Text: Jake Boyer
Year after year, the holidays are heralded by the dozen or so songs you hear on loop for a month straight. And naturally, musicians have stepped up to the plate, offering their own spin on the Christmas classics to (somewhat) switch it up.
But when rappers do the same, it becomes something else entirely. The usual world of hip-hop badassery seems one opposite to the kid-friendly, family time of the holiday season, and when the two worlds meet it can be, well, confusing but entertaining nonetheless.
Here are some examples of the best Christmas raps throughout the years – ranked from the songs that nailed the hip-holiday spirit to the tracks more ridiculous than anyone could have imagined.
Check them out below.
Run-DMC – “Christmas in Hollis”
When it comes to Christmas raps, it doesn’t get more fire than this classic cut from the hip-hop lords Run-DMC. Referring to a neighborhood in their hometown of Queens, New York, the track extols some classic holiday virtues, like DMC’s mother’s cooking, ill reindeers and using the season to “bust Christmas carols.” In it’s tight three-minute runtime, the trio rap over sampled beats on everything from “Frosty the Snowman” to “Joy to the World” to “Jingle Bells.” But despite the Santa-heavy lyrical content, it’s to the track’s credit that none of the classic elements of Run-DMC are lost in holiday translation. This is a banger for every season.
Choice Lyric: “My name’s DMC with the mic in my hand / and I’m chilling and cooling just like a snowman.”
OutKast – “Player’s Ball”
It’s easy to miss the fact that the debut single from OutKast is actually a holiday rap in disguise. An unbelievably baby-faced André 3000 and Big Boi circa 1993 give us their first proud taste of Atlanta rap life, one that has less of the familiar hallmarks of Christmas time than most places. “Gots no snowy weather, have to find something to do better,” spits André, while Big Boi sadly laments that “there ain’t no chimneys in the ghetto so I won’t be hangin my socks.” It’s a fairly downbeat, even gloomy, track from the duo that usually has us shaking it like a Polaroid picture, but this song reminds us that the holidays aren’t such a cheery time for everyone. But hearing these two excel at the very beginning of their rap prowess should cheer you up just a little bit.
Choice Lyric: “Ain’t no chimminies in the ghetto so I won’t be hangin’ my socks oh no.”
Kanye West – “Christmas in Harlem”
Kanye is good at many things, but what he can assuredly do better than most rappers is spin a rhyme that’s emotional and close to the heart. So it’s no surprise that this deep cut from his GOOD Friday Mixtape series is as affecting and heartfelt as iconic hits like “Family Business” or “Everything I Am.” Created during the sessions leading up to his masterpiece album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this track displays the same type of maximalism and lush instrumentation that marked the post Taylor Swift-saga Yeezy. Using a whole roster of musicians from his GOOD Music imprint, Kanye weaves an intimate, humble narrative of the holidays; one where he just wants to place his baby as “the star on top of his Christmas tree.” Sometimes, even Kanye can be cute.
Choice Lyrics: “Well, I like the way you think, mami / Now pour some more eggnog in you drink, mami / You’ve been a bad girl, give Santa three kisses.”
Afroman – “12 J’s of Christmas”
Revelry is to be expected from the man who gave us both “Colt 45” and “Because I Got High,” but Afroman truly outdoes himself with his Christmas album called, you guessed it, A Colt 45 Christmas. While hearing the beverage’s unofficial spokesman cover the golden holiday oldies is just as entertaining as it sounds, a particular standout among the bunch comes in the form of “12 J’s of Christmas.” It’s a surprisingly somber affair compared to other album cuts like “O Chronic Tree,” with Afroman reciting a long list of grievances that the police have brought to him throughout the holiday season. But even though he has a SWAT team in his pear tree and five years in the pen, the shenanigans of the law have done little to dissuade the sheer holiday glee that Afroman delivers in true Christmas fashion.
Choice Lyric: “On the 1st Day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a tab of yellow sunshine LSD.”
Run the Jewels – “A Christmas Fuckin’ Miracle”
It doesn’t get much darker than Run the Jewels, and the finale to their debut LP, A Christmas Fuckin’ Miracle, may just be one of their darkest tracks ever. Christmas elves get turned into a “bevy of imps that spit hatred,” while Killer Mike participates in the holidy spirit with a “pummel punch a pumpkin head punk in his pimple face.” Being that Run the Jewels are such a philosophically advanced duo, this song runs much deeper than just trashing the holidays, touching on their dissatisfaction with the music industry, celebrity culture and the rich with razor sharp rhymes. This song is only for those that truly don’t feel any love during the holiday season, and also those that can stomach the political discourse to go with it.
