Although hip-hop and Christmas seem like unlikely lyrical companions, the holiday season – chock full of yuletide cheer, Santa, reindeer and snow – have always provided musicians and record labels with subject matter in order to churn out more product. Thus, during the era defined by tangible CD purchases, hip-hop wasn’t immune to the trend and counted artists like Run-D.M.C., Kurtis Blow, the Treacherous 3, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Eazy-E as those who decked the halls in their own style of sentimentality.
But most would offer a collective “huh” when mentioning the word “Christmas” while examining the early career of Atlanta duo, OutKast.
However, in their infancy as a group, label flirtation and ensuing pressures resulted in the need for Big Boi and Andre 3000 to deliver a song with Christmas imagery despite having a barren discography – meaning most people’s first impressions would come via this risky, seasonal track.
In 1993, production trio, Organized Noize (Sleepy Brown, Ray Murray, Rico Wade) struck a deal with LaFace Records based off the strength of their unique blend of sampling and live instrumentation which laid the foundation for not only the aforementioned preeminent group that would emerge from Atlanta, but Southern rap music as a whole.
Despite dabbling in pop and R&B, their primary focus was on a relatively unknown group at the time – OutKast (formerly 2 Shades Deep) – recording music in a dank basement in Rico Wade’s grandmother’s house that they affectionately nicknamed, “The Dungeon,” which at any given time had 15-20 people recording music and sleeping in the cavernous lair.
“It was just all night long… noise and smoke and noise and smoke,” said Andre 3000.
“We first had ‘Dre and Big Boi kinda audition for us a little bit,” said Murray. “They could rap their asses off but they were so into just rapping they didn’t have any real hooks or anything to latch on to – it was just pure, unadulterated hip-hop rhyming.”
“To be very honest, when we first met Big Boi and André it was the originality and them being young kids that stood out,” said Wade. “The industry hadn’t really hit Atlanta yet. Kriss Kross had came out and TLC had came out and we always believed there was a real music industry here, so it was really more about if the opportunity comes for us, let’s make sure we’re ready to represent properly. We wanted to do something that our forefathers, which was New York hip-hop, would respect. So when we met Big and Dre, the biggest thing about them was they could rap. They were competitive to New York emcees.”
OutKast’s biggest success at that time came on the remix to TLC’s “What About Your Friends” while the duo were still attending Tri-Cities High School in Atlanta.
Despite appearing alongside the bubbling female trio, label head, L.A. Reid, wasn’t enamored with either Big Boi or Andre 3000. He seemed to share same assessment as Murray about their heightened rhyming prowess, but also their lack of seasoning as it related to making songs.
“[L.A. Reid] was like, ‘Yeah, I think I like them, but I don’t think that they’re stars,” Andre 3000 remembered in the film, The Art of Organized Noize.
Despite his reluctance to sign OutKast as a solo act, Reid requested that they and Organize Noize record a Christmas song as part of a planned compilation involving other established LaFace artists like Toni Braxton, TLC, Usher and A Few Good Men.
Their first thought was to record a song referencing things you got for Christmas called “Sock and Draws,” as a humorous – yet rap apropos – way to fit the compilation’s theme while not making a complete fool out of themselves.
However, that shifted to what the world would come to know as “Player’s Ball” in an attempt to evoke what Christmas felt like for people on Headland and Delowe in Atlanta.
When you understand the intentions behind the original recording, suddenly the sonic construction and lyrics take on even greater meaning.
From the sleigh bells, to lyrics like, “Gots no snowy weather,” “You thought I’d break my neck, to help y’all deck, “Ain’t no chimneys in the ghetto so I won’t be hanging my socks,” “Getting tipsy off the nog’gen,” and “Shut up that nonsense about some ‘Slient Night’/ I gots it crunk/ If it ain’t real, ain’t right,” meet the directive put forth by L.A. Reid without having them wax poetic about building snowmen.
“That was that first record where we realized we had something,” Sleepy Brown remembered. “Where we knew we could make some noise on this mu’fucka, real soon.”
Sensing that the song had the opportunity to climb the rap charts if it was slightly reworked to have even more evergreen potential, “Player’s Ball” was re-released on November 19, 1993, to promote OutKast’s forthcoming debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, with a notable change to the chorus and omissions of some of the lyrics as if they were censoring curse words.
The song peaked at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the highest charting single from the group’s debut album.
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