What’s the 411 on the Super Bowl halftime show?
The Brian Flores lawsuit changes how we see the lineup of hip-hop royalty
This should have worked out perfectly for the NFL. The Super Bowl is in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Rams are playing. And the halftime show features a heavy dose of Los Angeles hip-hop royalty in Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar. Mary J. Blige and Eminem join them in what’s sure to be a show we’ll be talking about for quite some time. David Dennis Jr. and Justin Tinsley of The Undefeated chop it up about their expectations for the show and why Brian Flores’ bombshell lawsuit has made it about far more than music.
How do you feel about the NFL finally having a hip-hop-centric halftime show?
David: I don’t like it. The NFL Super Bowl halftime show has had a shady relationship with Black musicians — especially hip-hop artists. Too often, hip-hop artists were relegated to being guest acts if they even made the show at all, despite the fact that hip-hop has been the most popular music genre in the world. Which leads me to this year’s performances: While I think it’ll be dope to see Snoop and Dr. Dre onstage together for the first time in ages, as well as, of course, Kendrick Lamar and Mary J. Blige, this all seems like a backhanded compliment. Each one of these artists has enough classic records to carry their own halftime show. The NFL wouldn’t ask the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and U2 to share a 30-minute set. So why are they asking these icons of Black music to all share a stage?
Also, I’ve had my issues with the way the NFL treats Black folks. As we speak, the league has only one Black head coach. And, of course, it has never quite reckoned with its treatment of Colin Kaepernick. I hope these artists take the time to provide something meaningful instead of just doing ‘Gin and Juice’ and going on their way.
Justin: These are five bona fide legends with resumes that could easily allow any one of them to be the sole performer. But don’t get it twisted, there are a multitude of concerns. One, as David alluded to, is this a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. We’re already hearing rumblings that Mary J. will only perform one song. How is that fair? Two, while I recognize it’s easy for me to play armchair quarterback, let’s be honest: Snoop and Dre probably should’ve been the only headliners. This isn’t a knock on anyone else. It just gives the show much more flexibility than the ‘hurry up and perform’ energy that seems inevitable right now. Thirty minutes isn’t even enough to get through the best songs on The Chronic or Doggystyle.
And, three, everything has been put into a different context following Flores’ lawsuit against the league. Suddenly, the game doesn’t feel as important — which stinks because these playoffs have been nothing short of incredible. How can one be excited about anything involving the NFL when it came out and essentially said, ‘Black people can work here. They just can’t be bosses’?
In a perfect world, how does this halftime show play out?
David: It doesn’t. The NFL and the halftime show needs these Black artists for its ratings and pop culture relevance. Not the other way around. And the NFL hasn’t done enough since Kaepernick to make me believe that they care about many of the folks who look like the people performing onstage this year. Add in the Flores lawsuit and we’re looking at another year of the NFL skating by while having little regard for us. In my perfect world, Jay-Z and Roc Nation and all of these acts either pull out at the last minute or they just stand there onstage with their fists in the air for 30 minutes.
I know this is probably a pipe dream. Snoop and Dre, in particular, are the ultimate capitalists who attach their names to most things that are sound business. After all, it’s not like these issues with the NFL came out of nowhere. They were around when all of these acts signed on. Expecting any change to the program now is a fantasy.
Justin: That’s a loaded question, but here goes: The halftime show still holds an extreme amount of cultural cachet. So there’s no way any of the artists are going to pull out. That said, in a ‘perfect world,’ it’d be great to see someone like Kendrick Lamar make a statement of some sort. Now will this happen? Likely not, but the entire world knows that the league discriminates against Black people in its labor force. We’ve literally seen the text messages.
So much of the history of Black music has revolved around bucking a system that has never wanted to value Black lives. And the same thing is true with football. Black people can entertain on the field. Black people can entertain at halftime. But Black folks trying to advance into high-level decision-making roles? Well, the league has shown that’s just going too damn far for their liking.
What are three songs you know won’t be performed but you wish would be?
David: Can I just suggest they play Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ on loop while refusing to go onstage? No? OK, I’ll play along.
Can you imagine for a split second Snoop rolling out onstage in a wheelchair to perform ‘Murder Was The Case’? I mean, he’s already started to get backlash for being involved in the Super Bowl because of his ‘vulgar’ lyrics, as if he’s the first musician with vulgar lyrics to perform at the Super Bowl. So, yeah, let’s really make ’em mad.
‘White America’ — Eminem will always be a self-aware white artist. He’s articulated the ways his whiteness has made him more famous than his Black counterparts, and that’s always a welcome sight. This track, from 2002’s The Eminem Show, lays out white privilege as well as any white artist has ever done. Just imagine him breaking things down for a Super Bowl audience.
