As it’s been said, California knows how to party, so who else better to herald the Super Bowl’s return to Los Angeles after nearly 30 years than hometown legends Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar?
The trio of hitmakers, who’ve shaped the course of West Coast hip-hop over the past three decades, lit up the Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night with a groundbreaking performance alongside co-headliners Eminem and Mary J. Blige.
The show, which is the third to be curated by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company, gave hip-hop and rap music its biggest stage at the game to date. Against the backdrop of a league reckoning with a dismal diversity record and a history of exploiting Black players, the blockbuster quintet packed the event with star power and delivered a performance for the history books.
Dr. Dre, who rose to fame in the 1990s with the rap group N.W.A., kicked off the show, appearing behind a record booth on top of a stage constructed out of a row of white buildings.
As a hip-hop kingmaker to a slew of proteges — including Snoop Dogg, Lamar and Eminem — as well as a producer on a handful of Blige’s tracks, the rap titan primed the crowd with a rendition of “The Next Episode” off his “2001” album with an assist from Snoop.
After a quick interlude of Dre and Tupac Shakur’s “California Love,” the camera panned down to reveal a surprise appearance from rapper 50 Cent, who began his performance of “In Da Club” while hanging upside down from a ceiling — a call back to the song’s iconic music video.
Next up was Blige in a head-to-toe metallic silver look alongside a crew of blinged out back-up dancers to perform her No. 1 single “Family Affair.” The nine-time Grammy winner, who was the sole singer on the stage, then segued into a show-stopping version of “No More Drama.”
Then Kendrick Lamar arrived to serve up a taste of “Alright” from his Grammy-winning album “To Pimp a Butterfly” while flanked by group of bleached blonde dancers outfitted in black suits with a sash bearing the words “Dre Day.”
A crowd rushed the stage when Eminem appeared to perform his Oscar-winning song “Lose Yourself” before the entire group of musicians joined forces for a rendition of “Still D.R.E” to close out the show.
While a handful of rap artists have graced the Super Bowl stage over the decades, including Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Queen Latifah and Nelly, they’ve had to share the spotlight with performers hailing from different genres.
In recent years, many others have rejected the offer to appear at halftime in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other players who’ve faced backlash from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. In 2019, the NFL partnered with Jay-Z and Roc Nation to attract high-profile performers and strengthen the league’s social justice outreach, easing tensions slightly. Pop superstars have dominated the two most recent halftime shows with an electrifying collaboration between Shakira and Jennifer Lopez earning rave reviews in 2020 and singer The Weeknd taking the stage as a solo headliner last year.
As the first-ever halftime show to put hip-hop and rap music at its center, this year’s group of performers spoke ahead of the game about what this moment means both for them personally, as well as for the legacy of the genre.
“We’re going to 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 long time ago,” Dre said at a press conference earlier in the week. “It’s crazy that it took all of this time for us to be recognized. ... We’re going to do it so big that they can’t deny us anymore in the future.”
Snoop Dogg, meanwhile, called the opportunity a “dream come true” and expressed disbelief that the NFL is letting a “real hip-hop artist grace the stage” at the show, which pulls in over 100 million viewers each year.
Eminem added that he’s been “blown away” by Dr. Dre’s vision for the halftime performance, and praised Lamar’s as a “top tier” lyricist “not just of this generation, but of all time.”
Blige, who previously performed alongside *NSYNC, Britney Spears, Nelly and Aerosmith at the Super Bowl in 2001, teased that the show will be “the most epic thing in music.”
“L.A. is never ever gonna be the same,” she said. “Just know this: It’s some history, man. … It’s a celebration how far you know hip-hop has come, how far R&B has come … music and our culture.”
To whet fan’s appetites for the show, all five artists appeared together in a trailer released earlier this month helmed by “Friday” and “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray. In the nearly four-minute video titled “The Call,” Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Blige and Lamar each receive a message from Dr. Dre, telling them to unite in Los Angeles for the big game.