From ‘Christmas Rappin’ To Now: The Evolution of Hip-Hop’s Holiday Spirit

Since the genre's early days, rap music has had a deep connection with the Christmas season.

Of all the genres, rap music is arguably the most creative when making Christmas songs. Instead of updating old standards of the season that were done in yesteryear, rappers have used lyrical ingenuity and adept musicality to make memorable songs that are in constant rotation during the holidays. With unbridled creativity, hip-hop has left an indelible mark on the corpus of Christmas music.

Since the early days of rap music, the genre has had close ties with the Christmas second and one of the earliest examples of hip-hop’s affinity with the holiday season is Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin.” Released in 1979 and produced by the legendary multi-instrumentalist Larry Smith, who curated the sonics of early rap music, “Christmas Rappin” captured the disco sound, the number-one genre of music at the time. Recalling the recording session,  Blow described the track's production as his own brand of  “progressive disco-funk.”

“‘Christmas Rappin’ was my very first song ever to record in the studio and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 19 years old and I got a call from the producers to come down to this first meeting to talk about this song. Robert “Rocky” Ford, J.B. Moore, Denzel Miller, and Larry Smith were all there. Rocky said, “I think if we did a Christmas rap song it would play every year. like clockwork it might be a great idea. I was thinking “Wow, that's incredible.” I said, “Yeah, let's try it,” Blow remembered.

Besides being a holiday jam, a lot was riding on the potential success of “Christmas Rappin'” for Blow. The terms of Blow’s deal with Mercury Records stated that the song needed to sell at least 30,000 copies for the label to sign off a second single. Christmas Rappin” exceeded the label’s expectations by selling more than 370,000 units in its first year, eventually going gold and Blow became rap music’s first solo star. The success of “Christmas Rappin’,” the first song released by a major label, still amazes Blow.

“Rocky was a prophet. He said this song was gonna play every year and I didn't believe him. He was right, man,” Blow added. “It just got bigger and bigger. Every year. I was like, “Oh my god, this is incredible.”

Before Kool Moe Dee gained success as a solo rapper, he was a founding member of one of hip-hop’s pioneering groups, The Treacherous Three, along with LA Sunshine and Special K. Appearing in one of hip-hop’s earliest feature films, Beat Street, they performed “Santa Rap” as a nightclub skit in the movie.

Kool Moe Dee rapped, “And I ain't even got a chimney for you to come down/So ain't no need for you to be coming around/Cause the last so-called Santa that came in with a sack/Wasn't giving out presents he was taking them back.

Taking their cues from James Brown’s “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” the Treacherous Three critiqued narratives of capitalism, racism, and the impact of Reaganomics that was overlooked during Christmastide.

By 1987, RUN-DMC had ascended into the stratosphere as global superstars. The previous year, they released their smash album Raising Hell, which sold over three million copies. But they were approached by their publicist, Bill Adler, to create a holiday song for the Special Olympics benefit album A Very Special Christmas; the trio from Queens was not excited about the idea. Eventually, the Queens icons decided to record the song after Jam Master Jay chopped up a sample of Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa,” according to Rev. Run, a classic was born in the form of "Christmas In Hollis."

“I got a call from a Very Special Christmas and they wanted us to do a Christmas record. I was like, “I can't sing ''Silent Night” or “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, so I had to pull out a pen and start writing, “ Rev. Run said. “One day it just flowed out of me from heaven. When I finished, I dropped the pen, called them back, and said, “I'm finished.” DMC added his lyrics and Jay had the beat…35 years later, it’s a classic.

Hip-hop imprinted Christmas music with more songs and albums as the culture evolved to celebrate the season. Outkast made their debut with  "Player's Ball," and TLC’s “Sleigh Ride” was featured on A LaFace Christmas (1993), and Death Row Records got into the act with Christmas On Death Row (1996) just to name a few. One of the standout Christmas projects of the decade was Reverend Run and the Christmas All-Stars. Released in 1997, the single from the album was a hip-hop reworking of Earth Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” Sampling The Fugees' “Nappy Heads,” the track featured some of the biggest rap stars of the era, including Puff Daddy (Now Diddy), Mase, Salt N Pepa, Snoop Dogg, Keith Murray & Onyx.

During the 2000s, projects such as A Dipset Christmas by Jim Jones, Snoop Dogg Presents Christmas in tha Dogg House, and A Ghetto Christmas Carol by XXXTentacion kept hip-hop vibes going. Taking Christmas rap music to another level, Gucci Mane dropped a Christmas-themed mixtape series featuring three installments: East Atlanta Santa (2014), East Atlanta Santa 2: The Night GuWop Stole X-Mas (2015), and The Return of East Atlanta Santa (2016). Even DMX gave the world a classic with his acapella version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” proving that rap music will always connect with the Christmas season.

In celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, the culture’s contribution to Christmas music is often overlooked. However, rap music as a genre gained its legitimacy as a commercially viable commodity because of the success of “Christmas Rappin.” Essentially, rap music is the gift that keeps on giving. Keeping the spirit of the season throughout his career,  Blow is currently on tour with "Hip Hop Nutcracker," which was also released in 2022 as a TV special that he was featured in. He says he owes his success in hip-hop to “Christmas Rappin'."

“50 years later, we are still here. Back in the 80s, people told me rap music was a fad and that I should keep my day job,” Blow laughed. “50 years later, we're touring right now with the Hip-Hop Nutcracker in venues across the country. Hip-hop is still celebrating the Christmas season 50 years later."


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