In the lead-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show, there was a lot of ado about the fact that this would be the first year Hip-hop music took center stage. It was a marketing version that overlooked the glaring delay to completion – rap finally came to light in the perhaps twentieth year of hip-hop that took the center of American pop music. Is progress this delay still considered a breakthrough?
After several years of grappling with a variety of racial controversies, the NFL likely wanted the credit for showcasing black music—particularly hip-hop, the lingua franca of American pop culture—and that’s notable. What would some of rapper’s superstars – Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar – giants with little fear for their reputations do, with these more visible platforms?
The stories told at SoFi Stadium Sunday night were layered, a dynamic performance stretching over a trench of potential political landmines. On the whole, there was copious entertainment, and a mix of songs that were so central to American pop music that they practically precluded dissent.
Dr. Dre opened the show behind a dummy mixing board, a nod to the root of his fame: the ability to control volume. For the next 12 minutes, a number of lively and groovy songs followed, including “The Next Episode,” a wired collaboration between Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, dressed in a blue tracksuit. “Love in California” (mercifully delivered without a hologram of Tupac Shakur, as some have rumored); Eminem Stadium rocks “Loose Yourself”; The feisty and proud Lamar “Okay”; And a pair of songs from Mary J. Blige, the only singer on the bill.
Hanging upside down from the group’s ceiling, 50 Cent was an unannounced guest and performed his hit song “In Da Club”, one of Dr. Dre’s primary productions. (This was almost certainly the most silent two-stroke show ever.)
The performances were almost uniformly excellent. Lamar was startled – the liquid flowed with ecstasy, moving his body with jagged force. Confident to the extreme, Snoop Dogg is a veteran of comfort at high pressure. Eminem, isolated as ever, still emits strong tension. Blige was the lead, helping bring the show’s middle segment into slow-motion focus with the purple pain-rich “Family Affair” and “No More Drama.” And Dr. Dre was smiling the entire time, a maestro checking out the spoils of decades spent reshaping the look and feel of pop music.
But the real battles in the halftime show were between enthusiasm and sarcasm, censorship and protest, amplifying black performers at this point and stifling black voices at various stages of the anti-NFL protest just two weeks before, the NFL was. Lawsuit filed by former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores who said he faced discriminatory hiring practices.
Scanned as an oasis of racial courtesy if not entirely progressive, this first-half show was the third staged as part of the Partnership between the NFL and Jay-ZSports and entertainment company, Roc Nation, which was battered in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests in 2016.
“It’s crazy that it took so long for us to get to know us,” Dr. Dre said at the game’s official press conference last week, stressing that the NFL essentially chose to wait until hip-hop was old — apart from Lamar, all The Sunday artists had their commercial and creative heyday for over a decade – in order to give her complete control of her biggest stage.
The NFL is known for protecting its territory, and mishaps on the halftime show — a wardrobe malfunction, MIA finger Janet Jackson — caused quite a public uproar. The recess may be one of the last phases in this country where hip-hop still feels like music from the outside, amplifying the sense that the interests of the league and the performers may not have quite aligned.
This year’s event was also held in South Los Angeles, just 20 minutes west of Compton, where Dr. Dre was the founder of NWA, one of the most important hip-hop groups of all time, the godfather of gangsters and pop legends. . Compton was incorporated into the stage setting: the buildings included signage for its various attractions, including Tam’s Burgers, Dale’s Donuts, and the nightclub Eve After Dark, where Dr. Dre used to perform with his first group, World Class Wreckin’ Cru. The dances, from crepe walks to crumping, were L.A. specials. Three vintage Chevrolet Impalas were visual nods to low culture. Lamar performed his segment over a huge aerial photograph of the city.
Each of these gestures felt prominent and powerful, a way of making this impossible global event feel very local. But it wasn’t clear if the renegade political spirit that was so characteristic of hip-hop when Dr. Dre was still a member of NWA would also appear during the show.
A few hours before the game starts, buck news mentioned That Eminem, the only white performer on the show, had suggested taking a knee during the set, and was rejected by the NFL. It felt like a pre-made controversy, the kind of infusion that was designed to be simply refuted.
And so there was Eminem, singing “Opportunity Comes Once in a Lifetime” at the end of “Lose Yourself,” with his right hand on his head, and sitting on his left knee while Dr. Dre perched on a white piano and tapped to a familiar tune of “I’m not Crazy in Cha” by Tupac–a flash of extremism and a dash of elegance, a pushback and an embrace, an implied raised fist and a wink. After the show ended, an NFL spokesperson said He said That league knows all the time that Eminem is going to kneel. And does he still protest if it is signed and approved?
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