Prior to 1999, most of the country just knew New York City and Los Angeles as hip-hop epicenters. That all changed in the late 1990s when a white kid named Eminem (AKA Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers, Em, and M&M) from a poor area of Detroit burst onto the rap scene. Then in 2002, the semi-autobiographical movie 8 Mile hit the big screen. The movie produced a song called “Lose Yourself,” which would become one of the biggest crossover rap songs in music history.
8 Mile tells the tale of B-Rabbit, a white rapper trying to make a name for himself in what is a predominantly Black genre of music. The movie was an enormous financial success, bringing in $240 million at the box office and introducing the world to the underground rap world. Additionally, the song “Lose Yourself” from the movie's soundtrack was not just a massive Billboard hit - it also earned a prestigious award that no other rap song ever had.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the production of both “Lose Yourself” and the movie 8 Mile.
"Lose Yourself" is a complex song with a lot of rapid-fire lyrics. However, Eminem is a pro and was able to record each verse of the track in just one take. And, he did so on his lunch break while playing the main character in his acting debut. The rapper talked about how he got it right on the first try:
We were on lunch break, and I needed to finish the track. I don’t think it was one take all the way down, but it was one take each verse. "Got the first verse, okay, punch me in at the second. OK, the whole third verse." For some reason, I just captured something there that I didn’t want to change. I remember trying to change it and go back and re-do the vocals, and I was like "Yo, let me listen to the old ones? Just keep the old ones, f*ck it."
The role of Papa Doc went to an unknown actor (at the time) named Anthony Mackie. Papa Doc was part of Tha Free World group of battle rappers. In West Side Story terms, they were the Sharks to B-Rabbit's Three One Third Crew Jets. B-Rabbit and Papa Doc square off for the final rap sequence in 8 Mile.
Papa Doc was Mackie's first big-screen role, and it was an intimidating experience for the green actor. He explained, "It was crazy for me because it was my first job. When we started, I didn’t really have no lines. Motherf*ckers would be like, 'Yo, your character sucks, so we just added this. Do this.' My biggest thing was just trying to be on the same level as Mekhi f*cking Phifer."
Craig G, who served as a rapper consultant on the film, did not think that Mackie's performance was originally very good. He said, "Anthony Mackie, I just thought he was kind of flat. I pulled him to the side and I told him he sucked. I just told him he sucked. My purpose was to make him mad. And then when he got mad, he knocked it out."
Mackie responded to the criticism and the intimidating real-world rappers that were on the film set by getting pumped up. "I’m supposed to play a rapper, and there were all these real rappers on set. So I was like, “I have to beef my machismo up; I can’t let these dudes pump me," said Mackie. "And I was like, “I’m real! Grrrrrrrrr!"
Marv Won was just one of the dozens of Detroit rappers hired as an extra on 8 Mile. Won said a rap competition was held "in order to keep the morale of the extras." The winners would get a chance to appear in the film’s silent montage sequence of Rabbit competing in various rap contests.
The montage sequence was completely silent. Eminem was told to rest his voice because he was sick. During Marv’s scene, he was supposed to pretend to rap. However, Marv decided instead to rap a few written verses. But, Eminem wasn't just going to stand there and take it. Em said, "I was told that the mics were going to be off when we were doing the montage scenes of Rabbit coming up through the ranks and we were supposed to pantomime. For some reason, some of the others’ mics were on and they started going at me in front of the crowd."
Marv further explains the situation, "After I spit my verse, the crowd was loving me. So, the competitor in him just couldn’t let that go. I wish he wasn’t as petty and I wish he was a bigger man and let me have my damn moment, but he didn’t."
Eminem ended up pretty much destroying Marv in the rap battle and ultimately silenced any of the other rappers in the crowd who were looking to take advantage of a silent Eminem. Gerald L. “Strike” Sanders, who played Lyckety-Splyt in the movie, said, "That was it. People was actually scared. I looked in the crowd, I see the rappers that would normally go up and battle - they was like, 'I’m not doing that. Nah, I’m cool.'"
Marv’s scene and the entire montage sequence of the local rappers competing against Rabbit were ultimately cut out of the final edit. However, thanks to the DVD release of the movie, Marv's scene did see the light of day. In fact, the scene was key to launching the rapper’s career. “It was really huge for me because that was one of the main scenes they sold the DVD on," Marv said. "That was the footage they sent to 'Entertainment Tonight,' 'Extra' and 'Access Hollywood.' It really helped my visibility."
Adding to the happy ending is that Marv and Eminem became buddies after the movie’s DVD release. According to Marv, the two rappers remain friendly and hang out regularly.
"Lose Yourself" made music history in 2003 at the 75th Academy Awards when the song became the first hip hop tune to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. Eminem was not present at the ceremony to collect the award. Instead, the song's co-writer Luis Resto accepted the Oscar, which was handed to him by Barbra Streisand.
The Academy Award was not the song's only accolade. "Lose Yourself" also took home the Grammy Award for Best Rap Song, and Eminem won the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. Additionally, Rolling Stone magazine ranked "Lose Yourself" 166th on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Also, the American Film Institute ranked "Lose Yourself" No. 93 on its list of AFI's 100 Years... 100 Songs.
The 2002 track was also a monster commercial hit. It earned Eminem his first No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed on the top of the charts for 12 straight weeks. The video, which featured clips from the movie 8 Mile, was also a success. It won the MTV Video Award for Best Video from a Film.