Label: Interscope/Shady
Producers: Eminem, Red Spyda, Denaun Porter, Mike Elizondo, Chucky Thompson, Nas, DJ Premier, Guru, Luis Resto
Features: Obie Trice, Jay Z, Freeway, 50 Cent, Xzibit, D12, Nas, Macy Gray, Boomkat, Rakim, Young Zee, Gang Starr
Sales: 4x Platinum

Here’s the argument for including this various-artists soundtrack on a list cataloguing a single solo artist’s catalog: the release of 8 Mile, the semi-autobiographical movie that told the story of Eminem’s coming up through Detroit’s famed battle-rap scene, marks the absolute high-point of his artistic confidence level, and his world-level dominance of rap music, and pop music in general. So though he only raps on five of the 16 songs on the soundtrack, and is only credited as a writer or a producer on seven, Eminem’s style and persona come through in every second of every minute of the album. If only in the way that all the songs fit into the scheme of the whole, and the way you can hear the other artists positioning themselves in his environment, or reflecting themselves off his presence. So while Allmusic’s Steven Thomas Erlewhine says, “This may be the soundtrack for Eminem's movie debut, but don't think of 8 Mile of as an Eminem album, because it's not,” I disagree. This is very much an Eminem album. One of the very finest.

The five songs Eminem raps on, all self-produced, capture a master lyricist at his peek. The megasmash “Lose Yourself” is of course the most well-known, with a patch of vomited-up spaghetti staining a sweater and leading to the defiance of gravity and the absolution of self in an eternal now. But the title track, and “Rap Game” and “Rabbit Run” and the dark, seething “Love Me” stand right with it in quality.

 

That’s Em at his best, which is pretty darn close to rap at its best, period. That is someone with a great gift for rhyme, an elevated understanding of the way vowel sounds and consonant sounds play off each other, someone able to discern rhythms and patterns in words that most of us can’t even hear—not until he arranges them in order and pronounces them in a way that highlights their melodiousness.

 

“Love Me” is monumentally great. His Shady Records signees Obie Trice and 50 Cent join him on it—and to a man, to a line, to a word, the rapping is phenomenal. Somehow, on a song where Obie delivers a couplet as instantly memorable as “But in the meantime/It’s Jimmy Iovine time…” and 50 makes every rap fan choke on shocked laughter with, “I’m convinced, man/Something really wrong with those hoes/I thought Lil Kim was hot til she started fuckin’ with her nose,” Em wins the day by twisting his words around themselves til they’re like some kind of crazy grapevine climbing up a trellis.

“My noodle is cockadoodle/My clock’s cuckoo/I got screws loose/Yeah, the whole kit and kaboodle/It’s brutal…”

That’s Em at his best, which is pretty darn close to rap at its best, period. That is someone with a great gift for rhyme, an elevated understanding of the way vowel sounds and consonant sounds play off each other, someone able to discern rhythms and patterns in words that most of us can’t even hear—not until he arranges them in order and pronounces them in a way that highlights their melodiousness. That’s a guy like that just showing off. Just having fun. But knowing that in putting his fun down on record, he’ll let millions of other people share in the fun. In the beauty, really, to put it a little more loftily.

The miracle of the album, though, is how the other songs fit in with Em’s. Young Zee’s frosty, slinky, “That’s My Nigga Fo’ Real,” with its emotive chorus balancing between comedy and pathos in a way familiar to any Em fan. The two R&B songs, Macy Gray’s “Time of My Life” and Boomkat’s “Wasting My Time,” soulful and mournful, world-weary but with a wry hip-hop smile. They’re both terrific. And you can hear why Em chose them. They suit him—they sound like a damaged loner walking home down 8 Mile Road, not much to look at, baggy sweatshirt and jeans. But secure in the knowledge that when it comes down to it, if it comes down to it, he's armed with a wit and a sense of savvy that can get him over anything. —Dave Bry