On February 13, 2022, SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California was illuminated with the rhapsodies of hip-hop, a genre that once thrived in the shadows of American rebellion. Amid the frenzy of the Super Bowl halftime show, 50 Cent heralded a spectacular entrance, performing “In Da Club” while hanging upside-down, reminiscent of his iconic 2003 music video. Sporting a vintage G-Unit tank top, his presence reverberated the voice of a genre that’s often been at odds with the mainstream.
However, this Super Bowl was different. Hip-hop wasn’t merely present; it was the pulsating heart of the evening. In a landmark event, the NFL embraced the genre wholeheartedly, featuring an array of artists including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, and of course, 50 Cent. This collaboration was possible due to the NFL’s alliance with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, signaling the league’s attempt to mend its fractured relationship with the African-American community.
Not so long ago, the NFL was in the crosshairs of controversy. Rappers like J. Cole, Cardi B, and T.I. boycotted its games, supporting Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police violence. To see these very artists, who once stood in resistance, now perform on the world’s grandest stage, was a moment of introspection. It showcased a duality: the Super Bowl’s need for modernization and hip-hop’s journey from the streets of New York to the heart of American pop culture.
Football fans ran to sportsbooks with the best betting promos to place wagers on the Super Bowl final. Still, given its history, nobody would’ve put money on the hip-hop genre taking center stage at the prestigious event.
Yet, blending the rawness of hip-hop with the NFL’s glittering stage wasn’t without its challenges. Dr. Dre’s past, marked with instances of violence against women, posed moral questions about what the community is willing to overlook for mainstream acceptance. As Dre stood behind an all-white mixing board, flashing images of Compton behind him, and Snoop Dogg paid homage to his city with a bandana and the iconic Crip-walk, the clash of authenticity and commercial appeal was palpable.
Mary J. Blige’s electrifying dance to “Family Affair” and her soul-stirring rendition of “No More Drama” left her, and many watching, breathless. Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar, the torchbearer of modern-day hip-hop, dazzled with “m.A.A.d city” and “Alright,” accompanied by a sea of blonde-buzzcut dancers moving in harmonious choreography.
Eminem’s appearance brought its own surprises. A throwback to “Forgot About Dre” was followed by the iconic “Lose Yourself.” And while his music might find itself battling for relevance amidst the TikTok-fueled music scene, his gesture of taking a knee, even if pre-approved by the NFL, reignited memories of Kaepernick’s protest.
This halftime show posed the essential question: Can hip-hop, in all its raw authenticity, co-exist with the polished spectacle that is the Super Bowl? Previous performances by artists like Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, and Travis Scott indicate an evolving acceptance. Yet, this night was about more than just acceptance; it was about celebration. However, as hip-hop stands at this crossroads, embraced by the very institutions it once critiqued, it faces an identity challenge. Can it maintain its essence of rebellion while enjoying mainstream success? The NFL, too, is on its journey, trying to balance commercial success with genuine inclusivity.
This Super Bowl halftime show was a testament to hip-hop’s journey, one marked with resistance, evolution, and eventual acceptance. But as the final notes faded and the applause resonated, it left both fans and skeptics wondering about the future of this collaboration. Only time will tell if this marriage of sport and music can thrive, or if it’s merely a momentary tryst.
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