Of all the movies about white freestyle rappers who overcome a comical amount of hardships in order to win a rap battle, one of the most inspiring is 2002's "8 Mile," a pseudo-biography of Eminem's youth as a whippersnapper on the streets of Detroit, which was released 12 years ago today (November 8).
You may remember that Em, playing the protagonist, valiantly defeats other neighborhood wordsmiths by a show of hands in the film's final rap battle sequence.
It's largely indisputable that B. Rabbit (Eminem's character) rode not just talent but emotion to the top of the Michigan freestyle game -- emotion both from himself and from the rambunctious, extremely-happy-to-be-there crowd on hand to shout the letter "O" every few seconds. What could be disputed, however? The cleverness -- on paper, mind you -- of each contestant's respective freestyle raps.
I'm talking about the questions we've been afraid to ask for a decade. Did Lickety and Lotto get screwed? Was B. Rabbit unfairly propped up by his boy Mekhi Phifer?
The ranking (in ascending order), with an oooohhhh DIP level of controversy to begin:
5. Rabbit's Freestyle Against Lickety Split
Before you tie me to my bed and set my house on fire, we need to consider context. This crowd had already watched B. Rabbit vomit Kim Basinger's spaghetti the first time he tried to do this a few days earlier. They are expecting nothing. One guy at the 1:46 mark literally screams, "Get the f**k off the stage." Super harsh, yes, but the point is this: Showcasing any sort of skillz at this point was a HUGE upset in the grand scheme and a massive win for Rabbit -- so he can start off by referencing something as obscure as "the generic version of Eric Sermon" and have it be totally cool, because this is the first instance where he's not "cho-kennngggg." But mainly, Em's first freestyle finishes last because of the 2:22-2:27 mark: "He can't get with me spittin' this s--t, Wickedy Lickety Shot, suspicious spickety split Lickety." What? What are you even trying to say? Did you just have a stroke? Let's face facts, guys: He was victorious because he showed his butt, not unlike many Oscar winners.
4. Lickety Split's Freestyle
Plus, it's not like he had to beat Biggie. Again, context is key: Lickety got to start off the evening's festivities by freestyling against a A) white guy who B) choked on this same stage 72 hours earlier and having just C) kicked the s--t out of him with his friends the night before. You can't have more of an advantage than that. This should have been the rap version of giving LeBron a trampoline. Lickety needed to KILL it, and he was just okay. You don't get to reference Willie Nelson, Elvis and Vanilla Ice in the same 49-second rap. It's like, we get it, Lickety. Rabbit likes good music.
3. Lotto's Freestyle
Tough spot for Lotto. He has some great lines -- "This s--t is a horror flick, but a black guy doesn't die in this movie" represents both a funny quip and a remarkable amount of cultural self-awareness regarding black characters in horror films -- but he's running into a buzzsaw of Rabbit momentum from the first round. He's also not without his own flaws, suffering at times from a freestyle rap version of Alanis Morrissette-itis, wherein the victim awkwardly attempts to fit as many words as possible into a line meant for two seconds of speaking, max (e.g., "That's why I didn't want to have to be the one you commit suicide to"). Trimming is a good thing, said the writer of a thousand-word piece on the "8 Mile" rap battles without irony.
2. Rabbit's Final Freestyle
Rabbit's ultimate take-down of Julliard-trained thespian Anthony Mackie is devastating and completes the movie for the viewer, but suffers somewhat with age. When you're watching "8 Mile" for the 47th time, this rap gradually goes from being the galvanizing culmination of Rabbit's victory over the "Free World" to a long set of sentences about how much he sucks. Were I in the crowd rooting for Rabbit, I would have been something like "OOHHHHHH...Ohhhhhh...okay start to switch it up...don't mention Wink, don't mention Wi--noooo..." And yeah, it finishes by incisively pointing out that Papa Doc has kind parents, but it's not enough to top...
1. Rabbit's Freestyle Against Lotto
The sharpest of the bunch, Rabbit's freestyle against Lotto is especially noteworthy because Lotto's reactions to each zinger suggest genuinely hurt feelings. Check out his face from 5:31-5:33: That is the expression of someone who knows he is being publicly eviscerated and doesn't feel very good about it. That's why I could never be a freestyle rapper. I'd be too guilty. "My motto: F--k Lotto. I'll get the seven digits from your mother for a dollar tomorrow!...Hey man, I'm kidding around. Come back. I've met your mom, she's nice."
N/A: Papa Doc's Freestyle
WHAT, WHAT, WHAT, WHAT, WHAT