Hip Hop Makes History As Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent & Eminem Change The Game

On The Cover
Photo by Rob Carr / Getty Images
– On The Cover
Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show on Feb 13, 2022.

Last Sunday’s (Feb. 13) Super Bowl halftime performance featuring some of hip-hop’s stone-cold legends in Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, resonated with American – and indeed global – culture in a way never before seen. Taking to one of the world’s biggest stages, the acclaimed performance could also have a significant impact on the live industry.

“To see arguably the greatest Super Bowl halftime show fully representing Black culture during Black History Month is an absolutely unprecedented moment in world history,” Brandon Pankey, Live Nation Urban VP of Business Development & Operations, told Pollstar. “The halftime show is further proof that hip-hop and R&B music will always resonate deeply with a global audience. The touring and festival space for hip-hop and R&B will only grow more expansive and create more opportunities for emerging and established artists as multicultural audiences continue to embrace the power and authenticity of these genres of music.” 

Some of this year’s success can be traced back to a variety of racial controversies that in recent years plagued the NFL and its halftime show. In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt when the National Anthem was playing before his team’s games to silently protest police shootings of unarmed Black Americans. The athlete’s protest led to him not getting offered a contract by any NFL team once be became a free agent in spring 2017, despite taking his team to the Super Bowl in 2013. Kaepernick hasn’t played since.

In 2019, Kaepernick and his former teammate, Eric Reid, managed to reach a legal settlement with the NFL following a case that saw the two accusing the league of collusion to keep them out.

When the NFL announced Maroon 5 as the headliner for 2019’s Super Bowl halftime show in Atlanta, a global center for hip-hop, the choice drew criticism. Rihanna initially was offered the 2019 gig, but the singer backed out to show her support for Kaepernick. Maroon 5 was joined by famed Atlanta rapper Big Boi (best known for his work as half of legendary hip-hop duo OutKast) and Houston’s Travis Scott to join them for their performance. However, hip-hop had still not taken center stage.

OG Ballers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
– OG Ballers
Eminem, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., on Feb. 13, 2022.

Over the past decade, hip-hop has often been featured during the halftime performance, but never before was it the main event. Nicki Minaj joined Madonna in 2012, Missy Elliott took the stage with Katy Perry in 2015, and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny accompanied Shakira and Jennifer Lopez in 2020. 

Following continual backlash stemming from the Kaepernick debacle, the NFL brought on Roc Nation, the entertainment company owned by Jay-Z, in August 2019 in what was called a “social justice partnership” between the rap mogul and the league. Roc Nation would program the Super Bowl and work on the NFL’s “Inspire Change” initiative, a collaboration between the NFL and the Players Coalition to advance social and racial justice.

“The problem with the N.F.L. is you all think hip-hop is still a fad when hip-hop has been the dominant music from around the world for 20 years,” Jay-Z told The New York Times after the halftime lineup was announced.

Super Bowl LVI aimed to set that right. Taking place in Inglewood, Calif. at SoFi Stadium (which was built in a predominantly Black neighborhood in the Los Angeles area), this year’s halftime show featured some of the paragons of the genre and culture.

Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre kicked the show off with Dr. Dre’s hit single “The Next Episode,” which flowed into a rendition of Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre’s “California Love.” 50 Cent then surprised fans as an unannounced guest by appearing upside-down for his song “In Da Club,” which segued into songs from Mary J. Blige – “Family Affair” and “No More Drama.” Kendrick Lamar then popped in for “M.a.a.D City” and “Alright” before he, Eminem and Dr. Dre performed “Forgot About Dre.” Eminem then launched into “Lose Yourself” with Anderson .Paak surprising fans by backing him up on the drums. Dr. Dre paid homage to Tupac again with “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” with all six performers closing out the show together with Dre’s 1999 hit “Still D.R.E.”

“It was electric to see all of these artists on stage including Anderson .Paak on drums,” Caroline Yim, WME’s co-head of hip-hop and R&B, who represents .Paak, told Pollstar. “Dre and Snoop performing in an L.A. Super Bowl was everything we needed! You could feel the power and energy whether you were in the stadium or watching it from home.” 

Dr. Dre and Snoop, and more recently the Pulitzer-prize winning Lamar, have solidified themselves as Los Angeles legends. Fit with a stage set-up designed to look much like the houses in Central L.A. and filled with Compton landmarks such as Tam’s Burgers, Dale’s Donates, and Eve After Dark, lowrider cars, and crip walks, the city’s culture was on full display. 

“We’re gonna open more doors for hip-hop artists in the future and making sure that the NFL understands that this is what it should have been a long time ago,” Dr. Dre said during a press conference ahead of the Super Bowl halftime show. “You understand what I’m saying? We’re gonna show exactly how professional we can be, how dope we can be on stage and how exciting we’re gonna be to the fans. We’re gonna let you know what it is.”

Where’s The Remote?
Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
– Where’s The Remote?
Mary J. Blige and Snoop performing during the Super Bowl LVI Halftime show.

On Twitter, rumors swirled that Snoop Dogg had been told not to wear a blue bandana and that Eminem was instructed not to kneel. 

Snoop Dogg stepped out in a blue bandana sweatsuit, while Eminem took a knee as Dr. Dre. began to play Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha” on the piano. While the alleged instructions regarding Snoop’s bandana remain unconfirmed, the NFL denied reports that it told Eminem not to kneel and made a statement that they had known he was going to do so beforehand. As the NFL works to correct its past controversies, Lamar’s “Alright” lyric “And we hate po-po/Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure” was conspicuously omitted from the performance. In contrast, Dre’s lyric “still not loving the police” from “Still D.R.E.” managed to make it into the performance. However, Dr. Dre later told TMZ that only a few minor changes had been made by the NFL, including censorship in the names of specific L.A. gangs in Lamar’s lyrics. 

The Super Bowl’s takeover by hip-hop legends was long overdue. And this year’s performance managed to see Mary J. Blige, one of the first Black women to merge R&B and hip-hop, finally receive the praise she had long deserved. Acclaim for the show poured out nearly as soon as the show wrapped up, with the halftime show seemingly talked about even more than the game itself. 

Not only was the halftime performance itself filled with Black culture, but “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by Mickey Guyton, who recently made history as the first Black woman to earn a Grammy nomination in a country category and the first Black solo woman to host the ACM Awards. Guyton, who graced the cover of Pollstar’s July 13, 2020, issue, is nominated for three Grammys: Best Country Album for Remember Her Name, as well as Best Country Song and Best Country Solo Performance for the album’s title track. Ahead of the game, gospel duo Mary Mary and the LA Phil’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song known for being the unofficial Black national anthem. Jhené Aiko also took to the Super Bowl stage to perform “America The Beautiful.” 

Still, the NFL continues to have a long way to go – only two teams are owned by people of color (neither of whom are Black), while 71% of the league’s players are POC. And after this season’s usual round of hirings and firings, there are now only five Black head coaches. As this issue was going to print, it was announced that the first Black female Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, would be defending the NFL in a high-profile racial discrimination coaching case. This year’s performance, though, managed to finally see steps taken in the right direction and proved that hip-hop is here to stay.  Last weekend’s performance may already be having an impact on the live industry going forward.

“Hip-hop has already started getting the love from festivals around the world and I truly believe this will show buyers who were skeptical of the genre before that there is massive reach both musically and culturally,” WME’s Yim said. “The true gift is that I know this performance will open more doors to show that hip-hop is here to stay and will continue to reign supreme.”

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