from Django Unchained. I still find it a travesty that it wasn’t nominated, especially with the gravitas and potency of Ross coming off the fantastic B.M.F. album. It boasted by having the stylistic focus of Django Unchained in mind, but eventually, we’ll go back to that instead of playing it safe with “Glory” or “Stand Up For Something.” We’ve seen Hip-Hop artists get nominations for non-Hip-Hop tracks, like M.I.A. and Pharrell, for their work in Slumdog Millionaire and Despicable Me, respectively. It didn’t so much open the doors, and instead, it made history, along with Three Six Mafia, for winning in years where their style of music may not have been winners; Eminem has a controversial past, and Three Six Mafia…well, “they’re pouring me some pimping mang.” It is part of its everlasting history and will stay so for years.
Like those who knew of its rerelease, I saw 8 Mile in theaters over the weekend; I felt possessed as I sat there mouthing every freestyle, every verse, and more, due to its personal history with me. But at that moment, punches from the music started hitting harder, and it made me remember the early years; I’d vigorously loop “Rabbit Run” to try and learn every word, even matching the flow, down to the minor breaths in between rhyme schemes. I was one with the music like numerous people have been with the film. We instantly return to the soundtrack, and the final rap battles, before thinking of rewatching the film in its entirety; however, no matter the decision, it’s an experience worth revisiting if not for the faint of curiosity but for the music and character details explored with Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith Jr.