Ever since Kurtis Blow first invited Santa to his house party on 1979's "Christmas Rappin'," hip-hop artists have tried their hands at yuletide rap tales, sipping eggnog and Hennessy, sighting Santa in the ghetto, eating turkey dinners at church, passing out gifts, and blazing up spliffs.
For indie rapper Sage Francis, Christmas is crystallized in the hip-hop classic "Santa's Rap" performed by the Treacherous Three (with Doug E. Fresh on the beatbox) from the Beat Street soundtrack. "I remember writing down the lyrics to that song when I was a kid," he says. "I still have it memorized."
"It's a great part of the year where everyone calms a bit," says Pigeon John, the indie rapper who's now on tour with DJ Shadow. "L.A.'s Christmas is wholly different. It smells like rum, cold winter porches, and white cigarettes. But it's also about movies with Mom — classic suburban stuff."
Family is important during the holidays, but it's not as important as really absurd gifts — at least to rappers. Hip-hop culture in particular has a reputation for spoiling itself (did Kayne West recently get diamond teeth?), so hip-hop Christmas lists are always full of awesomely insane suggestions. As Dorrough says on 2009's "I Want [Hood Christmas Anthem]": "I don't want a laptop. I want a lap dance, upside down on a handstand, from a lesbo and her girlfriend." After hearing that, what else could you possible want for Christmas?
"I'd like to go to Kanye's rap camp — that sounds like fun," says Donwill, one-third of the underground rap trio Tanya Morgan. "Better yet, I'd like money, lots of money, and a private jet. I basically would like to wake up as Jay-Z."
To be fair, some rappers want simple things like, say, a personalized card, or a new attitude. But others are a bit more extravagant, putting basketball tickets, sneakers, getting laid, and lots of gold on their gift lists. "Solid-ass gold," Chicago's Hollywood Holt reminds us, "because everybody likes gold, and if you don't, you can sell that shit."
But it's unreasonable to stereotype the spirit of holiday rap as stingy and cynical. A classic example of seasonal goodwill can be found in Run-D.M.C.'s 1987 perennial "Christmas in Hollis." The N.Y.C. trio finds Santa's wallet ("a million dollars in it, cold hundreds of G's, enough to buy a boat and matching car with ease"), but instead of stealing the money, they decide to return it, only to find "under the tree was a letter from Santa and all the dough was for me."
"It's my favorite Christmas song," says Kokayi, a Grammy-nominated MC and producer who recently released Robots & Dinosaurs. "I've always admired the hoodification of the classic Saint Nicholas story."
Of course, even for a rapper named Kokayi (which is Swahili for "summon the people"), holiday inspiration takes all sorts of forms. "The Christmas gift that inspired me to actually do music is socks — of the putrid, horribly colored variety," he says. "I smiled through the disgust and silently said to myself, 'I really need to be successful, so I can stop getting bullshit like this.'"
Luckily, humor (along with violence, gloom, doom, and holiday cheer) are all welcome at rap's yuletide dinner service — as long as they're filled with fatty beats, delicious rhymes, and a little drunken fun. Rappers easily own some of the most creative additions to the Christmas catalog.
Suge Knight's Christmas on Death Row is dedicated to the gangsta's interpretation of the holidays. Grand Buffet's "Stocking Stuffer" is about old St. Nick delivering a not-so-special holiday present ("Santa got my girlfriend pregnant this Christmas. That's not what I had on top of my wish list."). And Eazy-E's "Merry Muthafuckin' Christmas" speaks for itself.
But for most rappers, the holidays are a time to gather as friends, set aside old differences, and rhyme on really long songs together. Great tunes like "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" (featuring Snoop Dogg, Dat Nigga Daz, Nate Dogg, Tray Deee, and Bad Azz) show that even steely hardcore rappers have big weepy hearts this time of year.
Hardboiled super-lyricist Sage Francis may be the first rapper signed to punk-rock label Epitaph Records, but all he wants this Christmas is something straight from the heart. "Every year I try to institute a plan wherein nobody in my gift-giving circle spends money on one another," he says. "This year my family is going through very difficult times, so I hope my plan finally sticks. I would much prefer to receive a homemade card over a Hallmark card, even if it just contains a few words written in crayon."
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