The fact that the Super Bowl halftime show was, in essence, a party thrown by a bunch of middle-aged rappers was pretty amusing. The three concepts of Super Bowl, rap, and middle age are not usually thrown together in the same sentence. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Eminem made showbusiness history last night when they were the protagonists of a golden moment in the US music industry along with a handful of friends – Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak and 50 Cent – and a boatload of well-calculated nostalgia. Amid the nervy staging that usually surrounds the event, each of the featured artists performed their greatest hits, albeit with the bad language conveniently cleaned up.
The surprise of the night, while not a musical one, came from Eminem. Before performing Lose Yourself, the track from his movie 8 Mile that won him an Oscar at a time when he was the most famous musician in the world, took the knee just as then-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick once did in protest against police brutality. The former player, now having made a calculated move away from the centers of power in the football league, has now become an icon of the fight against racism. For a minute, it looked as if Eminem’s gesture had been improvised and was a kind of provocation, until someone pointed out that this particular show is rehearsed ad nauseum in the preceding days and that his taking the knee was not a surprise for anyone.
Sunday marked the first time that hip hop had occupied such a privileged place in the history of the Super Bowl. And if an alien had landed in the shimmering SoFi stadium in Inglewood to see the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals, they would have been forgiven for thinking that hip hop is what comes out of the head of a gentleman named Dr. Dre, such was the influence the producer had from start to finish during a show that had been assembled by Roc Nation, the entertainment company that belongs to another friend of his, fellow business giant Jay-Z.
Half time kicked off with Dre sat at the controls of his mixing desk. On the rooftop of one of the four white apartments that made up the stage – a daring design that made one think about a dollhouse that Kanye West might have given Kim Kardashian were the pair still celebrating Valentine’s Day – Snoop Dogg was waiting, with that regular look of his that suggested he was having the same great time he always is, whether he’s sat on the sofa at home or playing to an audience of 90 million people.
If anyone still had any doubts, it soon became clear that the Westside was indeed back, with Dre using this amazing platform to pay tribute to the G-funk era, which saw him and Snoop Dogg, as well as Tupac Shakur, conquer the world in the last 1980s and early 1990s.
The fact that the Super Bowl halftime show was, in essence, a party thrown by a bunch of middle-aged rappers was pretty amusing
Back in those days, Dre was a founder member of NWA along with figures who had more luck (Ice Cube) than others (Eazy-E). He would later become one of the biggest producers in the history of hip hop, in no small part thanks to the debut of Snoop Dogg and his work with Eminem. Then came his career as a hugely successful entrepreneur with a wide range of businesses, from his Beats headphones to music-streaming services.
The youngest of the group of friends on the stage last night was Kendrick Lamar, who was also the only one up there with a Pulitzer prize on his résumé “for distinguished musical composition by an American” thanks to his album DAMN. Both Lamar and Dre are from the city of Compton, Los Angeles, and he is on the Aftermath label, which also belongs to the producer.
As for the rest of the show, it was something of a drag to watch 50 Cent play his early hit In Da Club, now that he is the grand old age of 46. But it was interesting to see that Mary J. Blige’s classic No More Drama has improved over time, thanks to the life experiences of the singer.
At the end of the show, all of the artists came together to perform Still D. R. E. Watching them move as if they were in slow motion while the rest of the dancers gave a new meaning to the term “mayhem,” it was impossible to avoid remembering how hip hop, a musical style that emerged in the mid-1970s and that lived through its golden age some 30 years ago or so, was born from youthful rage. And that, as happened some time ago with rock stars, it will be this generation that will be showing its fans that no, you are not young forever.