The Sound Track of His Life

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The two great sound tracks of the rock-'n'-roll era — Saturday Night Fever and Purple Rain — could not be more different musically. The Bee Gees stole vocals from the Chipmunks and beats from the Casablanca records catalog to define disco, while Prince stole moves from James Brown and licks from Jimi Hendrix to define himself. Yet both albums, and the movies that spawned them, are about the same thing: talent overcoming apathy to talent. Tony Manero wants to rule the world's dance floor; Prince wants to rock it. Ambition is a subject to which every artist can relate, and it's no wonder that it inspired the Gibb brothers' best song, Stayin' Alive, and Prince's most human album.

8 Mile is also about talent struggling for recognition, with the added wrinkle of the talent being a white artist yearning to be taken seriously in a black genre — a quandary also faced by Paul Barman and the Streets (see Music). Eminem runs with the theme and delivers Lose Yourself, the best song of 2002 so far. Lose Yourself starts with a dreadful keyboard solo, but then a guitar riff kicks in, a bass drum thumps and Eminem starts telling his — and his character's — story. The song is about working hard, trusting your talent and succeeding against the odds when opportunity presents itself because, hey, there's no other choice. The chorus ("You better lose yourself in the music, the moment/You own it, you better never let it go") reads like a Tony Robbins script, but it flies out of Eminem's mouth in about three seconds, and every word is spectacularly clear and intense. For the first time, Eminem isn't angry; he's hungry, and his desire to make something of himself is as inspiring as the first Roci*Aky movie.


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8 Mile's title track is also about breaking through. Eminem spits an astonishing 1,100 words in 8 Mile's six minutes, and though some of them are film cliches--"Sorry mama, I'm grown/I must travel alone/Ain't gonna follow no footsteps, I'm making my own"--it's still a powerful song. The music on both tracks (produced by Eminem) is intentionally simple. Three guitar chords, a few keyboard tinkles and the snap of a snare build tension in the verses and explode into every chorus. It's refined arena rock, but it works.

The problem with 8 Mile is fairly simple: not enough Eminem. He performs on only five of the album's 16 songs, and in one he is part of his hard-core junta/spin-off group D12. The rest of the album is filled out with solid tracks from the likes of Jay-Z, Nas and Rakim, but since their rhymes lack the confessional roar of Eminem's, the middle of the album sags. In fans' minds, these excess tracks will inevitably be forgotten and 8 Mile will be remembered as an Eminem album (just as Saturday Night Fever is recalled as an album by the Bee Gees, even though they contributed only six songs). Inevitably too, 8 Mile will be hailed as the first great rap sound track. It doesn't quite deserve that honor, but Eminem makes it awfully close.