Has any single mass-media music event moved the needle in the past five years like the Dr. Dre-driven Super Bowl halftime spectacular? Yes, the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, caused a serious uptick in the band’s catalog, while a TikTok clip (and a fateful bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry) gave Fleetwood Mac a massive boost. But there’s every reason to believe that 2022’s halftime hip-hop medley—with Dre, Snoop, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent—could have an even greater and more lasting impact.

After an immediate burst at iTunes, the formidable catalog of this halftime all-star team began to fly up the streaming charts. And while today’s DSP habitués likely had Em and K.Dot on their radar already, given the two rap geniuses’ recent success, there’s some possibility that the younger crowd—to coin a phrase—forgot about Dre. They remember now. Could this musical happening, viewed by more than 100m people, mean these recordings will dwell on the charts more or less indefinitely, making them canonical catalog like The Beatles, Motown, Elton John, Queen, Fleetwood Mac and Journey? The streaming activity on these landmark hip-hop recordings has already shown legs. This material is attaining a rarefied new value plateau.

Coming as it does alongside the 30th anniversary of Interscope, which has been in the G-Funk business since its inception, the joyous, elaborately staged parade of hits that marched forth from L.A.’s SoFi Stadium prompts some reflection. It’s important to note, for instance, that the set on which all of this occurred was not some sci-fi temple to pop stardom but an edifice of the L.A. these artists dared to envision—the Compton roots of the music were explicitly celebrated on the world’s biggest stage.

30 years on, The Chronic and the other signal albums from the Dre camp sound every bit as powerful as they did upon release. With three decades’ perspective, it’s also incontrovertibly evident that their impact on the music world was seismic. And when Dre intoned, “I’ve still got love for these streets” (a crucial line from the 2001 album “Still D.R.E.,” still booming through the DSP charts), it resonated differently than it did the first time—at the turn of the millennium—when Compton’s Andre Young was reasserting his importance after a tumultuous half-decade filled with death, decadence and disillusion. This time, the love was everywhere: on the stage, around the set, in the stands of SoFi and in living rooms around the motherfuckin’ planet.

In 1988, when the world was young and even HITS was new, the world got its first major look at Dr. Dre.

Dre was, of course, part of barnstorming hip-hop group N.W.A, whose set Straight Outta Compton was an incendiary cultural phenomenon—notably for the uncompromising jam “Fuck tha Police.” The group, the Ruthless Records album and particularly the song sparked panic among conservatives, who pointed to the L.A. rap collective as a clear and present danger to society. They panicked, needless to say, because the message was resonating, a cri de coeur from America’s urban centers.

N.W.A imploded as the pressures of success exacerbated a vicious struggle for control, but its impact shifted the direction not just of rap—which had entered its controversial and creatively propulsive “gangsta” phase—but of pop culture. Its stance was now a default for much of youth culture. In the recent Black Lives Matter marches, one regularly heard “Fuck tha Police” blasting out of speakers in the street. It is now as ingrained an anthem of resistance as “We Shall Overcome.”

A few years after the group fell apart, Dre rolled out The Chronic—and debuted a young star who went by the name of Snoop Doggy Dogg. The G-Funk sound just rolled over everything, with percolating hooks in the style of Parliament-Funkadelic supported by thundering beats. There was less protest, more bling and braggadocio; the plumes of smoke that swirled around it issued not from burning cities but perpetual blunts. Again, Dre was at the center of a project that underscored hip-hop’s dominance. His Death Row label, co-founded with actual gangster Suge Knight, had inked a huge distribution deal with Interscope, itself then distributed by Atlantic (Death Row retained pub and recording rights). The DR/Interscope machine turned out monster after monster as Dre, Snoop and Tupac Shakur became megastars and G-Funk’s cavernous bottom end thudded out of nearly every car on the street.

The mid-’90s were filled with darkness and difficulty, even as the Death Row/Interscope stable grew its global profile and produced north of $100m in revenue. Knight went to prison, Tupac—whose Dre-produced “California Love” was a monster smash that rocked the Super Bowl in his absence—was murdered about a year after signing with the label. His East Coast rival, The Notorious B.I.G., was gunned down the following year. Snoop was charged in a murder case and then cleared. Dre—who had his own fame-fueled wild years—parted ways with Death Row as tensions with Knight escalated. In tandem with Interscope, he launched new imprint Aftermath, which would bring rap giants Eminem and Kendrick to the world (not to mention chartbuster 50 Cent).

Early on, Jimmy Iovine touted these artists as the new rock ‘n’ roll. And just as the trailblazers of rock gradually transitioned from enfants terribles to elder statesmen, so have the giants of West Coast rap graduated from bêtes noires to pillars of the community. One generation has gone grey with them, and new generations are discovering them. So goes great music, always.

Oh, and those guardians of decency who sounded alarums over N.W.A’s profane beats and the boasts and blasts of Death Row and Aftermath? It turns out that they were the real bad guys. I’m talking about the Rudy Giulianis and Bill Bennetts and Daryl Gateses who extolled the sacred image of do-right cops while sweeping murder and corruption under the rug. Who wept crocodile tears for the fate of civilized society as they crushed and extorted poor communities and leveraged racism for more power. Who turned the LAPD and countless other metropolitan police departments into paramilitary gangs, their “ghetto birds” a skyward symbol of their cruel dominion. Fuck those police. Just after the Super Bowl, Giuliani (flailing for relevance as ever) said Eminem should leave the country for taking a knee. How little has changed.

But enough about those fools. What halftime reinforced on a grand scale is that this music is here to stay, and that the mammoth impact of the works that have constellated around Dr. Dre will continue to inspire. Their Aftermath has barely begun.

Time to get the hell outta Dodge. (7/19a)
The score at the half (7/19a)
Hat trick (7/19a)
He's a one-man dynasty. (7/19a)
One titan salutes another. (7/19a)
Who's already a lock?
Three chords and some truth you may not be ready for.
The kids can tell the difference... for now.
The discovery engine is revving higher.

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