Dr Dre has come a long way in his almost four-decade musical career, but geographically at least, his Super Bowl halftime show hit close to home. The Sofi Stadium, which played host to the biggest game in American football on Sunday 13 February, is located in Inglewood just a 2-minute drive from Compton. Or four hours, if you’re sitting in Super Bowl Sunday traffic.
The homecoming nature of this year’s show was made clear by the elaborate stage structure, reportedly funded by Dre himself to the tune of $7m (£5.2m). Many will have spotted the Compton landmarks reproduced in all white, including the Martin Luther King Jnr monument that stands outside Compton City Hall, and local favourite Tam’s Burger Joint. On the pitch below, a map of Compton glowed beneath dancers and performers.
The show opened with Dre sitting behind a huge white mixing desk as he rose out of the roof of a Compton home. He was joined by Snoop Dogg for a rousing, crowd-pleasing rendition of 2000 single “The Next Episode” before segueing into a snatch of “California Love”, the 1995 Tupac single that Dre produced and appeared on.
It was a fitting – if brief – tribute to Tupac. This year’s Super Bowl took place exactly 25 years to the day after the late rapper released his classic fourth album All Eyez On Me. Thankfully, despite rumours to the contrary, there was no sign of the divisive Tupac hologram that appeared with Dre and Snoop at Coachella in 2012.
Instead, there was a surprise guest appearance from 50 Cent, who performed his 2003 single “In Da Club” (another Dre production). Fiddy appeared hanging upside down from the rafters, a nod to the song’s famous music video. Next it was the turn of Mary J Blige to take centre stage, performing the Dre-produced single 2001 single “Family Affair” as well as “No More Drama”, which was produced by legendary R&B duo Jam & Lewis. Blige squeezed so much energy into her two-song set that it was hardly a surprise when she finished the performance flat on her back.
Another son of Compton, Kendrick Lamar, then took over for thrilling performances of 2012’s “m.A.A.d City” and 2015 single “Alright”. Kendrick rapped standing on the map of Compton, surrounded by male backing dancers wearing “Dre Day” sashes. Another of Dre’s protegés, Eminem, could be heard before he appeared alongside Dre: rapping his part on 1999’s “Forgot About Dre”. From there, he launched into blistering version of “Lose Yourself”, with another surprise guest Anderson .Paak on the drums.
Dre, Snoop and Eminem were then joined by the rest of the guests for a closing version of “Still “DRE”, which opened with Dre himself playing the instantly recognisable piano motif. Reports in advance of the show suggested that the NFL had expressly forbidden Eminem from taking a knee in solidarity with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was blackballed after protesting police brutality. The organisers had also apparently tried to prevent Dre from rapping the line “still not loving for police”. Yet the line was included and Eminem knelt – sparking exactly the sort of headlines the NFL had reportedly tried to avoid. “Still DRE” also happened to have been ghostwritten by Jay Z, whose recent involvement in the NFL’s efforts to deal with their racism controversies paved the way for Dre’s halftime show.
Given that recent history, it was significant that the first ever hip-hop show at the Super Bowl, featuring a majority of Black artists, went off in a celebratory manner. Some fans, however, have questioned whether Dre could be the unifying figure the NFL clearly sought, due to his history of violence against women. Dre addressed this part of his history in the 2017 documentary The Defiant Ones, saying: “Any man that puts his hands on a female is a f***ing idiot. He’s out of his f***ing mind, and I was out of my f***ing mind at the time. I f***ed up, I paid for it, I’m sorry for it, I apologise for it.” He added: “I have this dark cloud that follows me, and it’s going to be attached to me forever. It’s a major blemish on who I am as a man.”
No performance could wash that blemish from his reputation, but tonight’s hit-packed performance did demonstrate the range and longevity of Dre’s influence as a rapper and producer. He will feel surely it was $7 million well spent.