Falcons Hip-Hop 50 celebration scores with fans

Despite technical glitches, music and football die-hards say the team’s event delivered on honoring city’s impact.
Ludacris descends from the top of the stadium while performing during the game.  The Atlanta Falcons celebrate Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Ludacris descends from the top of the stadium while performing during the game. The Atlanta Falcons celebrate Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

It felt like a moment that could only happen in Atlanta: Rappelling from the ceiling at Mercedes Benz-Stadium, hovering over the end zone in a harness, Ludacris appears. Players from the Falcons and New Orleans Saints are watching the rapper and movie star seemingly floating through the air. Most of the 70,000-plus in attendance, matching the emcee lyric for lyric, are there to watch a heated rivalry game and celebrate Atlanta’s place in the annals of rap and hip-hop history.

Ludacris descends from the top of the stadium while performing during the game.  The Atlanta Falcons celebrate Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

During Sunday’s matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons celebrated hip-hop’s 50th birthday with performances, interviews, and appearances from over 60 artists from the city. In addition to Ludacris, T.I., Bone Crusher, TLC, Jermaine Dupri, Big Boi, Quavo, Jeezy, and Pastor Troy all performed. The festivities kicked off with a video presentation narrated by Ryan Cameron, honoring the city’s hip-hop pioneers, visionaries, and biggest voices.

“This is not just a celebration, but it is a declaration of Atlanta’s influence,” Cameron said in the video which was followed by him naming every artist being honored. What came next was a program peppered with nostalgia, technical difficulties, a one-man Yeek dance crew, and stadium-wide “Swag Surf” — all culminating in Ludacris’ Cirque du Soleil stunt in the fourth quarter.

Before kickoff, the artists stood in the end zone as T.I.’s “Bring ‘Em Out” started playing over the loudspeakers. The Bankhead rapper emerged from the tunnel, wearing a Ray Buchanan jersey, ripping into his first verse to lead the team out onto the field. There was one problem: his mic was not on. That technical glitch did not stop him from performing, even if his lyrics were out of sync with the track playing.

Pastor Troy performs during a break in the game. The Atlanta Falcons celebrate Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Immediately after, artists and fans awaited the national anthem, which was slated to be performed by CeeLo Green who was curiously nowhere to be found. A spokesperson from AMB Sports and Entertainment said microphone issues were to blame. From there, the show’s rundown carried on with only a minor glitch or two.

“I was scared when T.I.’s mic didn’t work, like please don’t mess this up, but they pulled it off,” said Kris Sheperd, a die-hard OutKast fan who drove up to the game from Augusta. Sheperd’s son wanted to see the Falcons take on the Saints, and dad did not want to pass on the chance to see Big Boi live.

Hip Hop artists take the field to form a tunnel for the entrance of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons celebrated Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Big Boi performed “The Way You Move” at halftime with Sleepy Brown and DJ Swiff. Jermaine Dupri started the halftime show with “Welcome to Atlanta.” Following Dupri’s performance, Quavo performed his song “Who Wit Me” as a photo of the late Migos rapper Takeoff, with the message “Still Wit Me” on the stadium screens. The performances closed out with Jeezy doing “Who Dat,” and his verse on the remix to Shawty Lo anthem, “Dey Know.”

Though Atlanta’s hip-hop and rap history is marked by its lack of female representation, another highlight of the event was a tribute to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC. As the video monitor played an animated version of the group’s famous “Waterfalls” video, T-Boz and Chilli came out onto the field to sing the chorus. Despite a timing issue leading to a delayed intro, seeing the surviving members of the best-selling American girl group of all time brought a loud reception from the crowd.

T-Boz And Chilli The Atlanta Falcons celebrate Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Whether it was honoring the ‘80s, ‘90s, early-to-mid 2000s or today’s current artists, fans were eager to see how the Falcons managed to fit multiple decades, generations and sounds into one show without making it feel or sound forced.

It’s something Falcon’s fan and hip-hop head Cam Watson appreciated. Watson said he’s a fan of older artists like OutKast and Goodie Mob, but also keeps Lil’ Baby and Yung Nudy in heavy rotation. Despite the earlier snafu with T.I.’s mic — “How you going to mess that up for the King of the South, man,” he joked — the Gwinnett native who attended the same high school as Migos was pleased with the overall production.

The party-like atmosphere especially resonated with longtime residents and die-hard fans. Lisa Shepard is a season ticket holder who says she is active in Facebook football groups. Shepard follows other cities and their hip-hop 50 tributes, and it makes her proud to know the home team is celebrating a major part of Black culture. “Other football franchises don’t recognize the culture,” she said.

Hip Hop artists take the field to form a tunnel for the entrance of the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons celebrated Hip-Hop 50 with performances and appearances during their NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints in Atlanta on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023.   (Bob Andres for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Bob Andres

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Credit: Bob Andres

Shepard was born, raised and still lives in the city. She has no bones about telling you how proudly she represents Zone 4. She remembers back when then-Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was making cameos in rap videos, and Atlanta artists were wearing his jersey. The collision of sports and hip-hop in Atlanta is something that’s a part of this city’s cultural fabric.

“They don’t have to do it, but I think there’s a unique connection specifically with the Falcons and hip-hop music,” she said. “They represented well.”

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