Rosenberg: We worked very hard [on] the authenticity. They’d line up 20 extras and say, “OK, do these people look right? Do they look like the people that’d be watching this battle?”
Fenelon: We wanted the feel of a boxing match, or some kind of underground sporting event. It had a more down-and-dirty look, a more rough warehouse look than the actual Shelter.
Jones: Malik [Barnhardt, who played Free World member Moochie] hated what I was wearing. He took me and we got three Phat Farm jean outfits, matching Timberlands. He wouldn’t go out with me unless I was dressed appropriately. I still have those. I haven’t had the opportunity to wear them as much.
Rosenberg: Period-wise, we had to make sure the wardrobe was right. It was a lot of Mecca, Carhartt, Triple Five Soul, Champion, that type of stuff. Because it was Detroit, it was a lot of Maurice Malone, Hip Hop Shop clothing.
Jones: The actual guys who battled were obviously rappers. Except for Anthony Mackie, who’s, like, from Juilliard.
Anthony Mackie (Papa Doc): It was crazy for me because it was my first job. When we started, I didn’t really have no lines. Motherfuckers 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 fucking Phifer.2
Strike: We was joking around on the mic. Having fun. Much respect to Curtis Hanson — he pulled us in the back: “If you guys don’t get this shit right now, I’m gonna remove you out the whole fucking movie.” He straightened us out real quick.
Eugene Byrd (Wink): I was considering [Curtis Hanson] Splinter. He kind of looked like Splinter to me. He would come over, and get this look in his face, and he would stare at you for a minute — when we would get it wrong, we definitely knew. He didn’t mince words.
Fenelon: Curtis assembled an amazing crew. Rodrigo Prieto has become one of the top five cinematographers working today. But at the time, he had not yet even shot a movie in the United States. He’d done Amores Perros, and that’s the kind of kinetic energy and naturalism and realism that Curtis wanted to have in the movie. And Rodrigo shot the movie himself — he was working handheld cameras in the middle of the crowd.
Rosenberg: It was all a hundred percent real. The DJ we cast, DJ Head, that was Em’s DJ at the time. They were passing out Black & Milds and Swishers to the extras to have them smoking. Really, just every detail, we made sure it looked right.
Malone: It was realistic other than the fact that the battles weren’t really at the Shelter. The place to battle was really the Hip Hop Shop.
Craig G (rapper, consultant): The feel of that movie was so authentic. Even down to, when you look at the crowd in the Shelter, there weren’t that many women. [Laughs.] I don’t know about today’s battles, but usually it’s not a very female-oriented genre.
Miz Korona (local MC; Vanessa in the lunch truck scene): A lot of the actors were active on the scene. They didn’t just pluck people from Hollywood and just leave it with that.
Rosenberg: We didn’t do anything in L.A. We shot the whole thing in Detroit. Every scene.
On a Real Battle Breaking Out
Miller: They built the set based on the actual place where [Em] and Proof used to do the battles.
Rosenberg: The actual exterior was a facade. People drive around Detroit looking for that building. It doesn’t exist.
Miller: It might as well be real because it was nothing but young, hungry dudes there. Including us.
Byrd: The energy was electric. The DJ was crazy.
Miller: It was hype. People were so excited. Every 10 minutes someone was trying to slide us a demo to slide to Em.
Strike: Everybody there in the crowd was a performer, a rapper, a ex-rapper, a never-could-really-rap-for-real real rapper. You know: “I’m trying to get on but this ain’t working for me.” And that’s all a bad mix. It was animosity in the air a little bit.
Jones: It was tough Detroit. Tough. Detroit.
Byrd: God, it was hot. Packed full of people, smoke machine rolling. Mekhi had his dreads on — I know them things was itching.
Strike: It was times where the crowd would try to heckle Em. And you got people saying, “Why ya’ll n—-s around the white rapper?” I got the mark of stitches on my hand to this day that I had from slapping some dude in the face that said, “Fuck the white boy.” Proof hit him, and he swung, and then I hit him!
At one point during filming, a series of scenes for a planned montage of local rappers “competing” against Eminem were shot. The montage was never used.
Miller: They had, like, a big competition. They told them the nicest rapper can rap against Em, blah blah blah.
Byrd: Em was sick. His voice was getting raw. You had to battle people for the montage. But Em wasn’t supposed to talk because his voice was raw.
Miller: It was a trip. We had a monster New Year’s Eve party, and Em’s voice was messed up. Everyone was under the weather. He wasn’t supposed to be using his voice.
Byrd: Em was complying for the most part. But some dude spit something and the crowd actually liked it.
MarvWon: I was one of the people that was selected. And I had a verse that wasn’t specifically for him, but, you know what I’m saying, it fit. And, uh, he didn’t take too kind to the reaction that I got.
Jones: He was just supposed to be mumbling stuff, pretending for the camera.
Byrd: And all of a sudden Em shook his head like, “Hey, man — I can’t let you get away with that. That shit you spit was written.”
MarvWon: He wasn’t supposed to rap against [me]. He had laryngitis or some shit. The director told him, you have to save your voice, so they cut his mic off. But he cut it back on. And, you know, he had a few choice words for me.
Eminem: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.
MarvWon: Everybody saw it as their time to shine. We weren’t necessarily gonna bow down to him. For some reason, it seemed like he took mine the most personal.
Miller: Somebody tried to roast Em! And he turned on his microphone and killed him!
Byrd: He went into an evisceration of this dude. The whole crowd was going, “Ohhh! Ohhhh! Ohhhhhhhhh!”
Strike: Em said, “How you gonna get up here with some shit you wrote in your no. 2 notebook?” Everybody after that was just like, “Why’d you get up here and do this?”
MarvWon: The competitor that he is, you know, he came back at me. [Pauses.] I think he had this shit already wrote for me, honestly.
Rosenberg: He, uh, he was quickly hushed.
Byrd: That was unplanned. For me, getting to see Eminem the battle rapper who I’d always heard about but I never got to watch — that was electric.
Strike: 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.”
MarvWon: I think I actually told him, “Yo, why you talking? You not supposed to talk! [Laughing.] Let me have this!”
Eminem: He was getting a reaction from the crowd and I felt like I had to respond. I guess that instinct never goes away.