It opened on a quick zoom into the streets of Compton. Fireworks marked the celebratory tone of what was to come. With Dr. Dre’s hand covered with the map of his home city, the message to audiences was clear — this performance, like all of Dre’s previous works, would be a faithful tribute to the streets where he came from.
He then placed his hand on an almost-divine-looking mixing board – the same device he’d used many times before to produce some of the most transgressive and important works in American music history.
The familiar riff from Snoop Dog then rings out – “da-da-da-da-da” – through every television set in every American home, and it’s now abundantly clear what’s going on.
The show then cycles through performances from many of Dre’s disciples, all of them hip-hop icons in their own right. 50 Cent, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Eminem all took part in an amazing cultural accomplishment for rap music.
Whether you’re someone who believes the NFL should’ve kept to their meat and potatoes of inoffensive pop and geriatric classic rock fare, or you’re someone who thinks the NFL didn’t go far enough in accepting Black culture and Black artists – we all have to agree that this was indeed an accomplishment.
30 years ago, in 1992, when Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” was released, if you predicted he would someday be helming a Super Bowl halftime show, you’d be called crazy. Especially considering the halftime show that year featured, among other things, the University of Minnesota marching band, Gloria Estefan and two Olympic figure skaters.
While many take the mainstream acceptance of rap and hip-hop as a given in 2022, up until now this type of ubiquity was impossible to foresee. That, in and of itself, makes this a tremendous accomplishment.
The importance of this performance is only made greater given the NFL’s past and current struggles with racism and the debacle resulting from them caving in to pressure to end their players’ police brutality protests.
The Super Bowl is no doubt the biggest annual cultural event in the United States. It draws more eyes than any other piece of entertainment, and it dominates the conversation more than anything else.
And the halftime show is seen to be the most important barometer of where the country is at culturally.
For years the NFL has been gatekeeping that barometer to only reflect a very white and very corporate image of what our country’s culture is.
With this year’s show – and with the previous two which featured The Weeknd and Jennifer Lopez, two nonwhite headlining acts – the halftime is actually beginning to represent the real vibrant cultural tapestry of America.
As a certain sect of people always do, some have their gripes with the show on political grounds.
Many on the more conservative side of politics objected to this diversifying of the halftime, with commentator Nick Adams suggesting that a performance by “Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Lee Greenwood” would’ve been better. There’s no reason to take those objections as anything more than the shit-stirring that they intended them to be.
Some on the left will quibble over whether or not this represents the most transgressive and anti-establishment group of artists possible.
Today it’s hard to see Snoop Dog as transgressive, someone who’s seen as culturally palatable and unobjectionable like Baby Yoda. But in Kendrick Lamar you find the most transgressive and high-minded option possible. He is one of the most socially conscious and politically active rapper we have today. Not to mention his artistic and poetic bonafides, which landed him a Pulitzer Prize in 2018.
Others will also find this choice by the NFL to be a performative way to try to distance itself from accusations that it’s a racist league. These accusations are certainly not illegitimate given the league’s blackballing of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and what seems like a second blackballing coming for former coach Brian Flores.
These claims, with the exception of ones arguing that the Super Bowl should be less diverse and culturally accurate, are genuine and should be considered.
But with this year’s show, it’s important to take it at face value for what it is and what it set out to be —an earnest celebration of the career of Dr. Dre and of the culture of Black Americans.
Doing that on this big of a stage is, undeniably, historic.