It’s not every day that we are gifted with a hip-hop Christmas album that preaches the gospel in the same breath that it advocates for banging the neighbors wife. Yet, that’s exactly what Chance the Rapper and Jeremih did on their 2020 mixtape release of ‘Merry Christmas Lil Mama: The Gift That Keeps On Giving’. The album is wholesome, fun, and a bit scandalous all at once.
I have an intimate, loving history with Chance’s seasonal music. Ever since the first “Merry Xmas Lil Mama” was released on SoundCloud in 2016, I’ve played the mixtape over and over again for my family. My mom laughed hysterically at Chance’s high pitched screams interspersed with familiar gospel vocals, and at Hannibal Buress’s outro on “All The Way” when he stated;
“Oh, I love Christmas
Being obligated to buy shit for people at a certain time of the year
I buy Christmas gifts, but just, just 'cause you're supposed to”
And, on the morning before Christmas in 2016, Chance tweeted:
“Send that text this morning, shoot your shot: Merry Christmas Lil Mama”.
This prompted the entire hip-hop loving internet to text the phrase to their love interests; it’s a tradition I’ve personally kept up each year without fail. These cheeky quips sprinkled like gingerbread crumbs throughout the mixtape on songs like “Snowed In”, “I’m Your Santa” and “All The Way”. They balance out the other, heavier themes about loss and family within the tape.
The complex history of ‘Merry Christmas Lil Mama: The Gift That Keeps On Giving’ is in the title. Real ones know Chance and Jeremih have been feeding us these Christmas collabs since 2016. Both from Chicago, the two friends have dropped three waves of mixtapes. They released the original “Merry Xmas Lil Mama” in 2016, followed by the 2017 re-wrapped version, and leveled up in 2020 by dropping a compilation of both mixtapes, plus two more original songs “The Return,” and “Who’s to Say?.” Together, these dudes have been dropping more blessings than Santa Claus himself.
The 2020 release onto all streaming platforms actually doubled as a celebration, after it was announced that Jeremih was in recovery from a particularly serious case of COVID-19 that year.
On top of that, the release onto Spotify came as a big surprise. Chance the Rapper is a fierce advocate of family, Chicago, and all things independent -- including SoundCloud. According to the company, he was the first artist to hit a billion streams on the platform, and even released music on SoundCloud for free when the company lost support from Twitter in 2017. When the newly dubbed king of the mixtape announced that 2020’s “Merry Christmas Lil Mama: The Gift That Keeps on Giving'' would be on all streaming platforms, his fans were thrilled by the extra accessibility.
What’s so special about Chance the Rapper and Jeremih on these albums is the palpable camaraderie they have together while remaining two very distinct individuals, both lyrically and sonically, when they collaborate. The sentiment that continues to resonate year after year is their optimism towards broken families and rocky relationships. While most other Christmas albums posture a romanticized holiday season, Chance gives us a truthful, yet still hopeful, look into what Christmas is really like for many of us. Chance and Jeremih encourage us to mend, forgive, and nourish relationships between our neighbors, our family, and our exes- things that are understandably on everyone’s mind during a time in which togetherness and tradition are emphasized. So, in the spirit of this timeless tape, do right by your family this holiday season and don’t forget to shoot your shot. Merry Christmas Little Mamas!
Here’s a run-down of the tracklist. Objectively, Every song on ‘Merry Christmas Lil Mama: The Gift That Keeps On Giving’ falls into one or more of these three categories: Family/Community, Christ, or being a Ho Ho Ho / Chasing Love. Let’s examine:
Category: Family. This straightforward track is Chance telling us all the things about himself that he has to offer his family and community on his way home
Favorite Lyrics: “My green mean go, your green mean slow” - Chance The Rapper
This triple entendre line is incredibly clever in referencing his own money to a stoplight and his opponent’s money to a low mathematical mean (not his most wholesome line in the song, but too clever to pass up).
Category: Ho Ho Ho.
Favorite Lyrics: “Just tell me, which floor should I get off?/ And I'll be right there to set it off/ I'll be right there to deck the halls/ Either your love or none at all” -Jeremih
Jeremih pairs incredible loving sentiment with holiday spirit between lines about “cuffing season”. I feel warm and fuzzy every time I hear this line.
