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8 Mile helped mould the mythology of the young Eminem; the working class wordsmith striving to prove his authenticity on the Detroit hip-hop scene.
The character of Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith Jr. is based on the pre-fame Marshall Mathers; a troubled yet lyrically gifted blue collar worker frustrated by a life of deprivation and uncertainty.
Comparable to films such as Rocky and Saturday Night Fever, B-Rabbit competes in rap battles as a means of breaking free – if only psychologically – from hand-to-mouth despair and disappointment.
Not only does this prove to be a cathartic experience, but a beaten and bruised B-Rabbit is empowered to use his personal difficulties as a weapon; rapping openly about being ‘white trash’ before he can be slammed for it.
Under the artful direction of Curtis Hanson, the audience sees B-Rabbit rise from humiliation to self-respect, hopelessness to determination. So what is the next chapter in the story? And what would 2018 Stans want from an 8 Mile sequel?
The question is, what would an 8 Mile sequel look like today? Eminem is now 46 years old, a wealthy icon who can comfortably be spoken about in the same breath as Tupac.
However, the established artist’s contemporary work still shows a relentless drive for authenticity, with the need to continually carve out an identity for himself.
Eminem’s latest album, Kamikaze reveals a ferocious desire to set himself apart from the younger, emerging rappers who cite him as an influence without possessing his wit or lyrical tenacity.
It’s been over 20 years since the events of the original film, and, with a changed Detroit hip-hop scene – and an undoubtedly altered protagonist – is it time B-Rabbit once again picked up the mic?
I spoke with linguistics scholar and host of hip-hop podcast Kick Knowledge Steven Gilbers about the potential for an 8 Mile sequel.
An ardent admirer of Eminem’s body of work, Gilbers has seen 8 Mile over one hundred times; praising it as being ‘objectively the best movie ever made’.
Speaking about his appreciation for the acclaimed hip-hop drama, Gilbers explained:
The beauty for me about 8 Mile is that it’s so condensed. It’s a story that – and I always say, in complete seriousness – that it’s objectively the best movie ever made.
It’s subjectively the best one ever made, but I like to exaggerate a little bit!
What I love about it is that it all takes place within a week. It takes place from the Friday night battle that he chokes and the next Friday night battle where he wins.
He added how a ‘true 8 Mile sequel’ would have to make sure to include the elements which made the original so strong and so special:
The beautiful thing about it is that he wins and he grabs his stuff again and he goes back to the power plant because he still has to work that night.
It feels like the greatest victory of all time but really you’re just working in the factory still.
I think that was the beauty of that, that it showed sort of how important these rap battles were, that even though in real life they didn’t make much of a difference to somebody’s world, that it was all about recognition and the respect that they got from it.
When considering what the future could hold for B-Rabbit, Gilbers referenced Lose Yourself, the most famous, powerful and enduring song from the soundtrack; drawing from the obstacles and opportunities which drive the plot.
While the first verse addresses specific plot points within the film, the next verse tellingly focuses on the soul sapping nature of fickle fans and fleeting fame.
Gilbers revealed how he would enjoy watching a cinematic realisation of this second verse, with B-Rabbit ‘falling from the pedestal’ after gaining enormous success:
In many ways, his Kamikaze album that came out this year was a return to old school Eminem in many ways, the Eminem that was only concerned with his reputation.
Not so much with record sales, not with whether it was going to be a hit single or not, but really defending his reputation.
In many ways, that’s not all too different from what we see in 8 Mile, right? What we see in that sort of 1990s Detroit scene where he’s just shooting at everyone who’s coming for him.
There is something recently happening that reminds me of that early Eminem era.
However, when discussing potential parallels between Eminem and B-Rabbit – who would now be around the same age – Gilbers wasn’t convinced Eminem’s fictional counterpart would have enjoyed the same sort of meteoric rise to stardom.
According to Gilbers, B-Rabbit shouldn’t be regarded as a ‘carbon copy’ of Eminem, with there being plenty of notable differences between their separate stories:
There’s an assumption there that an 8 Mile sequel would look at B-Rabbit at a successful character.
And there’s a very solid chance – I would say a 99.9% chance – that he never made it out of the battle scene.
Because Eminem’s story has been incredible, and he’s incredible, but it’s all because at one point somebody who was familiar with him who worked for Dr Dre’s label heard him perform at one of those battles in the country and got his demo tape.
And if that hadn’t happened – which was just, you know, luck – Eminem wouldn’t have made it.
A movie taking place in a different socio-political era, and potentially a different location, would undoubtedly shift the focus dramatically.
The film was notable for its gritty feel; with the claustrophobia of trailer park life and factory night shifts revealing an America often left unexplored in glossy Hollywood movies.
The vacant properties and dilapidation of mid nineties Detroit arguably shaped the film more than any of the core characters; ultimately colouring our perception of the future Rap God himself.
Gilbers has noted how, despite still a grimy city, Detroit has changed. The hip-hop scene is less localised as it was back in 1995, with The Hip Hop Shop – the inspiration behind The Shelter – having closed down years ago.
Furthermore, although his influence on up-and-coming local rappers remains, nowadays Eminem cannot really be said to be part of the Detroit hip-hop scene.
Thematically, 8 Mile has often been compared to Rocky; with the time honoured tradition of the underdog taking the punches while still keeping his dignity.
Gilbers noted how, in a similar vein to Rocky Balboa in Creed, B-Rabbit could feasibly take on the role of mentor to an emerging artist, passing his wisdom on to the next generation:
With him being sort of the Rocky character mentoring another MC or something coming up locally, I could see that.
But I don’t think it would be a good idea for Eminem to reprise the role of B-Rabbit, if you see what I mean.
But it would be very interesting to see, to compare hip hop 1995 to hip-hop 2018, what it’s like, how it’s changed. That would be very interesting, I would love to see that.
I don’t know whether it would be a good movie, but I would definitely be intrigued by it.
I am always hesitant to wish for a sequel to a film which is already so complete within itself.
8 Mile offered us a brief but perfectly formed window into the life of a creative and a dreamer at a very specific point in time. An irrelevant add-on churned out in the name of profit would no doubt tarnish the memory of the original.
However, a really great film in its own right – with sharp writing and thoughtful plotting – would no doubt make an interesting addition to music biopic history.
For now, I will reman content to imagine the possibilities.
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