Hip-hop took center stage at the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday as Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent packed a punch three decades in the making. Not only did six performers grace the stage — only five were originally billed to perform — but it also marked the first time we've seen a full hip-hop lineup headline the show's coveted slot.
It was surreal to see my favorite genre and its legends get their flowers. In all honesty, hip-hop deserved this moment: it's long overdue. From the nostalgic West Coast hits that blasted through SoFi Stadium to the field of dancers doing a choreographed crip walk on live TV, it was both exciting and scary as hell to see hip-hop be consumed by such a wide audience. It's dangerous, the way that hip-hop was commercialized for the Super Bowl this year, leaving it open to misinterpretation, critique, and censorship from those not intimately familiar with the genre. But that danger is nothing new — it's been present since the genre's inception.
"It broke that glass ceiling for future rap artists, to ensure that these kinds of cultural moments aren't still "making history" another 20 years from now."
The NFL allowed an authentic celebration of hip-hop to take place during halftime this year, and fans were elated. But to some, it felt somewhat like a poor-spirited, PR-driven attempt to right its past wrongs (i.e. blackballing Colin Kaepernick and punishing its players for protesting). What was behind the move?
As expected, the league had the halftime show under a tight watch as Dr. Dre confirmed to TMZ that a few "minor" changes were made. Fans noticed Lamar omitted his "If Pirus and Crips all got along" line from "m.A.A.d city." "They had a problem with that, so we had to take that out," Dr. Dre said. "No big deal, we get it." It also doesn't go unnoticed that Lamar didn't recite all his lyrics from "Alright," either — editing his "and we hate po-po" line — though Dr. Dre later made up for it by rapping his "still not loving police" lyric from "Still D.R.E." And Eminem doubled down on the defiance by kneeling in honor of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the adjustments made, the epic performance still achieved what it set out to do: proving that hip-hop is a crucial part of American culture that deserves to be saluted. It broke that glass ceiling for future rap artists, to ensure that these kinds of cultural moments aren't still "making history" another 20 years from now.
But praise aside, there's an obvious elephant in the room. We have to admit it feels tone-deaf to praise folks like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem on such a large platform with their problematic track records. Dr. Dre has a storied history of abusing women that's been documented with accounts from R&B singer Michel'le and journalist Dee Barnes; Eminem's music has a longstanding thread of threatening graphic violence against women; and a lawsuit against Snoop Dogg alleging sexual assault and battery was filed less than a week ago. The Queen of Hip Hop Soul was sandwiched in this lineup while she herself has experienced abuse — she could have very well headlined on her own.
"More thought should've been put into selecting the artists who would always be remembered for spearheading this historical milestone."
However, it's consistent with the league's empty attempts to address abuse among its own players. So it's not surprising that certain parts of hip-hop were embraced for the halftime show while others were ignored. More thought should've been put into selecting the artists who would always be remembered for spearheading this historical milestone.
There were a lot of entertaining parts about the halftime show to enjoy, but we cannot allow that excitement to erase the socially challenging, often controversial aspects of hip-hop, too. The rest of the world is consistently watching us, waiting to see what we do next.