by Biba Adams
After decades of urban decline and being ignored by much of the music industry, Eminem's phenomenal success - including the record-breaking sales of the Marshall Mathers LP (2000) - had inspired a new generation of music in Motown. Hip-Hop had the city buzzing with shows, events, and artists being signed by major labels. Suddenly, we were the hot city. Detroit's rap takeover would even contribute to the 2001 successful mayoral election of then 31-year-old Kwame M. Kilpatrick, who was later dubbed "The Hip-Hop Mayor."
It felt like a new day in Detroit.
It's surreal to see your friends get famous. It's an experience few will get to have. It's even more surreal to see one of your friends become the best-selling rapper of all time. But, when Eminem got on, the whole city got on. And when he shot a movie about his life, it had to be shot here.
"There wasn't another choice but to shoot 8 Mile in Detroit," Shady Records CEO Paul Rosenberg recalls. "Authenticity was our mission from day one, and shooting in another city would have made that mission a failure before the first shot was even up."
The film's authenticity was heavily reflected in the casting. While 8 Mile featured young, established actors like Anthony Mackie and Omar Benson Miller, it also featured local emcees. Strike from the Detroit rap group The Mountain Climbaz was the most prominent as Lickety Split, a rapper from the rival crew who Eminem battled in the film's final scene. "Shooting that film was one of the greatest moments of my life," Strike affirms. "It's being a part of hip-hop history." The film also featured Miz Korona spitting a verse in a factory parking lot, along with appearances by rappers Njeri Earth and Obie Trice.
Another little-known fact: B. Rabbit loses to Proof's character "Lil Tic" to show that Eminem could never beat Proof in a battle. It was a nod to P who was Em's mentor for his early rap life and career. He was portrayed in the movie by Mekhi Phifer as "Future."
Speaking of which, the battle scenes were also authentically cast.
The Detroit hip-hop scene was a close-knit community. For years, our regular gathering spots cultivated a scene of a couple hundred hip-hop heads. We hung out at all the same places, worked together, and were all grinding for musical success. We were an extended family - the closest of us dubbed ourselves "The Circle."
And now we were going to be in a movie. Em's movie. Our movie.
I was in it. So was my cousin, my best friend and her cousin. And a bunch more of our friends. The authenticity of the extras in the battles lent to the film. Many of the scenes are improvised and were our natural reaction to the action. We weren't just in a movie we were hip-hop heads at a weeklong rap battle and we reacted accordingly.
The battles were shot in sequence.
After filming from 4 a.m. till 11 p.m. for four days, we finally came to the final battle scene. It had been grueling. If you listen closely, during the final battle scene both Mekhi and Marshall are nearly hoarse. The set was a barely converted warehouse in early January. It was small and freezing. But we never lost the energy, because we were having so much fun.
The anticipation jumps off the screen as Mekhi as Future hypes up the final battle. B. Rabbit had been winning and as fans, we were ready. At this point, we had practically forgotten we were in a movie. This was a battle rap town and we were just ready to get it on! But even we couldn't have predicted those now iconic lines:
"Everybody from the 3-1-3 put your motherfucking hands up and follow me!"
And we did.
We went fucking nuts.
The synchronized reaction of the crowd everyone saw in the film was our very first take. Hundreds of arms waving in time. Director Curtis Hanson later came out and told us that "something told" him to film the rehearsal. What you see is our first, true, visceral reaction.
See, we weren't in a film anymore. No, the response you see in that scene could be from a documentary. Because that's how we felt. We were living a dream while making a movie - our fucking movie.
After his verse, it's again our first reaction as we chant, "What? What? What?" waiting for Papa Doc's reply. Our city was known to ask, "Detroit, What?" with a legendary chip on our shoulder. Then he choked, and we went nuts again. This time chanting, "Fuck Free World! 3-1-3. Fuck Free World. 3-1-3."
We were a city that most of the world made fun of. Even more so in the years to come, as our mayor went to prison and our whole city went bankrupt. But, we have always known that we have something that most cities don't. We are from Detroit, bitch. You see it.
In the 15 years since 8 Mile was shot and released, Detroit has changed. Rap has changed. The world has changed. So many of our friends have passed away, eight years we were in power with a Black president, and Marshall just cursed out the "President" of the United States a couple weeks ago on BET. It felt reminiscent of 8 Mile with us picking battles that seem unwinnable, but doing it anyway.
I just moved back to Detroit. After 10 years away, I returned home. It looks a little different, but it feels the same. There is a glittery new stadium downtown and a quietly reemerging black underground economy. I feel older when I watch the film now, so I don't watch it that much. But when I do, it's with pride. 8 Mile Road went from being a street in my city to being a household name; and in a lot of ways, so did we.