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Movies About Musicians: 8 Mile

Rapper Eminem

Eminem knows why the caged bird sings.

8 Mile is a classic tale of a broke urban kid using music to escape poverty, create opportunities, and vent frustrations. Artists don’t develop in a vacuum, and this biographical movie shows how rapper Rabbit’s (played by Eminem) environment helped shape his attitude and emotions.

This movie shows that music as a living thing. Everybody’s lives seem to revolve around rap battles, and rap battles break out suddenly in everyday life. There’s an energy and rhythm to the social life of the characters and that energy comes to a boil when they gather to improvise insulting rhymes about each other. They presumably all want to make it big, but if any of them succeeds then they’d clearly have to give credit to the community they came from, which includes their rivals. The music is a phenomenon bigger than any one person, and we get a window into the development of a musical personality within that tapestry.

The frustration and belligerence of Eminem’s lyrics is present in Rabbit’s personality. He lives with his poor, semi-crazy mom in a trailer park. He’s got frustrations at work and with women. He’s got no money, no access to opportunities, and only stress, drama, and poverty around him. The one thing he’s good at is rapping and it’s genuine emotion that comes out when he performs.

It’s an almost mythological example of a hip hop struggle. An archetype you can learn from. You can see the social context of art. The things an artist has to overcome. You see his discipline and seriousness of purpose. His high sensitivity. His motivations. His power.

There’s lots of cheesy stuff in 8 Mile. It’s a movie about rap battles, so it’s probably on the level of movies about dance competitions. The characters are barely more than overly-emotional teenagers brooding and bullying and carrying on with tribal gang rivalries. But it’s a cool depiction of a musical community and the way that communities create artists and works of art. It’s also satisfying to see emotion from life and emotion from music effecting each other in a decently constructed and entertaining movie.

If you want to see the spirit of music alive in a compelling story, put this on your list. And next time it looks like a fight is going to break out, suggest a rap battle instead.

Check out the other posts in the Movies About Musicians series on DownToJam’s blog:

  • Miles Ahead
  • Immortal Beloved

  • About the Author

    Matt Payne is a self-published author and electronic musician. He lives in Guelph, ON. You can see his work at


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