Justin: I can’t stop saying it, but everything about this feels trivial. And that really sucks because we should be able to enjoy seeing Dre and Snoop perform ‘Nuthin’ But A “G” Thang’ or ‘Still D.R.E.’ without feeling some sort of way about the company they’re keeping. But, fine, I’ll play, too. We know they’re going to play the biggest hits, so I’ll avoid the obvious choices and nerd out for a second:
- Snoop Dogg: ‘Down 4 My N’s’ — There is absolutely no chance in hell this record gets played, but the look of sheer horror on some faces and enjoyment on others is enough for me. Plus, he’s Snoop Dogg. It’s not like he’s going to run out of endorsements anytime soon.
- Eminem: ‘The Way I Am’ — For reasons similar to why D picked ‘White America,’ this classic Marshall Mathers track still hits with the potency it did 22 years ago.
- Mary J. Blige feat. Lil’ Kim: ‘I Can Love You’ — Honestly, for no other reason than so we can see Mary and Kim rock out onstage together.
What song do you hope they skip?
David: I feel like we’re going to get a bad Eminem song, whether it’s ‘Not Afraid’ or ‘Love The Way You Lie.’ I get it. They’re popular anthems that got played on the radio ad nauseam. But they’re just not worth the stage time that could go towards other great tracks in these artists’ catalogs.
I hope Em sticks to the guest appearances like ‘Forgot About Dre’ or his early work. It’ll be interesting to see which fans they opt to service during this show.
Justin: Eminem has always been at his best when he combines his intricate lyrics with profound introspection. With that being said, please don’t perform ‘The Real Slim Shady.’ I don’t think a number exists for how many times I heard that song growing up. I’m good on that. Like really good.
Also, Em and Dre should steer far away from ‘Guilty Conscience.’ That Dee Barnes line doesn’t need to be made a mockery anymore. Especially on a stage like the Super Bowl.
What do you make of Kendrick Lamar’s involvement?
David: This is the wild card. It’s been five years since he’s even dropped an album. He also spent a good bit of 2021 warning us that he was about to drop a bomb on us in the form of an album. Plus, he’s used his performances as political statements in the past. If anyone is going to do something that will anger NFL viewers, it’s going to be Kendrick.
So I hope we get a mix of those two things: a peek into his new music [accompanied by a surprise midnight album drop as a bonus!] and a continuation of his progressive and disruptive performances from before. This whole show seems to go against a lot of what he had been leaning towards in recent years, so the optimist in me thinks he has something planned beyond ‘Alright.’
To be honest, I’d be the most disappointed in Kendrick if he just went along with the show without making a statement. Just bowing to all this would have me looking at him a bit sideways.
Justin: Confession time. I’ve had Kendrick’s New flows coming, be patient, brother from Baby Keem’s ‘family ties’ stuck in my head for weeks. I just randomly blurt it out at times. Anyhoo, David’s right that if anyone is going to make a statement, this is the guy to do it.
He knows how long he’s been away. He knows people are all but foaming at the mouth for new music. He knows people want to see what heights he elevates to now that he’s no longer signed with Top Dawg Entertainment. Kendrick’s not going to drop the ball with a mailed-in performance. That much I’m sure of. He’s also not going to come out and give the middle finger to the NFL. But I could see him doing some sort of tribute to Flores like wearing a T-shirt or shouting him out at the end of his set. In an ideal world, it goes something like this: ‘m.A.A.d city’ into ‘Alright’ and signing off with a Flores nod.
Hey, a man can dream, right? Oh, but please drop something at midnight, per D’s request. I’d love the album, but a single or EP will hold us over for now. Feed the wolves, Kendrick!
Where do Jay-Z and Roc Nation fit into all of this?
David: I was always disappointed by the Jay-Z/NFL marriage, especially on the heels of Kaepernick essentially being blackballed. Jay’s ‘we’re past kneeling’ and yucking it up with [Roger] Goodell just felt like an insult. It’s been a couple of years and I have yet to see the NFL effect any meaningful change. There are actually fewer Black coaches now than there were when the NFL and Roc Nation started its partnership. The NFL has pretty much just tacked ‘End Racism’ on the back of helmets without much in the way of … well … anything. If Jay just wanted to pick halftime performers or eventually run a team, I wish he would have just said that.
Justin: The NFL is still battling the same problems it had before Roc Nation and Jay came along. Perhaps this is a long-term play by Jay to maneuver into ownership on some Spook Who Sat by the Door energy, but even if Jay does end up as a part owner of a team, it won’t mean much if he’s the only one.
Take this into account, too: Jay-Z famously boycotted the Grammys back in 1999 because, as he told The Shop last year, of the disrespect shown to DMX. Jay ended up winning ‘best rap album’ for Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, but X — who in 1998 released It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood — wasn’t nominated at all. The Grammys’ history of despicable treatment towards Black artists is nothing new. So it’s fascinating to wonder how Jay reconciles himself to a similar form of disrespect in the league’s refusal to hire Black coaches.