The « 8 Mile » movie makes us discover and understand the racial tension and the racial split that existed in Detroit. In fact, this appartheit has historical roots in Nothern America. In the 30s and 40s, southern Blacks moved to Nothern cities like Detroit. Many white people left the city to build their own communities. The racial tension that existed was so strong in Detroit that you could even find racial flags with sentences like « We want white tenants in our white community. »
The racial contrast was more important in poor communities like Warren where people (Blacks and Whites) had nearly the same income. Most of them were workers from the industry. Even Blacks with a higher level of education used to suffer from racial discrimination from Detroit Corporation that used to practice racial preference in favor of white people.
Backstab the Kingpin, a less known white rapper from Detroit I have interviewed, also talks about racial discrimination from both sides.
Being an aspiring white M.C in a black community was really far from easy :
“There was still great tension between white/blacks in Detroit. At that time rap/hip-hop was black culture and a white b-boy, emcee, or producer was refered to as another Vanilla Ice. ”
But the tension that still existed in 1995 slowly disappears. Todd Nelson, who is from the elder generation, stated in a BBC interview that his nephew had become « worst » since he hung out with Blacks, which is, of course, laughable.
According to Backstab, Eminem avoids talking about the racial issues from the black side, because the people hes collaborating with are Blacks :
“The “8 mile” reminds me of that night at alvins, one thing Em did not do is touch on the reverse racism that I felt back in the mid 90’s, I think this is for obvious reason–his friends and labelmates being all black. Another that I thought was funny is that St Andrews which is protrayed in the 8 mile movie as an all black club was actually a mojority white crowd or at least half.”
8 Mile makes us discover the underground from Detroit which is specific. To understand the movie well, you must be familiar with US slang. The 313 or Three One Third is a reference to the phone area code. If you live in the 313, you are supposed to be cool. If you live in the 810, you are considered as a sellout.
8 Mile also pictures an industrial city, where people work very hard. It shows dark places, the kind of places you want to escape from as soon as you will improve your financial situation. Detroit cannot be considered as a safe city.
Backstab can certainly relate to this. He used to live in the worst parts of Detroit:
“I grew up (in school) in the suburbs so I wasnt subject to any type of reverse racism during that time. At that time, I was siding with the minority because I have major native american roots and lived in a racist town called Livonia where blacks got pulled over randomly and often. If you are black–you dont drive thru Livonia at night–you will be arrested for one thing or another. This is why I chose a urban college and left for the city at my most influential years (18-25) I have lived in the Cass corridor & Brightmoor. Both neighborhoods known to Detroit as some of its worst parts. run down bruned up buildings, crack and drugs, prostitution and transsexuals runnign the streets. Fights, and shooting heard all night. Detroit is not a safe nor happy spot. Its a city thatsfelt years of oppression and contains people who have worked their hands to the bone at factories and autro plants trying to provide a good living for their loved ones. Its a materialistic city that thrives on stepping on the next man to better yourself.”
But the most interesting part of 8 Mile is certainly the atmosphere of the lyrical battles . You realize the hard fight of a white MC in a black majority for recognition and to escape to poverty. 8 Mile makes you discover the local rap scene and like it. It is also the story of friendship and solidarity between people from different races who share the same social context.
You cannot resist to sing along with the white M.C: Now everybody from the 313, put your motherfucking hands in the air and follow me!
8 Mile has made a star of Rock City (Detroit) that will certainly remain a huge source of inspiration for Eminem.