After years of pop and rock acts, it’s time for hip-hop to shine Sunday at the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show will feature five legends: L.A. natives Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar, New York native Mary J. Blige and Detroit favorite Eminem.
Together, they’ve racked up 43 Grammys with 22 No. 1 Billboard albums.
Which songs might we hear? It’s time to predict the set list!
Halftime shows never feature super deep cuts, so we’re sticking with the hits.
Here’s how I think it will go down:
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“California Love” — Dr. Dre
The show will most likely open with “California Love” as the Super Bowl is being held in Los Angeles (giving the Rams home-field advantage). I can’t think of a better way to kick things off than “that bomb beat from Dre,” declaring, “California knows how to party,” followed by “city of Compton” in a nod to his N.W.A. roots of “Straight Outta Compton.”
Here’s hoping Dre dons the “Mad Max” garb like the music video to rap, “Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild Wild West, a state that’s untouchable like Eliot Ness.”
It would be wild if the late Tupac Shakur shows up in a hologram for the second verse (a fan can dream, right?), but they’ll likely cut the song after Dre’s first verse to continue the jam-packed medley.
“The Next Episode” — Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
Since Dre will already be on stage, I predict Snoop Dogg will come out next for the duet “The Next Episode,” an absolute banger from an album I wore out in high school: “The Chronic 2001.” No song is better for Snoop’s entrance: “La da da da da, it’s the mother f’n D-O-double-G.”
It’s also the perfect geographical song for an L.A. Super Bowl: “What hoods?” “Compton, Long Beach, Inglewood!” They might even tease the crowd by cutting the song right before the “highly” quotable final line: “Hey, hey, hey, hey. Smoke weed everyday.”
Medley: “Nuthin’ But a G Thang,” “Still D.R.E.,” “Gin & Juice” — Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
Next, we’ll get a Snoop-Dre medley starting with “The Chronic” hit “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” with Snoop’s intro, “One, two, three and to the four, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door.” Ironically, Snoop raps, “Death Row is the label that pays me,” but he just bought the label. The crowd will nod: “It’s like this and like that and like this and uh, Dre creep to the mic like a vandal.”
That will trigger the catchy piano beat of “Still D.R.E.” (memorably used in “Training Day”) as Dre keeps repeating the world “still” in between Snoop’s unique hook, “I’m representing for the gangsters all across the world (still), hitting them corners in those low-lows girl (still),” before Dre drops, “Taking my time to perfect a beat and I still got love for the streets, it’s the D-R-E.”
The medley will close with something from Snoop’s album “Doggystyle,” most likely “Gin & Juice,” simply so they can sing the famous hook,” Rolling down the street, smoking indo, sipping on gin and juice, laid back with my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” Imagine cars bouncing on hydraulics across the 50-yard-line. It’s too juicy not to include in the set!
“Family Affair” — Mary J. Blige
At this point, it’ll be time to change the flow a little bit. Enter some much needed Girl Power with the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul herself Mary J. Blige. No one will ever forget Missy Elliott stealing the show during the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show, but now it’s time to oblige Ms. Blige.
She has so many hits to choose from, but I’m guessing she’ll drop “Family Affair.” You may not know it from the title alone, but I promise you’ll know it as soon as the beat drops. The lyrics are perfect for a Super Bowl party: “Let’s get it crunk up on, Have fun up on, up in this dancers. We got ya’ll open, now ya floatin’, so you gots to dance for me. Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancers, let’s get it percolatin’, while you’re waiting, so just dance for me.”
“Be Without You” — Mary J. Blige
From here, Blige is certainly entitled to another song. She can’t just get one number while the dudes get multiple tracks! She could possibly do “Real Love,” arguably her most famous overall song, but the vibe doesn’t seem to flow with the previous songs listed in these predictions.
After so many party songs, expect her to slow things down a bit with “Be Without You.” The lyrics are smooth as hell: “Too strong for too long (and I can’t be without you, baby), And I’ll be waiting up until you get home (’cause I can’t sleep without you, baby), Anybody who’s ever loved ya know just what I feel, too hard to fake it, nothing can replace it.”
