By the time the white boy-born Marshall Mathers took a knee in an unspoken salute to banished quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s stance against racism and police violence, it was clear that this was not your Grandad’s classic rock show-and-tell.
In fact, looks like the NFL just got tackled on its big day by five deft icons who decided not to play ball.
Kicking off with 1999 tune “The Next Episode” and a chant from now Death Row Records owner Snoop for the West Coast “to make some noise,” it was all California love, literally and figuratively, on the field for the much-anticipated halftime show. Exactly 26 years to the day since Tupac Shakur’s iconic All Eyez on Me album was released, the Dre-produced tune had Inglewood’s jam-packed SoFi Stadium crowd on its feet fast. A “Family Affair” and “No More Drama” bedazzling Mary J, Lamar and then Eminem kept the fans pumped to the beat.
More than 50 years after the now most popular musical genre in the world was born in the Bronx, N.W.A alum Dre promised surprises leading into this weekend. The Grammy winner and crew delivered, with Dre protégé and unannounced guest 50 Cent bringing his 2003 banger “In da Club” to the NBC-broadcasted party.
Despite a rousing version of Lamar’s 2016 “Alright,” the nostalgia-leaning show initially looked like it was going to veer more VH1 than MTV. However, by the time Eminem popped up to unleash his Oscar-winning “Lose Yourself” anthem from 2002’s 8 Mile with help from Anderson .Paak on drums, the tone shifted to something harder. When the rapper went down on one knee for almost a minute as Dre tellingly played Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” it was pretty obvious it won’t be taking half a century for hip-hop to be back at the Super Bowl halftime.
THAT. WAS. INCREDIBLE.
— NFL (@NFL) February 14, 2022
Or put it this way: With an ambitious and multi-level set of L.A. County up-close-and-personal, the wait for hip-hop to take center stage has been too long to come, and says far too much about the NFL. In that vein, the endgame of Sunday’s halftime show certainly sought to make up for lost time. Rolling through one mega-hit after another, the Jay-Z produced mixtape of a show from the multi-platinum quintet may not have eclipsed the gold medal of Prince’s legendary 2007 halftime performance, but it now certainly holds the silver.
Still, with Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL execs probably bursting an artery or two over Eminem’s political homage to Kap’s protest that started in 2016, the league may slap on a longer tape delay next time round.
For today, at a packed and mainly maskless SoFi Stadium already jacked up over the hometown L.A. Rams’ 13-10 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals at halftime, the $7 million-budgeted play for the big players of 1990s West Coast rap was almost destined to be a victory lap from the jump. Expectations were already heightened before the traditional coin toss from gospel duo Mary Mary and the LA Philharmonic’s youth orchestra’s awe-inspiring performance of Black America’s unofficial national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s high-octane introduction of the game, and (after a wandering camera incident from NBC) the triumphant rendition of the national anthem by country star Mickey Guyton.
Birthed out of the multi-year partnership between the NFL and Roc Nation to perfume the stench of racism that envelopes the league, this evening’s megastar-filled halftime show dropped some serious rhymes and for most of the time walked a fine line in the much-desired slot. Planting a primarily SoCal flag with Motor City native Mathers and Power Book II: Ghost star Blige awarded honorary City of Angels status, the approximately 14-minute concert looked to be technically a marvel but merely a fairly bounce-heavy middle of the road for America 2022.
Until Eminem made his dramatic move – which was clearly the classified plan. If you think this was sanctioned by the league, watching NBC’s cameras whip off the MC’s kneel made it obvious this was not what the NFL hoped was going to happen. (UPDATE: 7:10 PM PT: The NFL is now saying that it knew the knee incident would occur and are good with it. “We watched all elements of the show during multiple rehearsals,” stated a rep after the halftime show.)
Still, it takes a lot of hits to exhume the ostracizing of ex-49ers quarterback Kaepernick for his on-the-field fight against discrimination and brutality and, more recently, former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores’ discrimination lawsuit against the league.
As well as the tens of millions watching at home on NBC, Peacock and Telemundo, the show took place in the Rams House in front of a celeb-rich crowd that included L.A. Lakers kingpin LeBron James; Oscar winners Charlize Theron, Sean Penn, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck; plus former halftime headliners Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé. In addition, soccer star Alex Morgan, director Reggie Hudlin, Larry Wilmore, Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, director Taika Waititi, Snoop Dogg pal Martha Stewart and more agents than a Friday night at Craig’s were among the fans at the 80,000-capacity venue. Also in the audience was last year’s top-notch halftime performer The Weeknd sitting near superstar Cardi B. Notably, the outspoken latter rebuffed the NFL’s attempts to have her perform at Super Bowl LIII because of the league’s treatment of Kaepernick.
As hip-hop moves solidly into middle age, it took four would-be AARP members and a Pulitzer Prize winner to take pro-football back to the streets — in the best way. Let’s see the Beijing Olympics follow that tonight.