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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Rap performs during the Super Bowl halftime show, balancing celebration and protest in equal measure

Much was made in the lead-up to Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show about the fact that it would be the first time that hip-hop will be the focus of the performance. In this case, it was marketing language that failed to recognise the obvious lateness of the accomplishment — that rap had finally risen to prominence in what was probably the 20-somethingth year of hip-reign hop’s as the core of American mainstream music. Is development that has been delayed this long still considered a breakthrough?

The NFL, which has spent the previous few years battling with an array of racial conflicts, was undoubtedly eager to take credit for the prominence given to Black music, particularly hip-hop, which has become the language of American popular culture. I’m curious what some of rap music’s generational superstars, such as Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar, would do with this most conspicuous of platforms, given their lack of regard for their public personas?

It was a complex performance on the SoFi Stadium pitch on Sunday night, with the tales delivered on the field spilling over a moat of potentially explosive political land mines. The majority of the time, there was enthusiastic entertainment, a mixture of tunes that were so essential to American pop culture that it almost completely quelled opposition.

Dr. Dre began the performance by standing in front of a faux mixing board, a tribute to the source of his fame: his ability to create sound. During the next 12 minutes, a slew of vivid and thumping hits were played, including “The Next Episode,” a wiry collaboration between Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who was dressed in a blue bandanna-themed sweatsuit; “California Love,” which was delivered without the use of a hologram of Tupac Shakur, as some had speculated; Kendrick Lamar’s pugnacious and proud “Alright,” and

Each of the performers delivered a superb performance practically without exception. It was breathtaking to see Lamar move his body with such jagged intensity, ecstatically liquid in flow. A seasoned veteran of high-pressure comfort, Snoop Dogg exuded an unshakeable confidence. Eminem remained as isolated as ever, yet he exuded a strong sense of tension. During the middle portion of the performance, Blige was dominating, helping to bring the program’s middle half into gradual focus with a joyful “Family Affair” and a sultry “No More Drama,” which was dripping with purple anguish. And Dr. Dre was beaming the whole time, as if he were a maestro looking over the fruits of his labours, which spanned four decades of rearranging the form and texture of pop music.

However, the real fights of this halftime show were between excitement and cynicism, censorship and protest, the amplification of Black artists on this platform and the suffocation of Black voices in different phases of protest against the National Football League (NFL). Just a few weeks ago, the National Football League (NFL) was sued by former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores, who claimed he was subjected to discriminatory hiring practises.

This halftime show, which radiated a sense of racial comity if not quite progressivism, was the third to be staged as part of a partnership between the National Football League and Jay-entertainment Z’s and sports company, Roc Nation, that was formed in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests in 2016.

The National Football League is famously protective of its turf, and accidents during the halftime show — like as Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or M.I.A.’s middle finger — have a history of generating large-scale public outcry. It’s possible that halftime is one of the final stages in this nation where hip-hop is still seen as an outsider style of music, which heightens the idea that the interests of the league and the artists may not have been entirely aligned in this instance.

This year’s event was held in South Los Angeles, about 20 minutes west of Compton, where Dr. Dre was a founding member of the N.W.A, one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time, as well as the godfathers of gangster rap and agit-pop legends, among other things. The city of Compton was included into the stage design, with signage for its numerous landmarks, such as Tam’s Burgers, Dale’s Donuts, and the nightclub Eve After Dark, where Dr. Dre used to play with his first group, the World Class Wreckin’ Cru, erected on the set of the performance. The dances, which ranged from Crip-walking to krumping, were unique to Los Angeles. To pay homage to lowrider culture, three classic Chevrolet Impalas were parked on the street. Lamar performed his portion atop a giant aerial image of the city, which was projected behind him.

Each of those allusions seemed significant and strong, as if they were a means to make this impossibly huge event feel intimately localised and personal. However, it was unclear if the renegade political attitude that was a feature of hip-hop during Dr. Dre’s time as a member of the N.W.A would also make an appearance during the concert.

Puck News claimed a few hours before the game that Eminem, the show’s lone white artist, had suggested taking a knee during the concert, but that the NFL had rejected his request. It had the appearance of a pre-planned dispute, the kind of leak that was produced solely for the purpose of being rejected.

As a result, there was Eminem, rapping “Opportunity comes once in a lifetime” at the conclusion of “Lose Yourself,” placing his right hand to his head, and bending his left knee, all while Dr. Dre sat at a white piano and tapped out a melody familiar from Tupac’s “I Ain’t Mad at Cha.” It was a flash of radicalism and a jolt of elegance, a push A spokeswoman for the National Football NFL said after the concert ended that the league had anticipated Eminem’s decision to kneel. Is it still considered a protest if it has been signed off on and permitted by the appropriate authorities?

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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