“Alright” — Kendrick Lamar
Suddenly, the record will start skipping to the catchy ditty: “Da, da, da, da, daaaaa, daaaa, daaaa.” Enter the hottest name in hip-hop today, Mr. Kendrick Lamar declaring, “Alls my life I has to fight, alls my life I, hard times like, yah, bad trips like yah, Nazareth, I’m f’d up homie, you f’d up, but if God got us then we gon’ be all right” — a gritty yet spiritual way to continue the set.
This might be older viewers’ first introduction to Lamar’s music, but I hope they lean in and listen closely to the social commentary: “What you want you, a house? You, a car? 40 acres and a mule? A piano, a guitar?” The album “To Pimp a Butterfly” (2015) ranked No. 19 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Hear a breakdown with former WTOP colleague Marcus Moore.
“HUMBLE” — Kendrick Lamar
From here, Lamar will explore his other albums like “Damn.” (2017), which not only won Best Rap Album at the Grammys, but became the first non-jazz or classical work to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Music. That’s right, the man won a Pulitzer, so if you’re a crotchety old viewer shaking your fist, “Get this rap off my TV,” maybe you should take a cue from Kendrick: Be humble. Sit down.
Young viewers will also benefit from listening to “HUMBLE,” as the poet reminds Millennials to “be humble, sit down,” a much needed antidote to today’s era of look-at-me social media narcissism. Here’s predicting the Super Bowl halftime dancers sit down in chairs around the stage, or if they want to be really subversive, take a knee on the same field that blacklisted Colin Kaepernick.
“The Real Slim Shady” — Eminem
Last but not least comes Eminem, the top-selling artist of the 2000s who was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. “The Real Slim Shady” is the perfect arrival: “Can I have your attention please?” Dancers will all come out dressed like Slim Shady as Eminem raps, “I’m sick of you little girl and boy groups, all you do is annoy me, so I have been sent here to destroy you,” which is exactly what happened to so many Super Bowl halftime pop stars.
“Without Me” — Eminem
From here, Eminem will move to “Without Me,” the perfect follow-up song with the teasing intro, “Guess who’s back? Back again? Shady’s back. Tell a friend.” The song is one of Eminem’s most recognizable, particularly the chorus, “Now this looks like a job for me, so everybody just follow me, ’cause we need a little controversy, ’cause it feels so empty without me.”
Not only is it catchy, it sums up why Eminem became a phenomenon in the first place: “No I’m not the first king of controversy, I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley to do Black music so selfishly and use it to get myself wealthy, hey! There’s a concept that works, 20 million other white rappers emerge, but no matter how many other fish in the sea, it’ll be so empty without me.”
“Lose Yourself” — Eminem
Suddenly, the lights dim to an iconic guitar riff as Eminem says, “Look, if you had, one shot, one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” Expect “8 Mile” imagery of rags-to-riches rap-battle glory: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti.”
The entire place will wave hands up and down, knowing every word. The song is that ubiquitous — even featured in a Super Bowl commercial a few years ago. This will be the one that your trying-to-be-hip dad will song along to at his Super Bowl party, which is why it’s the perfect penultimate placement. It will feel like the grand finale. But wait, there’s more …
“Forgot About Dre” — Dr. Dre & Eminem (with everyone)
Just when you “forgot about” the man who opened the show, Dr. Dre will gloriously return to the stage, defying everyone who thought Eminem was serious when he sang, “And Dr. Dre said … nothing you idiots, Dr. Dre’s dead, he’s locked in the basement.” You can’t have a halftime show with Dre and Eminem on the bill and not do “Forgot About Dre.”
As the five hip-hop icons take the stage for a grand finale, it reminds viewers that Dre is indeed the architect of this whole West Coast rap game: “Who you think brought you the oldies, Eazy-E’s, Ice Cubes and D.O.Cs, the Snoop D-O-double-Gs and [N.W.A.].” It would be a perfect full-circle moment to ensure that nobody, nobody, forgets about Dre.