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2022 Super Bowl halftime show: hip-hop’s overdue moment

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Bianca Oppedisano
A depiction of the Super Bowl LVI halftime show. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff

On Aug. 1, 1989, Assistant Director of the FBI Office of Public Affairs, Milt Ahlerich, sent a letter to Priority Records. In his letter, Ahlerich warned that the rap group N.W.A, who were signed to the Priority Records label, “encourages violence against and disrespect for the law enforcement…I wanted you to be aware of the FBI’s position” (1). N.W.A was the scourge of law enforcement and the U.S. establishment.

33 years later, in 2022, N.W.A member, rapper, mentor and legendary producer Dr. Dre grinned across a rooftop to the artist he discovered in 1992, Snoop Dogg. Dre and Snoop undoubtedly recognized the gravity of the situation. Their music and the public’s perception of it had changed drastically in 30 years.

The halftime show opened with Dr. Dre perched over a fake studio mixing board being slowly raised to a rooftop while the start of “The Next Episode” from his album, “2001,” played. Snoop Dogg launched into the first verse, donning a blue and yellow bandana-style tracksuit while Dr. Dre provided backing vocals in an all-black outfit with a black leather jacket. 

The pair then transitioned to Tupac’s California anthem “California Love,” produced by Dre. Dr. Dre delivered the verse that would have been Tupac’s had he not been tragically killed in 1996 during the infamous east coast-west coast rap feud. Despite rumors circulating prior to the Super Bowl, Tupac did not appear holographically. During “California Love,” dozens of background dancers appeared on a bird’s-eye view map of Compton, Calif., the hometown of Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar. 

After the first verse and hook of “California Love,” Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg slowly pointed down to the room underneath them on the rooftop. Surprise performer 50 Cent was upside-down, descended from the ceiling of the set, which was a reference to his “In Da Club” music video. After coming to his feet, he launched into his Dre-produced 2003 hit, “In Da Club,” while wearing a “50” chain, stylish gray-white tank top and signature sweatband, in what appeared to be a club scene with mainly female backup dancers.

Just as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did before him, 50 Cent slowly pointed to the versatile rooftop stage above him where Mary J. Blige was wearing a white and silver cheetah-print bodysuit with matching thigh-high boots, accompanied by six backup dancers. Blige performed “Family Affair,” produced by Dr. Dre, before transitioning into her emotional ballad, “No More Drama,” with a confident and bold performance.

After “No More Drama,” Blige collapsed on her back and the camera swooped behind the rooftop to an aerial shot of men crouching in cardboard boxes with “Dre Day” written on them. In the center of the group, rap titan, Kendrick Lamar, emerged wearing a black Louis Vuitton suit designed by the late Virgil Abloh, with Tiffany & Co. lapel jewelry and cross clips, creating a militant look. After providing lively vocal sounds over the intro to his hit song “m.A.A.d City,” the cardboard boxes were removed as Lamar began his 2015 protest anthem “Alright” with searing intensity. Kendrick Lamar finished his set with a Super Bowl-specific verse paying tribute to Dr. Dre. 

The camera quickly changed to a shot of Dre above his mixing board while the Eminem hook of “Forgot About Dre” played in the background. After the side of the set dramatically broke off, Eminem ascended from below the rooftop to begin his Oscar-winning hit “Lose Yourself”. This motivational anthem was the perfect song for an intensely competitive sporting event like the Super Bowl, and Eminem delivered an impassioned performance. He was accompanied by the final surprise performer: immensely talented rapper and multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak on drums. 

At the end of “Lose Yourself,” Dr. Dre casually walked over to a piano and played a brief motif from Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha.” He then transitioned to the iconic and instantly recognizable piano motif from Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” The live band took over for Dre as he wandered to the central rooftop, joining 50 Cent, Blige, Eminem, Lamar and Snoop as he rapped “Still D.R.E.” The halftime show ended on a high note as the five performers repeated the word “still” during the hook of “Still D.R.E.” in unison. The group ended their show in roaring applause. 

The set for the show included cultural landmarks from Compton, such as the dance club Eve After Dark, Tam’s Burgers No. 21 and Dale’s Donuts. Fittingly, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial from Compton stood proudly on the far left of the set. The set was decked out in all white, while the performers navigated the one-story houses inspired by L.A. architecture. White Cadillacs with big rims sat in front of the houses, a reference to L.A. lowrider culture. Any engaged viewer will notice new elements of the set every time they rewatch the show, like a picture of Snoop shifting to a dog while he raps in the first story of a house. 

The live music was exceptional. There was likely a mix of prerecorded music along with the musicians on stage, but they made their mark on the sound of the performance. Anderson .Paak was a standout, displaying impressive technical skills on the drums during “Lose Yourself.”

The show was not without its controversies. Eminem took a knee after his performance, interpreted as a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement. The NFL claims that it did not attempt to censor that decision. Kendrick Lamar omitted “po-po” from the line in “Alright,” “And we hate po-po, / want to kill us dead in the street for sure.” Nonetheless, he did decide to perform “Alright,” a song embraced by the movement for racial justice. Lamar’s backup dancers appeared militant with their rigid marching and salutes. Dr. Dre kept the line “still not loving police” in “Still D.R.E.” The racial messaging felt calculated by the NFL. You can say you don’t love police, but you can’t say you hate police. 

Dre, Snoop, Blige, Eminem and 50 Cent are past their prime and not in the limelight of the popular music audience. But neither were the Rolling Stones, The Who, Madonna or even Michael Jackson when they performed the halftime show.

Dr. Dre was undoubtedly the star of the show, and rightfully so. Dr. Dre has either collaborated with, mentored or discovered all of the artists on stage. Dre’s influence on the West Coast sound and hip-hop is increasingly prolific. R&B and hip-hop is now the most popular music in the U.S., and it took the NFL far too long to put it on the main stage. This was objectively a great musical performance by talented artists. Subjectively, this halftime show approaches the influence of Prince singing “Purple Rain” in the rain: unquestionably iconic.

  1. https://dailyrapfacts.com/23276/the-fbi-sent-ruthless-records-a-warning-letter-in-response-to-n-w-as-straight-outta-compton-album-content/

About the Contributor
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator