The spirit of “8 Mile” was alive and well at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit Thursday night, as eight amateur MCs competed in freestyle rap battles at the finals of the Red Bull EmSee: The Road to 8 Mile competition.
Eminem, the Em of the event’s title, was on hand to judge the rappers, who composed dizzying rhymes off the top of their heads while the sold-out audience clapped — or booed — them on.
Em raised his fist to the crowd when he was introduced and kept his comments during the evening brief. Other hip-hop notables at the event included Bun B, Xzibit, DJ Jazzy Jeff and members of Eminem’s D12 crew. Detroit artists Trick Trick, Black Milk, Elzhi, King Gordy and Miz Korona were also on hand, as was country rapper Cowboy Troy, who was in town for business and dropped by as a fan.
The competitors were chosen from a series of semifinal rounds around the country over the last two months. But the evening’s winner, Saffal “FowL” Tall, hails from Detroit and was encouraged to join the contest by respected Detroit freestyle battler Marv Won.
“I feel like he did what he was supposed to do,” Marv said after FowL’s unanimous victory. “I feel like a proud, older brother.”
The competition consisted of three rounds. In the first, the MCs came up with a 60-second verse based on a series of random images — a monster truck, a lunchbox, Robert Pattinson — projected onto nearby screens. For round 2, they integrated words that popped up on the screens into their rhymes. The third round consisted of two 60-second impromptu a capella verses. Each round’s winners were determined by the judging panel of Eminem, Em’s D12 sidekick, Denaun Porter, and his DJ, the Alchemist.
FowL won by channeling his intense energy into a series of funny rhymes and hard-hitting insults. During his fist round square-off, the rapper turned away from his opponent and toward to the balcony where Eminem was seated and said, “(Forget) this battle, Eminem, let me get a deal!” The move earned him a thumbs-up from Mr. Mathers.
In the evening’s final battle, finalist D.N.A. lost his way when the crowd turned on him when he tried getting them to chant “313.” The New Yorker gave up half-way through his minute-long verse.
“I thought he should have kept going,” said Detroit rapper Royce da 5’9″, who performed at the evening’s close with his hip-hop collective Slaughterhouse, which he says is “in the ninth inning” of completing a deal with Eminem’s Shady Records. “Detroit is a tough crowd, but he shouldn’t have said ‘313!’ like that. Detroit don’t go for that.”
FowL’s victory earns him the opportunity to record with producers at the Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, Calif.
The competition was filmed and will be edited down, along with footage from the preliminary battles, into an hour-long special. A deal with a network has yet to be finalized, according to a Red Bull spokesperson.