Mekhi Phifer talks ‘8 Mile’, ‘Paid in Full’ and the soundtrack that captured Harlem

On Sunday 17th of November at the Renaissance Hotel in Heathrow, Gigsoup had the opportunity to sit down with Mekhi Phifer. The Harlem born is actor is well known for his role in the TV show ‘ER’ and also for his role in the movie ‘Paid in Full’ which gave him huge recognition as it’s considered an urban classic. Most notably, Mekhi is known for his co-star role in ‘8 Mile’ the biopic based on Eminem’s earlier life prior to fame. In the movie he played Future, a rap battle host and friend/mentor of Eminem’s character B-Rabbit. ‘8 Mile’ was directed by Curtis Hanson and starred some other Hollywood heavyweight names such as Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger, Michael Shannon and boasted cameos from Xzibit, Obie Trice and Proof from D12, whom Future was loosely based on. In its first week the film brought in over fifty million dollars and the worldwide gross came to just under two hundred and fifty million dollars. It was an instant success and reflected what Eminem represented, from being a struggling white rapper to partaking in underground rap battles. The movie was shot in Detroit and captured the essence of the city that now stands mostly derelict and a shadow of its former self. Although the city has seen dire times it has birthed some of the most profound and deep music that many generations from around the world have been inspired by. Mekhi was also mentioned in the song ‘Lose Yourself’ a track that Eminem cut on the set of ‘8 Mile’, in the third verse Em can be heard saying “And it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer” the song went on to win multiple awards and become number one in several countries.

Over the past weekend Mekhi attended an event held by Starfury Conventions where he spoke on panels, signed autographs and took photos with fans. At one point he even shot a video for a fan congratulating his friend on his recent engagement. Mekhi is very interactive with his fans and approachable. Starfury Event’s host, organiser and owner Sean Harry helped to get Gigsoup some time with Mekhi for the interview, be sure to check their website out to see what upcoming shows they have.

The Interview:

‘8 Mile’ was released 17 years ago, it was wildly successful and a pivotal point for Hip-Hop, what is it like to for you to look back and reflect on that after so much time?  

Man it was a great time, you know. Eminem was doing his thing, well he’s still doing his thing I mean, but, he was probably the biggest music star in the world at the time. We were working with a great director, Curtis Hanson, who’s recently passed. And being in Detroit, I never spent that much time there and it was really my first time being in Detroit and to have that energy of the city and to have everybody be a part of that, it was wonderful man, it’s hard to put into words.

Did you have any idea at the time that it’d be as huge as it was?

Nobody did, there’s no way you could you know? I didn’t even know how big the battles were going to be in the way they were received. All of the extras that were in the shelter where we were doing the battles, they really helped to take that to the next level because they were really participating in it and hearing it for the first time, the reactions you see from the crowd are real. Nobody could have guessed that it’d be as big as it was, we knew that we were making something special but, to see it all come together was when we were like “oh wow, this could be something huge” and for it to make almost 55 million dollars the first weekend was just unprecedented. So you know, we were making some history, yeah.

Was there anything that happened behind the scenes of 8 mile that has stuck with you, something funny or something meaningful that really stuck in your mind?

Oh, so many things. I mean, we hung out all the time we used to go to Eminem’s house, we were all young guys, single and having fun so while we worked we also partied and went to clubs you know, we met tonnes of girls, tonnes, you know, we had a lot of fun with that. And so, we just had so many jokes between takes. One thing I do remember is when he made the song Lose Yourself, because Em had three trailers, he had his main trailer, he had a studio trailer also and then he had a gym, a trailer that was just a gym so we would go in there and work out and stuff. One day we were at lunch and Em came through and he said “Listen guys, I think I’ve got the song for the movie” and he said “Mekhi, I put your name it” so I was like “Really?” So we all piled into the studio trailer, and he started playing the music and it was that crunchy guitar you know? We said “oh wow this is hot” and he hadn’t mixed or mastered it yet, but we were listening to it and he said that “no Mekhi Phifer” and we were like “Woahh!” So it was like a really fun atmosphere, all of us that were in our crew we really bonded you know? And we’re all still friends to this day.

You were in ‘Paid in Full’ amongst many legendary names, including on the soundtrack, what was that like?

That was great man, I didn’t really work on the soundtrack but you know we had Cam’ron in the movie and Noreaga from Capone-N-Noreaga, but I didn’t work on the soundtrack but I love the soundtrack though, it brought me back  because I’m from Harlem, I’m from that world, so it brought me back to that time growing up. The music in ‘Paid in Full’, even the title was a song by Eric-B and Rakim, it was a huge song when I was a kid. And the guys we were portraying, I had always heard about  you know, but I wasn’t running the streets then I was a kid, but I’d always heard about them so to be able to portray those guys was definitely an honour and we had to get it right. We had to do it right.

So we’re a few months out from the 2020’s, do you have big plans?

Well, I’m taking my wife out of the country to a private island for New Years, for Christmas and New Year, Other than that not really man. I’m working up until we break for Christmas on the show that I’m doing ‘Love, Simon’ for ‘Disney +’ but that’s probably my biggest plan is just going on a little vacation.

So it’s your first time at Starfury, what do you think?

Oh great, yeah they were wonderful man, Starfury really took good care of me, you know make sure things are moving smoothly. So I look forward to working with them in the future.

My Brother is a big fan of you and the show, and wanted to know what it was like to go on ‘Shade 45’?

Oh yeah it was great, yeah I’ve done that show and it was great, my guy sway and all those guys over there we have a lot of fun and we go way back so it’s like seeing a brother that I haven’t seen in a long time and just see what’s going on, be yourself and shoot the s**t for lack of a better term. It’s a lot of fun.

Yeah, we’re talking about an interview right now with Jude Angelini so we’ll let him know that we’ve interviewed Mekhi Phifer.

Okay yeah dope, tell him I said “What’s up” that’s all good.

That’s the last of the questions as I know you’re on a tight schedule, is there anything you’d like to add about what you’re up to?

Ah yeah I’ve got my show coming out on December 6th called ‘The Truth be Told’ on ‘Apple +’ so you know, just look out for that.

Awesome, thank you so much, we appreciate it.

Of course, no problem.

With multiple shows on the way on various platforms and a big group of friends in the Hip-Hop world, Mekhi Phifer is somebody definitely worth keeping an eye on. If it’s been a while then definitely take an ‘8 Mile’ revisit, for a movie almost two decades old, it holds up well, hits just as hard and makes you fall in love with the craft of lyricism and flow all over again.