It’s hard to believe that “8 Mile” arrived in theaters fifteen years ago and took the world by surprise. That’s essentially what Eminem’s career has always been about: Surprising people who have always doubted him. After the stigma of white hip hop artists permeated music for years, Eminem stomped on to the world of hip hop. He didn’t just make a name for himself, but he challenged everything about the world he was in, the music he performed, and the people he ran across every single day of his life. Here was a man who kind of tore through the façade of fame, and also challenged the conventions of hip hop, which by the late nineties, was more about fame and wealth than hardships and confronting a harsh society.
That’s why it has its rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as Hip Hop and Rock and Roll are cut out of the same cloth, regardless of how much Gene Simmons cries. Despite what you think of Eminem aka Marshall Mathers, he was dealt a harsh hand and had a lot of aggression to spit in music that was raucous, funny, and filled with anger and frustration.
Curtis Hanson’s “8 Mile” proved many people wrong in being a simple vehicle for Eminem and ended up being a testament to the poet that was Marshall Mathers. It often garners comparisons to “Flashdance,” but “8 Mile” is so much more. “Flashdance” is a fairly popular eighties movie known mostly for its soundtrack and one iconic scene, while “8 Mile” is about the lower class, and how we deal with pain and poverty through art and music. We’re currently living in a society where the arts are being defunded, and dismissed as an unnecessary part of the social and political climate we live in.
Art is being pushed as insignificant and trivial. “8 Mile” isn’t about Eminem. It’s about how the poor deal with pain through art and music. At the end of “8 Mile,” “B-Rabbit” isn’t confronted by a sharply dressed record executive who offers him a billion dollar record deal. At the end of his story, “B-Rabbit” viciously destroys the hip hop clique “The Leaders of the Free World,” and then leaves his victorious rap battle to go back to his minimum wage job. Much like the lower class and folks living in poverty, most times the only way we can survive or endure the pain, is by expressing ourselves through art and or music.
We live through music, we make music, we dance to music, and we find ways to provide an outlet for our frustrations. Hip Hop was built out of the need to express the various injustices, and living in drug infested neighborhoods, and enduring police corruption. As well there was being dropped in to a dysfunctional family that you couldn’t change, but only tolerate. Various forms of what’s considered mostly urban forms of art also arose from the need to vent, from graffiti, and break dancing, right up to hip hop. The latter allowed everyone to hear what was going on in ghettos and neighborhoods in the Bronx and New York. All of which were holes filled with gang violence, drug abuse, and folks with absolutely no way out.
“B-Rabbit” is a young man in 1995 Detroit, who loves hip hop and struggles to confront his stage fright, as he takes to various rap battles as a means of putting to music what he can’t often put to words.
When we first meet him, “B-Rabbit” can’t vocalize during competitions too well, and is booed off stage after reluctance during a rap battle. He manages to find strength in a private journey that involves falling in love with a girl who cheats on him mid-way, putting up with an alcoholic mother, living in a trailer park, and having to raise his little sister as best as he can. One of the most gut wrenching scenes involves “B-Rabbit” being viciously jumped as sister Lily watches on, screaming in horror.
“B-Rabbit” has a lot of heart and strength for someone who is basically a minority in his neighborhood and subjected to the label of white trash. In the end, what we see is an unleashing of frustration, emotion, and anger as he’s tasked with confronting “The Leaders of the Free World,” and three of their most talented free style lyricists. Like a champion, “B-Rabbit” knocks down all of them with amazing and witty lyrical comebacks while also gaining some sense of therapy in front of a crowd of fans that are waiting to see him fall on his face.
What we see in the compelling finale is that the only way “B-Rabbit” is able to confront his demons and hardships is by staring them down and embracing them as apart of his life. Too often he’s soaked in running from what his life essentially is, but once he finally has the courage to look in to his life, he’s able to courageously bring down rapper Poppa Dock (Anthony Mackie in a very early role) in a crushing verbal beat down that still is painful to endure. Yes, Poppa Dock is an asshole, but B-Rabbit slaughters him in public, and reveals him to be yet another person running from his past. “B-Rabbit” wins because he’s true to himself, and he can only hope to take his pain day by day, and soothe the hurt through music and poetry.
When all is said and done, “B-Rabbit” is still “B-Rabbit”, a man who has to work over time to put food on his table. But at least he manages to topple and overcome a part of his life, and vocalize his struggles once and for all. Music and art can be a life blood for many, and when that’s gone you’re left with a voice that’s been pushed in to the margins. “8 Mile,” Eminem’s only film to date, is a very strong still relevant statement on why hip hop was created and manages to change the face of music to this day. It’s expression of anger and frustration at an unfair, hard, and impossible world where the poor and impoverished only have art to inspire them to get up and keep moving forward.
Art is trivialized because it’s powerful. Art can inspire, challenge, and provoke, and through it, it can also build dissension, defiance, and rebellions, as well as encourage individuality. Those are qualities that can bring down corruption, far and wide.