Category: Ho Ho Ho
Favorite Lyrics: “Fuck 'bout what they have to say/ Pull up on you in the sleigh/ Know you got them gifts for me, yeah, yeah/ Hope you do them tricks for me, yeah, yeah/ Know you on my list, shawty, yeah, yeah/ Roll up somethin' lit for me, yeah, yeah” -Jeremih
Category: Family, Christ
Favorite Lyrics: “Drive down to Blue Island for that flavor/ Where they ain't scared to say the name of the Savior/ Oh, we got some healing, got some blessings, got some favors/ We got some gifts, we on the list for good behavior” -Chance The Rapper
Favorite Lyrics: “My favorite cousin's back in town (Cousin, cousin), we goin' out/
We don't know where we're goin', we goin' out (We goin' out)/
And we took care of grandma, we held it down (We held it down)/
And we took care of mama, we held it down (We held it down)” - Chance The Rapper
One of the best feelings is coming home to your cousins and extended family and going out looking for trouble. This song perfectly captures mischief and familial responsibilities in one song.
Category: Ho Ho Ho
Favorite Lyrics: “Hey there neighbor! (Hey! Hey! Hey!)/ Can I take out the trash? (Can I take out the trash?)/
Where is your hubby? (I know)/ When he get back? (Tell me when he get back?)” - Chance The Rapper
This cheeky song is cleverly told from the perspective of the boy next door pining over a married woman. Chance and Jeremih confidently rap over a quick beat and boldly declare their not-so-secret desires in what is reminiscent of “boys talk” between two teen best friends. This song is a classic tune to play on the way back to your hometown while thinking of which neighbor you may want to borrow sugar from.
Favorite Lyrics: “Won't let the lawyers destroy us/ The Pontius Pilates judge my bundle of joys/ I know my bronze is gorgeous /Know who the birthday boy is/ I'm on my 773 love/ Weaponized free love, 7979 (7777)” - Chance The Rapper
These lyrics start with a reference to lawyers (probably referring to his custody battle with his now-wife over their daughter) and ends with references to streets in Chicago as angel numbers.
Favorite Lyrics: “Black folk at the show, black car at the store/ Black love ya if you love me, black heart if you don't/ Black power, black privilege, my kids'll never go broke”
Category: Family/ Love
Favorite Lyrics: “At the crib with all the fam/ Auntie Cam and all of them/
And they act like Maury/ They say, "Where's your shawty?"
With a melody borrowed from “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, Chance pleads with his baby mama (now wife) to put their issues aside for their child. This song hits a nerve and delves into deeper, unconditional and familial love.
Favorite Lyrics: “They say, "Let me holla at you," guess that's why they call 'em holidays”- Chance The Rapper
A deep-cut from the 2017 re-wrapped, “One More Cry” is a slow ballad about loss and missing loved ones.
Category: Ho Ho Ho
Favorite Lyrics: “Ooh, I'm with my lil' man, I'm with the zoo/
With the wood in my ear, made the roof disappear (Woo)”
Chance dropped the music video for “Are U Live”, which is arguably the least festive track on the album (I’m not sure if this even counts as a Christmas song). Besides the mild disturbance of the Christmas vibe, this track brings the most energy and is undeniably catchy.
Favorite Lyrics: “Love is what is happenin' when someone apologizes/
Love is the day that the Grinch's heart grew three sizes”- Chance The Rapper
With Chance singing the opening lyrics about offering his underage cousin swishers and alcohol as a truce, we all wish we had him as an older relative. Chance truly shows off his eloquence in this song as he softly coos the chorus, showing us he is both playful and wise beyond his years all in one.
Category: Ho Ho Ho
Favorite Lyrics: “If I'm your Santa/ Just call me Santa
Slide down your chimney, babe/ Turn your fireplace off”- Jeremih
Favorite Lyrics: “Salt on the streets, Timbs on my feet/ Best time to give, Chi-Town it is”
Favorite Lyrics: “We was broke now, we not now/ Santa loud when he knock now/
Getting bands like The Rock now/ Shaking hands with Barack now/
Smoking 'Woods like a chimney/ Green faces all Grinchy/
Tryna give her that Disney/ Merry Christmas lil' Kensli/” - Chance The Rapper
This coming of age song is yet another song on the tape that references the Jackson 5 (Jeremih states “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus”). A “coming of age” song, Chance and Jeremih sing of their successes and their growth while still feeling young. In one of Chance’s most catchy bars ever, he states “we was broke now we not now”, a creative but straightforward word-mashup.
Category: Ho Ho Ho
Favorite Lyrics: “Tryna bang, what's your name?/
Tryna drank, what you drank?”
The synth in this song is incredible and takes the cake here, while the lyrics are simple. I always choose to skip this upbeat Ho Ho Ho song when my parents are in the room.