By Stephanie Hyde
Photo Credit: Creative Commons
Five generational artists, one surprise guest, and the biggest stage to perform on led to a memorable night for hip-hop at the Super Bowl LVI halftime show. Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and a special guest appearance from 50 Cent all collaboratively meshed together in a way that other artists lack when they are not in the spotlight.
These performances proved how hip-hop is the driving force behind today’s entertainment industry.
Put together by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, this halftime show prioritized using a collection of artists prevalent to different eras of hip-hop. Dr. Dre was the connecting factor as his impact on other artists’ careers was showcased throughout the performance. Following unprecedented tradition, five artists' performances seemed like a difficult task of time management on a tight 15 minute schedule. But everything worked together better than expected, with careful planning and seamless transitions between sets.
The overall stage set paid homage to Compton, Los Angeles, which has a lot of rich hip-hop history and is specifically close to Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre–an ex-member of N.W.A. which created the classic album “Straight Outta Compton.”
The stage set included a long white set of rooms in different houses laid on top of the streets of Compton. Other landmarks in Compton were represented in the set such as Tams Burgers and the movie theater Eve After Dark, which included a banner that read “Compton Super Bowl LVI Presents Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, and 50 Cent.”
Snoop Dogg kicked off the show performing “The Next Episode” produced by Dr. Dre with infectious, youthful energy. It would be interesting to point out when Snoop Dogg would Crip Walk across the stage, the cameras would immediately cut away. This visual adjustment is a reminder that black artists still have to perform within a certain expectation of comfortability for corporate America even though it is a comprise of L.A. culture.
As Snoop descended into the livingroom there were family pictures of his younger self, his family, and the “Doggstyle” album cover. Dr. Dre. then performed “California Love” which was a tribute to the late Tupac Shakur who was a key member in the illustrious East Coast-West Coast 90s rivalry. Dr. Dre actually made a subtle change to his lyrics. Instead of his original lyrics “Been in the game for ten years making rap tunes,” he rapped “Been in the game for 30 years making rap tunes” which showcased the longevity within his hip-hop career.
One of the biggest moments of the night came next when 50 Cent made a surprise appearance with his hit song “In Da Club.” With many rumors speculating about his appearance, 50 Cent’s performance matched the stage's atmosphere of a club with the surrounding energy from dancers. Although 50 Cent has evolved into a successful TV mogul with multiple shows on Starz, his performance gave a proper moment of nostalgia from his primer rapping days.
Next up, Mary J. Blige's performance provided more reasons why she could have easily headlined the show by herself. Even with a two-song setlist, featuring “Family Affair” and “No More Drama” she brought a soulful vocal performance in a dazzling outfit. Blige explained in an interview with the Breakfast Club that performing “No More Drama” was a decision that was motivated by the current state of how fed up society is with everything. As the backup dancers moved out of the way to give her the spotlight, Blige, symbolically laid out on the ground ending her performance and perfectly matching the sentiment of “No More Drama.”
Kendrick Lamar gave another example of how he is a performer rather than an artist as his music often moves people visually as it does lyrically. The camera work matched his energy as he danced and rapped in perfect syncopated rhythm with the dancers to “M.A.A.D City” and “Alright.” Lamar censored himself from saying “And we hate po-po” short for police in “Alright.” He has performed “Alright” live many times before and has never censored those lyrics, but on the biggest performance stage, he had to. It is a reminder of the sacrifice it takes to remain true to yourself even when brands are more concerned with controlling optics.
The use of a live black band enriched Eminem’s performance of “Lose Yourself” featuring Anderson Paak on drums. The live music gave a fuller and livelier sound, elevating the performance from just a song into an anthem. A distinct moment of the performance was when Eminem took a knee and the camera immediately cut away, but then came back to showcase Dr. Dre playing the intro to “Still D.R.E.” on the piano. Eminem showed solidarity for a movement Colin Kaepernick started in the NFL, but the NFL continues to silence it on the biggest stage because they don’t support their players having an individual stance against injustice. “Still D.R.E” was a great song to close out the show as all five acts took the stage together.
The halftime show displayed the words “Dre Day” everywhere during the performance to celebrate how much Dr. Dre contributed to hip-hop. While many considered this halftime show tailored to a specific demographic and generation, a lot more people expressed their enthusiasm and recognition of timeless songs. While the halftime show won’t solve the long withstanding problems within the NFL, it does highlight how much Black Americans power entertainment that connects and appeals to a diverse group of people.
If more people worked together to elevate diverse voices there would be an increase in new ideas and opportunities. Ironically, it took Roc Nation teaming up with the NFL to increase diverse performances, but the NFL continues to silence players' voices and deny Black head coaches equal job opportunities. Roc Nation will have an interesting challenge to try to outdo themselves for the next Super Bowl halftime show.