Christmas time symbolizes so many things: winter, holiday season, delicious food, school break, but most importantly, music. Throughout the years, there has always been an immense love for Christmas across hip hop - whether that’s album concepts, individual tracks, or even just lyrical references in songs, Christmas is always making appearances. Here are some hip hop Christmas songs that stand out to me:
Perhaps the most unique take on this was Tyler, The Creator’s 2018 EP Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. The inspiration materializes mainly on the subject matter - any one of these songs could be on a Tyler album and I wouldn’t think twice about it. The first track is named after the town in the Grinch movie, titled “Whoville.” While distinctly standing out as Tyler’s production through the choreography, it contains elements one would hear in the background of a mall during the holiday season - ringing bells and chimes, and classical piano. “Lights On” featuring Ryan Beatty and Santigold and “Hot Chocolate” portray vivid, movie-like scenes of the winter time. Between warming up with some scrumptious hot chocolate on a cold winter day and having to cancel plans with a lover at the last minute due to poor weather, you’ll feel like you’re watching Tyler’s movie script come to life. “Big Bag” features Tyler’s most rapping on the EP, in what he described as “a song from the perspective of the grinch stealing.” The final two tracks, “When Gloves Come Off” featuring Ryan Beatty and “Cindy Lou’s Wish” are both instrumental-heavy, contributing to the Christmas aura. It’s an unparalleled listen, and no matter what time of year it is you’ll find me playing “Lights On.”
Sprouting from a 2012 video of DMX rapping the original “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Spotify Studios released a full length version of the track for the holidays. It’s everything you would want it to be and so much more - I remember the first time seeing the video I just watched it on repeat. It is captivating in an indescribable way. DMX’s raspy voice over a drum infused Christmas jingle deserves to be cherished forever.
Smino’s weed-infused take on Christmas tracks certainly does not stray away from stylistic differences from the classic Christmas songs explored by the two previous artists. While very fun to listen to, they’re certainly not the family friendly tracks you’ll hear in Hallmark movies anytime soon. The two-track package begins by asking Santa for drugs, as Smino sings, “Santa Clause, do you got adderall or kush on your sleigh?” Riddled with references to T.V. shows, “Sleigh” with monte booker and Masego, certainly channels the fun. Between Kenan and Kel, Hey Arnold, Saturday Night Live, and more, Smino and Masego explore some childhood memories. Masego begins his verse in perhaps the most clever self-given nickname I’ve ever heard, referring to himself as “Ma-sleigh-go.” Don’t forget about the signature monte booker production, as the glitchy, clicky synth-lead beat is a staple of the Smino-monte booker duo.
Besides the title and hook, the second track “Kushmas” does not have much relation to Christmas other than the fact that Smino is “high for the holidays.” Regardless, it’s a groovy track and utilizes Smino’s voice in a variety of ways.
Initially recorded for Toni Braxton's compilation album, A Laface Family Christmas, “Player’s Ball (Christmas Mix)” is one of my favorite Christmas inspired songs. The track would eventually make Outkast’s debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, yet it was stripped of most of its Christmas elements.
The track portrays a “player’s ball” on Christmas day, and sees André 3000 and Big Boi navigate the party. The duo make Christmas references left, right, and center, beginning with André’s line, “It’s beginnin’ to look a lot like what?” You’ll want to listen to this one with the lyrics next to it or you’ll barely scrape the surface on the amount of references made.
This barely scratches the surface on the extensive list of Christmas songs in hip hop, yet they are tracks that you’ll definitely want to have in rotation this December 25th.