From the Temptations’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” to John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” to Oscar Peterson’s “White Christmas,” black folks have contributed to the sonic landscape of the Christmas holiday in unforgettable fashion.
Since Christmas parties are a universal part of the season and because hip-hop is the music of our generation, there is also a need for music born of a mic and a turntable. Further, if hip-hop is the music of our generation, then we, too, need to include that genre’s contributions in our holiday festivities. Yet there seems to be a paucity. It can be hard to a find hip-hop Christmas songs and even more difficult to find a good one. But never fear; I got you. Just in case you have a need for Christmas hip-hop, I present to you the 10 best hip-hop songs to put you in a festive mood, ranked, because Merry Christmas.
10. “Ludacrismas,” by Ludacris
One cannot overstate how much fun it was to listen to Ludacris in the early 2000s. At his peak, Luda had so much charisma that he had to be placed at the end of a track because no one wanted to follow him. “Ludacrismas” showcases what he does best. It has clever lyrics accompanied by a driving, DJ Screw-inspired beat. This is just a fun song. It makes me miss the days of Word of Mouf.
9. “Santa Goes to the Ghetto,” by Snoop Dogg
Playing off of James Brown’s classic soul song “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto,” this track from Christmas on Death Row is produced by Snoop Dogg and has a subtly sweet and playful vibe all while highlighting the precarious menace that can come along with life in South Central Los Angeles. This is a Christmas song with a G-funk twist that features Nate Dogg on the track. You can never go wrong with him singing the hook.
8. “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” by Run the Jewels
This is the sonic equivalent of that conspiracy theory uncle who reminds you that Christmas is a white man’s holiday. What your uncle cannot do, however, is tell you those things with the sonic virtuosity of El-P and the lyrical ferocity of Killer Mike. This is a conscious Christmas song meant to be played while holding a shotgun on Christmas Eve daring a white man to sneak into your house.
7. “Christmas Rappin’,” by Kurtis Blow
This is the first hip-hop Christmas song, and it sounds like it. The cadence of the delivery is quintessentially ’70s, while the production by Larry Smith, Robert Ford Jr. and J.B. Moore is stripped down if not elegant. Later, Next would sample this song for their monster hit “Too Close,” which provided a bit of cognitive dissonance for me because each time I heard that song I thought of Christmas. Took me a while to properly atone for that sin.
6. “St. Brick Intro,” by Gucci Mane
A trap Christmas song by the Right Rev. Gucci wherein he sings, “Trapping through the snow …” What more needs to be said?
5. “What You Want for Christmas,” by the Quad City DJ’s
This is for when you want to get crunk on Christmas. Besides, establishments catering to the needs of gentlemen need Christmas songs, too.
4. “Sleigh Ride,” by TLC
I love this song. It’s funky, sexy and fun—the three adjectives I’d use to describe the brilliance that was this group at their best. Hearing Left Eye on the track is enough to bring a tear to the eye because her life ended before she could be fully appreciated for her artistic gifts. This is the perfect song for a gathering of friends on Christmas Eve.
3. “Christmas in Harlem,” by Kanye West
This is an underappreciated track that deserves to be an annual classic. Kanye samples Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” while featuring (depending on the version) Musiq, Teyana Taylor, Cyhi the Prynce, Cam’ron, Jim Jones and Pusha T to create a song that is rare for Ye: one that is joyful, sweet, playful and warm. This is “The Christmas Song” of hip-hop Christmas songs—a classic that highlights the beauty of the holiday. When I’m ready to get into the Christmas spirit, this and a Basil Hayden holiday spice cocktail is my go-to.
2. “Player’s Ball,” by Outkast
This is the song that put ’Kast on the map. It was released in November of 1993 as part of the upcoming album A LaFace Family Christmas, and aside from a few references to Santa, Big Boi and Andre 3 Stacks essentially say nothing about the holiday— yet it captures the spirit of the season perfectly. “The song reminds me of holidays in the South spent with your people to kick it and be merry,” says Regina Bradley, an assistant professor of English and African Diaspora studies at Kennesaw State University who teaches a college course on the aesthetics of Outkast.
“Like the music catalog that would follow, ‘Player’s Ball’ merges the sacred and the secular. It celebrates the messiness that is the ‘ho-ho holidays’ in the contemporary black South,” she continues.
I struggled to decide if this should be No. 1. Because I am an Outkast devotee, my heart told me yes, but my head, because this song barely mentions the holiday, told me no. As a result, No. 1 is ...
1. “Christmas in Hollis,” by Run-DMC
This is the unofficial official hip-hop Christmas song. It samples Clarence Carter’s “Back Door Santa” (the unofficial official up-tempo brown-liquor Christmas song) and discusses in an almost magical-realism way the experience of celebrating Dec. 25 in Hollis, Queens, N.Y. To quote Rebecca Carroll, editor of special projects at WNYC and host of the forthcoming podcast Black Folks, “It’s a classic funky disruption with all due respect type of jam.”
There you have it: the top 10 Christmas hip-hop songs of all time. Each one is suitable in be in rotation year-round. Because after all, there is never a bad time to listen to “Player’s Ball.”