The star of Sunday night’s 2022 Super Bowl halftime show at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, wasn’t the talent, including veteran superstar rappers Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar and R&B singer Mary J. Blige. And it wasn’t hip hop itself, which fully took over the world’s biggest live-TV event for the first time. It was the stage — an all-white, modular, two-level complex designed to capture the stretch of Los Angeles where Dre and Kendrick grew up in Compton and Snoop in nearby Long Beach.
Cameras whirled around the structure, shifting from the roof, where Dre and Snoop rapped 1999′s “The Next Episode,” to a downstairs room jammed with scantily clad dancers and unannounced guest 50 Cent hanging upside down for his 2003 smash “In Da Club ” As rooms and buildings revealed themselves — a band in this one, dancers in that one — surprises popped up around new corners, like a replica of the Tam’s Burgers #21 sign, a reference to a Compton fast-food joint that is both beloved by locals and chillingly historic.
Here was where ex-hip hop mogul Marion “Suge” Knight committed voluntary manslaughter in a parking lot, using a pickup truck to fatally run over one man and injure another in 2015, before reportedly pleading no contest to the charges three years later.
The whirling halftime show was so fast-paced and action-packed that it was hard to keep up with these kinds of knowing references, including the “still not loving police” line from “Still DRE” that, according to the news site Puck, NFL officials tried to delete. The show’s producer was Roc Nation, the company run by fellow hip-hop superstar Jay-Z, but Dre himself reportedly put up his own money for much of the production.
Before locals on social media had much opportunity to explain and reminisce about the highs and lows of Tam’s Burgers, the halftime-show cameras were off to a new portion of the structure, this time starring Blige, with hoop earrings, thigh-high boots and six spangled dancers, recreating hits such as “No More Drama.”
After that came Lamar, the youngest of the headliners, leading an army of dancers in militaristic uniforms, “Dre Day” sashes and blonde goatees, reproducing his 2015 classic “Alright” as an aerial view displayed a massive Compton map onto the Super Bowl field .
By the time Eminem showed up for his pump-it-up “8 Mile” anthem “Lose Yourself,” wearing a dark beard, a baseball cap and a hoodie, the performance seemed almost anti-climactic. Just a few minutes had gone by, but so much had already happened, musically, sentimentally (aside from Lamar’s hits, most of the songs were at least 15 years old), visually and culturally. When one of the drummers turned out to be Anderson .Paak, a younger rapper, singer and hitmaker in a sharp blue-fringed jacket, the surprise appearance was part of the star-studded wallpaper.
Perhaps self-servingly, but also appropriately given his influence, dressed in black as the master of ceremonies, was Dre, the former member of pioneering gangsta-rap group NWA, who went on to discover and nurture Snoop, Eminem and 50. For years , Dre’s presence was the heart of Universal Music, now the top record label; he maneuvered this success into a new company, Beats By Dre headphones, which led to a streaming service and a $3 billion Apple purchase, making him one of the genre’s first billionaires.
He played the role of Man In Black Svengali for this perfectly paced, thoughtfully constructed halftime show, manning a huge production console, then an “Imagine”-style piano during the finale “Still DRE,” and raising an index finger when Eminem rapped about having one shot during “Lose Yourself.” After the ensemble gathered on the roof for the final verses, the telecast switched to a prerecorded clip of Dre overseeing a fireworks display. At one point, Lamar rapped a snippet of 2000′s “Forgot About Dre” (which was on Dre’s solo album “2001″ and featured Eminem on the verses), and this halftime show was a reminder that it remains impossible to do so when contemplating the last few decades of hip hop and pop music.