West Coast, make some noise! California knows how to party, so this weekend, when Super Bowl LVI came to Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, where the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20, L.A.’s finest finally made history with — incredibly — the big game’s first-ever hip-hop-headlined halftime show.
During an NFL press conference held Thursday, Dr. Dre, one of the most influential and successful rappers, producers, and moguls in all of music, emphatically declared: “This should’ve happened a long time ago. Hip-hop is the biggest genre of music on the planet right now, so it’s crazy that it took all of this time for us to be recognized. I think we’re going to go on and do a fantastic show, and we’re going to do it so big that they can’t deny us anymore in the future.”
The underwhelming staging on the SoFi field — a Los Angeles city grid of chalk-white buildings, with performers stationed in different portable discos in some sort of socially distanced, futuristic block party, and Dre overseeing much of the spectacle from behind a space-age mixing-console desk — admittedly didn’t fully translate to the small screen. It wasn’t quite big enough to fulfill Dre’s promise. However, the star power made up for that.
Pretty much anyone on Sunday’s bill — N.W.A. pioneer Dre and his West Coast protégés Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige, Aftermath Records superstar Eminem, maybe even drummer Anderson .Paak leading the fiercely funky live backing band or surprise guest 50 Cent — could have headlined the Super Bowl solo. And each performer got a brief solo moment in the SoFi spotlight. However, it was Eminem who received the most attention Sunday, when the brooding, hoodie-shrouded Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee ended his performance of “Forgot About Dre” and the Oscar-winning 8 Mile theme “Lose Yourself” by taking a knee next to Dre’s white piano.
Several behind-the-scenes reports ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl LVI claimed that NFL officials had ordered Eminem not to “kneel Colin Kaepernick-style” during the halftime show, and that Dr. Dre “had a lot of back-and-forth aggravations in planning his set” and felt “disgustingly censored” by the league’s powers-that-be. However, the NFL later denied these rumors, telling the New York Post that players have been taking knees since 2016 without sanctions, so musical talent would not be held to a different standard.
It should be noted that Snoop was still wearing blue bandanna fabric, despite reports that the risk-averse NFL had “also flagged something that Snoop Dogg was set to wear as possibly appearing gang-related,” and the halftime show’s closing number, “Still D.R.E,” included its controversial “still not lovin’ the police” line, even though it had also been reported that the NFL was uncomfortable with that potentially “divisive” lyric. But in the end, there was nothing divisive about this old-school show — as some of the biggest entertainers in the game (along with deaf rappers Sean Forbes and Warren “WaWa” Snipe, marking the first time that the NFL has incorporated sign language performances into a Super Bowl halftime show) formed a dream team and brought the California love.
The opener, featuring Dre and Snoop affably vibing on “The Next Episode,” was reminiscent of the dynamic Death Row duo’s nostalgic, hits-laden headlining set at Coachella almost exactly 10 years ago — although, thankfully, there wasn’t a hologram in sight when they eased into a bit of Tupac Shakur’s “California Love.” The above-mentioned 50 Cent then recreated his career-launching “In Da Club” video by rapping while dangling upside down.
But Mary J. Blige was the one who really brought the club to the Super Bowl, as she stormed and stomped the stage in her silver leopard Barbarella boots and executed some flawless hairography on the ultimate dancery anthem, the Dre-produced “Family Affair.” She then howled her way through a “No More Drama” tour de force that was all drama, climaxing with her collapsing, spent, flat on her back — a moment captured in a perfectly epic aerial shot.
Lamar, who has been off the scene for four years and whose appearance may have been the most anticipated of the day, unfortunately received the least amount of solo halftime screen time. But the Pulitzer-winning artist made the most of his time, making a militant grand entrance by busting out of a cardboard box while surrounded by a Rhythm Nation-esque squad of uniformed dancers in “DRE DAY” sashes, then tearing through a fiery “m.A.A.d City” and rousing “Alright.”
And so, hip-hop history was made Sunday. To quote Snoop (who actually told Yahoo Entertainment in 2020 and 2021 that he wanted to headline the Super Bowl with Dre), as he stated in last week’s NFL press conference: “This is what it’s about. This is what hip-hop and the NFL is supposed to be about: about representing, about change, about moving forward.”
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