Choice Lyric: “Then I pummel punch a pumpkin head punk in his pimple face /
‘Till he’s punch drunk cause he’s sweet as a pound cake.”
Snoop Dogg – “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto”
If you’ve ever wondered what Snoop Dogg could possibly want for Christmas (other than weed), look no further than “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto,” wherein Snoop details precisely what his homie gave to him on the first, second and third days of Christmas. Released at the height of Death Row Records’ West Coast domination of hip-hop on a collection titled Christmas on Death Row, the track paints a vivid picture of yuletide festivities in the more unsavory parts of town. The production, featuring classic jingle bells and whistles over some loose beats, is sketchy at best. But with so many featured rappers operating on peak levels of holiday puns, it adds up for a track so silly that you can’t help but nod and smile along, lit blunt in hand of course.
Choice Lyric: “Now on the first day of Christmas, my homeboy gave to me / A sack of the krazy glue and told me to smoke it up slowly.”
Eazy-E – “Merry Muthafuckin Christmas”
Even if you can get past the bizarre prologue of Uncle Eazy-E chatting with some foul-mouthed young children, nothing will quite prepare you for the bizarreness that is the track ‘Merry Muthafuckin Christmas.’ The famously filthy former member of N.W.A. lives up to his reputation with this track that celebrates all of the things we would never associate with Christmas time, such as blowjobs in a sleigh ride, condoms in a Christmas tree, cocaine in a stocking, and gift like an a AK-47. And as if his array of activities wasn’t diverse enough, Eazy manages to spin almost every familiar carol into his collage of beats, making for a frenetic journey through the holiday classics.
Choice Lyric: “I don’t give a fuck / I’m getting Christmas cot / Ho ho ho and away I go.”
Ludacris – “Ludacrismas”
Technically created for a long-forgotten holiday comedy (Fred Claus, anyone?), Ludacris’ eponymous Christmas ode is secretly a banger – at least for the first 20 seconds. Featuring a masterful sample of old Christmas tunes with a beat so fire it could light your holiday hearth, Luda touches on something truly magical. But this sadly gets dumped in favor of a far less interesting beat with lyrics that range from mediocre to “kick back and just chill like a player would do, remix all the Christmas carols then I play ‘em for you.” As easy as it may be to chastise Ludacris on the song’s lyrical content, it is, at the end of the day, a Christmas song, and in that aspect it succeeds beautifully. When else would he rap about Daddy swerving on the highway from too much eggnog?
Choice Lyric: “Ice skating in the driveway / I’mma do it my way / Eggnogs got daddy swerving on the highway.”
Puff Daddy Feat. Run-D.M.C., Salt-N-Pepa, Snoop Dogg, Mase, Onyx and Keith Murray – “Santa Baby Remix”
You’d think that by combining some of the most legendary forces in hip-hop history onto a Christmas single would make for something spectacular. The end result is unfortunately more tame than one would expect. Long before Puff Daddy would be reborn into the capitalist emperor P. Diddy, he gave us a taste of his ideal material goods here, which is naturally a Benz under the Christmas tree. While the rest of the gang keep running with their wish lists, Salt-N-Pepa turn things even tamer with a literal “come to Jesus” moment, telling us to “forget the new kicks, you just falling for tricks.” What makes this bizarre single so ridiculous might be the fact that you could play this for Grandma at the dinner table and she would hardly notice anything amiss.
Choice Lyric: “On December 25th I knew I wasn’t getting jack / When I saw Santa Claus on the corner buying crack”
Ying Yang Twins – “Deck Da Club”
If you can get over the shock that the Ying Yang Twins have done something other than the background screaming for Lil Jon’s “Get Low,” you still might not be ready for the shock of their masterpiece EP The Ying and Yang of the Holidays. Each track is a ridiculous gem, turning everything lovable and recognizable about Christmas carols completely upside down. The pleasure of a Dirty South Christmas is exemplified in the track “Deck Da Club,” where the twins have left holiday bows of money for all of the grinders on the dance floor, complete with a hearty “Fa-la-la-la” for any haters. Does it conform to the Christmas spirit of giving? Not really, but does it matter when you’re having this much fun?
Choice Lyric: “Ho ho ho! Santa’s in the building / Booty so crunk they say ‘he’s in the ceiling!'”
Need some last minute Christmas shopping done? Beyoncé’s Santa-fied edition of her Lemonade merch should pique your interest.
- Words: Jake Boyer