A sublime ode to old-school L.A. hip hop at the 56th Super Bowl halftime show
For the first time, rap dominated as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige performed
Now that the game's over, let's get to the important stuff: The 56th Super Bowl halftime show featured a top-tier roster of hip-hop greats, bringing the genre to the stage for the first time — and giving fans of old-school hip-hop and L.A. charm a dream performance.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige pulled off a sublime show that celebrated the city of Los Angeles, where host team the Rams squared off against the Cincinnati Bengals.
A first for hip-hop and rap
The Jay-Z-produced halftime show marks the first time that rap artists have taken centre stage at the Super Bowl. While the genre has made halftime appearances in the past, it has never featured a rap artist as a primary headliner. Hip hop and rap stars such as Nelly, P. Diddy, Nicki Minaj and Missy Elliott have all been paired with other artists.
As noted by the New York Times, it wasn't until 2010 that the Superbowl ended a brief era of performances by old-timers such as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. That year, the pop-rap group Black Eyed Peas gave a performance accompanied by Guns N Roses, reintroducing pop hitmakers to the Super Bowl stage.
"We appreciate the NFL for even entertaining hip-hop because we know a lot of people that don't want hip-hop onstage," rapper Snoop Dogg said in a press conference ahead of the show. "But we're here now and there's nothing you can do about it."
An ode to California
With Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Lamar present, three of the night's five headliners were California-born artists performing on their home turf — and the halftime show set reflected their love for Los Angeles.
"We're gonna open more doors for hip-hop artists in the future," said Dr. Dre at the earlier press conference.
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The pristine set was an homage to the city, with a row of small white buildings mirroring major L.A. landmarks such as nightclub Eve's After Dark and Tam's Burgers. The field was transposed with a nighttime satellite view of the city. Dancers gathered outside the two-level set, dancing inside the buildings, on their rooftops and in the three old-school cars below, giving the show the feel of an intimate block party.
Hip-hop royalty joined by special guests
Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg opened the show with The Next Episode and California Love before surprise guest 50 Cent took the stage. Dancers surrounded him in a nightclub-nostalgic scene as he performed his 2003 hit In Da Club.
R&B queen Mary J. Blige arrived next, decked out in silvery glitter for a performance of Family Affair and No More Drama. Kendrick Lamar appeared with a crew of black-suited, bleach-haired dancers wearing "Dre Day" sashes slung across their chests. He performed m.A.A.d City and Alright.
Eminem took the stage next, performing Lose Yourself to a crowd of hooded dancers, with another special guest — California-born rapper Anderson Paak — having the time of his life on the drums nearby. Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre rounded out the performance with their 1999 song Still D.R.E., the other performers gathering onstage with them.
For all of the star power squeezed into a 20-minute show, the halftime performance was a welcome blast from the past, with seamless transitions from one artist to the next. The set was both stylish and practical, giving each performer the space to make it their own.
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Jay-Z produced show in partnership with NFL
In 2019, Jay-Z and his record label Roc Nation partnered with the NFL to produce the Super Bowl halftime show and address the league's record on race and social justice. The NFL has been criticized for its alleged blacklisting of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who famously protested racial inequality in the United States by kneeling on the field during the American national anthem.
The league's treatment of Kaepernick has prompted major acts such as Cardi B and Rihanna to decline halftime show invitations. In one notable moment during this year's show, Eminem took a knee after his performance, a reference to Kaepernick's 2016 protest.