Even before this NFL season, it was a good time to be from Los Angeles. The Dodgers and Lakers had won championships in 2020 and the Rams’ new stadium was under construction. When the NFL announced that the Super Bowl was going to take place in LA’s new SoFi Stadium, I was hyped. When they revealed the halftime show performers, I could hardly believe it.
Not only do I love Kendrick Lamar, but I loved the way the NFL handpicked LA legends to represent the city and its culture to over 90 million viewers. This was also the first halftime show to feature solely hip hop and rap, without any accompanying pop artists.
My expectations were high, but the show exceeded them. When Dr. Dre rose up from the stage with his producer setup playing “The Next Episode,” I got chills. Then, Snoop Dogg appeared in a blue sweatsuit and gold chains.
Rather than trying to be experimental or catchy, Snoop and Dre stuck to their strengths and played their classics. It was incredible. “California Love” was the perfect follow-up performance, and the dancers dripping streetwear on the ‘streets’ of LA should have been the opening scene of “La La Land.”
Then came 50 Cent in his sweatband hanging from the ceiling, and I felt like I was 14 watching the “In Da Club” music video for the first time. I couldn’t stop smiling. Mary J. Blige brought great energy, especially in “No More Drama.”
Next “M.A.A.D. City” came on and I definitely began yelling. Kendrick appeared in the middle of a group of men in suits. It wasn’t until I rewatched the show that I realized Kendrick wasn’t even singing or rapping, he was screaming.
While I was disappointed that Kendrick transitioned immediately into “Alright” after the “M.A.A.D. City” intro, I was right back out of my chair as soon as I heard him yell “Alls my life I hads to fight!” The surrounding dancers dispersed to give Kendrick more space, and he filled it.
Notably, Kendrick censored “po-po” — in reference to the police — from the line “and we hate po-po wanna kill us dead in the street fasho.” Kendrick has never been one to avoid controversy — take his 2015 BET awards performance, where he performed the same song — including the “po-po” — on top of a police car with an American flag in the background. It remains unclear whether or not the NFL asked him to censor the line.
After “Alright” came a remix of “Forgot about Dre” by Dre and featuring Eminem. Eminem then performed “Lose Yourself,” one of his classics, but I was more entertained by Anderson Paak’s guest appearance, where he crushed it on the drums.
After Eminem, I was expecting “Still D.R.E.,” yet Dre started playing 2Pac’s iconic instrumental, “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” instead. This moment was an intentional pause to pay tribute to one of the LA greats. The show displayed what hip hop culture does beautifully: honor those who’ve died in ways that are authentic, not artificial.
After this worthy interruption came “Still D.R.E.,” and it was phenomenal.
I won’t soon forget that image of 50, Kendrick, Eminem and Blige supporting Dre and Snoop during that last song.
There is a divide within hip hop/rap that’s evident even in the confusion of the genre’s name: some older listeners miss when Snoop and Pac ran the show while some younger listeners don’t know the name Tupac Shakur.
The halftime show unified the genre in a way it hasn’t been before. Dre and Snoop coexisted with Kendrick Lamar, who sang of the same anti-Blackness, patriarchy and legalized violence that 2Pac protested in his music. The show was a message to viewers: “this is LA, this is rap/hip hop, this is Black artistry at its best.”