At Sunday’s Super Bowl, Jay-Z was just one of the many celebrities in attendance. However, unlike most of his A-list peers, he was there in a capacity far greater than just a football fan. The move came as a part of the NFL’s Inspire Change Initiative, and it was reported at the time that Jay-Z’s role would center around the Super Bowl halftime show and contributing to the league’s activism campaign. Of course, a vital aspect of all this is that Roc Nation’s partnership with the NFL came shortly after the league was widely criticized for its treatment of former San Francisco 49ers player, Colin Kaepernick. Starting in 2016, Colin was the first player to peacefully protest racial injustice and police brutality in Black America by kneeling during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before kickoff. As more players started to follow his lead, their silent protests ignited a nationwide movement and a firestorm of debate, resulting in President Donald Trump publicly blasting Colin and later saying that he thought NFL players who participated should be fired. As the outrage became more intense, the NFL seemingly did very little to support or protect Black players, and instead announced that teams would be fined if their players continued to protest on the field. Around this time, Jay-Z was among those to publicly support Black NFL players and call out the way they were being condemned and ostracized for peacefully protesting against racial injustice. “I want y’all to understand, when people are kneeling and putting their fists up in the air and doing what they’re doing, it’s not about the flag,” he said during a Miami concert in 2017. “It’s about justice. It’s about injustice. And that’s not a black or white thing, it’s a human issue.” However, it soon became clear Jay-Z’s focus was to make improvements in the areas where the league had previously fallen short. “The NFL has a great big platform, and it has to be all-inclusive,” the rap legend said shortly after the deal was announced. “They were willing to do some things, to make some changes, that we can do some good.” So, fast forward to today, and this year’s Super Bowl marked the fifth year that Jay-Z has been one of the key people involved. And in that time, a lot has changed about the way the halftime show is produced. In case you didn’t know, Jay-Z — who has never headlined the Super Bowl himself — has previously aired his frustrations with the way the halftime show is organized. Memorably, on his and Beyoncé’s 2017 track “Apeshit,” Jay raps: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you / Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” A few years after the song dropped, he provided the full context by revealing during an interview with the New York Times that he turned down an offer to headline the halftime show because the organizers specifically requested that he share the stage with Kanye West and Rihanna to perform their song, “Run This Town.” Speaking to the outlet, Jay explained that his issue wasn’t with Kanye and Rihanna, but rather the fact that the NFL was “telling someone that they’re going to do the halftime show contingent on who they bring.” “I said, ‘No, you get me.’ That is not how you go about it,” he recalled. “I said forget it. It was a principal thing.” So, when he stepped in to take charge of the Super Bowl halftime show from 2020 onwards, one of the first things Jay set about changing was how the headliner is picked. In an August 2019 press conference, he shared more insight into how the halftime performer had been decided by the league up until then, describing the old process as “fractured.” “You take four artists and everyone thinks they’re playing the Super Bowl. It’s almost like this interview process,” he said, adding that when the headliner is finally selected, the other three artists are left feeling slighted. “That’s not even good math. After three years, nine people are upset and three people play,” he said. “Ain’t that many superstars in the world. You’re gonna run out of people that want to play. I just think the process could’ve been more definite.” In the same conference, Jay-Z set out a new and more streamlined way of selecting the halftime performer by simply approaching one person at a time and letting them take full control of the show. “You pick someone, you speak to them, you let them have it, and then you move on,” he said of the new strategy. “And I think that, you know, let the artist be the artist.” Since then, Jay has stayed true to his word, resulting in some of the most iconic halftime shows in history — putting inclusivity and diversity at the forefront. The first show under Roc Nation and Jay-Z’s management was Jennifer Lopez and Shakira’s joint performance in Miami in 2020, which saw the two icons come together with the help of Bad Bunny and J Balvin to celebrate Latin culture. In 2021, it was the The Weeknd’s turn to take to the stage in Tampa. Notably, his performance was quite the statement after his After Hours album and all its singles were controversially shut out from the 2021 Grammys. The following year, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and Mary J. Blige assembled for an iconic tribute to hip-hop, which quickly shot up the lists of all-time great Super Bowl halftime shows. And of course, 2023 saw the long awaited return of Roc Nation’s very own Rihanna, marking her first live performance in five years. Looking back on this spectacular run of acclaimed Super Bowl performances, it’s particularly important to note that Jay took hold of the coveted halftime slot at a time where its entire relevance was being brought into question. Amid the backlash over the National Anthem protests, the 2019 Super Bowl was shrouded in controversy, and as a result, the NFL was reportedly struggling to find anyone to headline the halftime show in Atlanta, which is one of the hubs of Black entertainment in the US. To general public disappointment, the league eventually settled on Maroon 5, but were eagerly trying to counteract the wider backlash by getting a Black artist to appear alongside them — which was apparently easier said than done. According to a report from Variety, “more than a half-dozen stars” were approached about appearing as featured guests with the band, but everyone declined. All except for Travis Scott and Outkast rapper Big Boi, who wound up making guest appearances. Jay-Z later confirmed rumors that he attempted to talk Travis out of it, saying that he “didn’t see any reason for him to play second fiddle to anyone” after the major success of his Astroworld record in 2018. At the time, it was widely speculated that the artists who turned down the offer to perform did so in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. And among those was Rihanna, who later confirmed that this was definitely the case for her. “I couldn’t dare do that. For what? Who gains from that? Not my people. I just couldn’t be a sellout. I couldn’t be an enabler,” the singer told Vogue in 2019 when asked about her decision to decline the headlining spot. “There’s things within that organization that I do not agree with at all,” she said, “and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.” In his New York Times interview, Jay recalled telling the Patriots owner that the underlying problem with the halftime show was that the NFL viewed hip-hop as “a fad” when it’s “been the dominant music form around the world for 20 years.” After this, Robert got NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on board, and the Roc Nation partnership came to fruition, giving Jay-Z the power to implement the change where he thought it necessary. So, fast forward to 2022, and Rihanna was met with the opportunity to headline the Super Bowl halftime show again — and this time she accepted. Speaking to British Vogue in 2023, Rih explained that her decision to take on the challenge in spite of the NFL’s previous controversies was due to the evident shift towards platforming diversity and culture in the years since she last declined. “There’s still a lot of mending to be done in my eyes,” she told the outlet, “but it’s powerful to break those doors, and have representation at such a high, high level and a consistent level.” “Representing the urban community, globally. It is powerful. It sends a really strong message… Two Super Bowls back-to-back,” she added, referring to the 2022 headliners, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar. A testament to her stardom, Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance became the most watched halftime show ever — that was until Usher took to the stage in Vegas over the weekend and claimed the record for himself. At the center of the historic TV event was Usher, whose halftime show was an extravaganza of R&B greatness, featuring a star-studded lineup of guest appearances from Alicia Keys, Ludacris, Lil Jon, H.E.R, and Will.i.am. And so, with an important mention to Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, the 2024 Super Bowl was undeniably a pop culture collision for the history books. And one that surely would have looked different without Jay-Z’s involvement.