The Los Angeles Rams are your Super Bowl Champions, beating the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 to lift football’s ultimate prize. Beyond the result, the usual talking point emerging from the annual showpiece is the halftime show. This year was no different, as hip hop’s elite took centre stage at the So-Fi Stadium. Dr Dre led a who’s who of the rap game, with Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar all appearing. Already being talked about as one of the greatest Super Bowl halftime shows ever, this felt like something more than mid-game entertainment. With Dre and friends providing the first pure hip hop halftime show in Super Bowl history, this felt like an important cultural moment.
Performing atop a particularly luxurious mansion set, Dre emerged behind the longest mixing desk the world has ever seen. The N.W.A. icon launched into The Next Episode alongside Snoop Dogg, and from there the hits never stopped coming. The West Coast legends paid tribute to their hometown surroundings with California Love, though they stopped short of exhuming the literal ghosts of Coachella’s past, leaving the hologram Tupac at home this time.
Next came surprise guest 50 Cent, hanging from the ceiling like he was late for his Spiderman: No Way Home audition. His room in Dre’s luxurious centre-field manor was lit up like an L.A. nightspot for a crowd-pleasing run-through of In Da Club. Mary J. Blige was out next, proving she still has the best moves in the game at the age of 51. The trailblazer showed more energy than the players as she absolutely crushed Family Affair and No More Drama.
Until now, the event had honoured the old-school of urban music, with the icons of the 1990s and 2000s anchoring proceedings. Kendrick Lamar bridged that gap, surrounded by dancers in ‘Dre Day’ sashes, to spit modern classics m.A.A.d City and Alright. Kendrick’s impact on the genre was writ large, as his comparatively recent compositions fit snugly alongside rap’s sacred texts.
By the time the iconic refrain of Forgot About Dre dropped, everyone knew what would follow. “Nowadays everybody wanna talk…”. Eminem emerged from a stageside pillar to explosive cheers, and dived into adversity-anthem Lose Yourself, an appropriate song that has always fit into the oeuvre of the aspiring athlete. Slim Shady elevated proceedings from musical tour de force to cultural touchstone when he took the knee at the conclusion of the 8 Mile classic.
Rumours had swirled in the build-up that the NFL had forbidden the Rap God from making such a provocative physical statement, something they have since denied. But Eminem shouting out Colin Kaepernick, in front of the very organisation that made his position untenable, and lending support to the fight against racism in this most public of forums was an inspiring moment all the same. While Em knelt, Dre tolled the opening of Tupac’s I Ain’t Mad Atcha on the piano, a more tasteful tribute to the late Shakur than a 3D reanimation would have been.
The hip hop supergroup convened in full for a closing Still D.R.E, bringing the historic event to a close. Seeing Dre, Snoop, Kendrick, Mary J, 50 and Eminem lined up like the rap Avengers brought many emotions to the surface. For a generation, it was the moment the music of our youth passed into nostalgia. From Mick Jagger vamping through Start Me Up, to Prince wringing genius from his guitar to Purple Rain, the Super Bowl has always been a stage upon which the music of the past is canonised. Where hits become hymns. For the millennial generation, it was a chance to walk with these anthems into an afterlife spent as part of the classic fabric of culture.
Seeing this great assembly of hip hop artists pump out iconic fare that most Gen Z’ers would never dream of putting on a Tik Tok video was a fitting climax to who we were as a generation. Like those who grew up with Prince and the Stones, our days as the world’s youth have ended. But watching this incendiary, important and anthemic last hurrah was a reminder of what great days they were.