Rap music and holiday season are two good things that you wouldn’t expect to intersect very frequently. Rap music can be categorized into 6 different forms. There’s gritty, in which the artist retells stories of struggle, and of their hardships. There’s introspective, or lyrical, in which the artist looks to create poetic lyrics and tell a story, while encouraging the listener to see something from a new point of view. There’s gangsta rap, where the artist looks to intimidate, generally with a hard, in your face beat and lyrics retelling their accomplishments as someone not to fuck with. There’s baller rap, which is also refered to occasionally as mumble rap, though that isn’t the only form, and in baller rap the artist refers to how good they’re living life, and the various luxurious lifestyle mainstays they enjoy. Similar to baller rap, there’s hippy rap, songs that general have a loose, bloopy vibe, and make common references to the severe amount of drugs the artist does, but not for sport like the baller rappers, for creativity, and because they grew up on Snoop Dogg and Bob Marley. The sixth and final form is the one most closely related to the magical combination we’re looking for. Gospel rap has hit the mainstream in the last few years, and many of the times you see the combination of holiday spirit and hip hop, it’s in a gospel rap form. Gospel rap is pretty self-explanatory, it’s just a rap song surrounded by musical elements you’d typically experience in a gospel song, such as an organ, trumpets, or, most commonly, a choir.
I made a metric to measure the kind of rap 18 artists make, called the Cheerometer™, that will determine the level of happiness or joy an artist expresses, on average. The Cheerometer™ measures the amount of cheer, on a scale of 1-6, by measuring the level of cheer in each artist’s albums or mixtapes and creating a composite of all those albums. You better believe I have a beautiful chart to display my findings:
I got to these numbers by listening to each album these 18 artists have produced, and ranking them on the aforementioned 1-6 scale, with 6 being the happiest and most upbeat, while 1 is the grittiest, most hard-hitting albums. This data tells us a few things, firstly, Chance the Rapper is one of the happiest rappers in the game, but that isn’t surprising. What’s surprising is that there seems to be a trend, with rap fluctuating in level of happiness, based on the times. Rap was born out of hardship. Rap evolved as a combination of disco and street rhyming. It started as a brother of disco, with the funky beats and flow of guys like Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Run-D.M.C., Whodini, Grandmaster Flash, Kool DJ Herc, The Fat Boys and Marley Marl. In this era, there was always an underlying tone of hardship and an element of the streets, but that style of rap really hit the mainstream when rap hit its wild west (and east) coast era.
Rap stopped being party music, the beats became subdued, and aggressive. The rappers stopped trying to be friendly and started to trying to prove themselves. Artists like Tupac and Biggie contributed an unbelieveble amount of inspiration to an entire generation of rap, as did guys like DMX, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the West and East coast feud as a whole. The 90s made it cool to be angry, made it cool to be a bad ass, and that’s still heavily reflected today. The 90’s weren’t just a time of anger though, the 90s brought us artists like Snoop Dogg who sparked (pun intended) the hippy rap of today, and Nas, one of the first lyrical storytellers. This is where to look when trying to locate the extreme culture change in hip hop.
The early 2000’s followed this trend, with artists like 50 cent, Eminem, Dr. Dre(he’s 90’s too but mentored many angry rappers in the 2000’s) hitting the mainstream. Rap had transferred from songs you could dance along with to something completely different, something bleak, but still beautiful. Something else happened in the early 2000’s, the evolution of baller rap, with artists like Soulja Boy, Nelly, and Ja Rule, as rappers started to have fun again. A million words could be written about the sociology that causes this phenomena, and why rap, and music in general follows the cycles it does, but all I know is that listening to someone rap about women and money and just enjoying life became a lot more fun to listen to than listening to someone rap about the time they shot their cousin at 4 years old. Storytelling became more popular too, as Kanye West and Jay-Z led a whole new revolution, showing that you can tell a story and sound cool doing it.
The sound of the late 2000’s shifted even more towards rap being fun, with Lil Wayne finding more success and ultimately partially founding the mumble rap generation. Rap beefs became less violent and more just fun, and entertaining. Rappers like Drake started to pop up, as Kanye and Jay-Z collaborated to show the power still lays with the OG in hip hop, as it always will. But the late 2000’s shifted what it took to be an OG, with Kanye rising to power after just 3 spectacular albums, and becoming somewhat of an elder statesman, allowed to try new things safely, without fear of falling off. It became possible for the most talented rappers to rise to power, rather than just the biggest characters being the most respected.
As rap shifted into its current era, social media came to power, with it becoming possible for anyone to create music and rise to fame. Artists like Future, Young Thug, Gucci Mane, and Odd Future started to find success from a start on the internet. With this sudden availability came an era of more rap with less meaning, more rap that’s easy to listen to but impossible to get meaning from, and that’s okay. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with listening to a great voice saying nothing over a beat. But the one form that’s always stayed with us has been storytelling. Since the beginning there’s been storytellers, currently, artists like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Earl Sweatshirt, and Vince Staples fill that void. But storytelling isn’t the only transcending form.
Gospel has been with us for as long as we’ve consumed music. Be it from churches, a talented singer, a new band with a happy sound, or from a kid that’s just tired of hearing sadness on the radio. Kids that grew up with the same story that are ready to just move forward, and find happy sounds, happy experiences, even when there’s nothing to be happy about. Gospel hasn’t always been produced and consumed the way it is currently produced, performed, and consumed. It comes in its typical, church forms, but you can find it in jazz, in R&B, and, as of late, you can find it in rap. Artists like Frank Ocean, Anderson .Paak, and Chance The Rapper are finding success in the style of smile. Turning the most aggressive form of art and making it upbeat, making it connect, rather than break apart. There’s no fighting in gospel rap. There’s no explanation for gospel rap, because it’s a combination of the other 5 forms. The struggle of gritty rap, the aggression of gangsta rap, the storytelling of introspective rap, the luxurious and exciting beats from baller rap, and the loose flow from hippy rap.
There’s only one other form of music that transcends labels like that. Holiday music. There’s no one sound that encapsulates the feeling of holiday season. You can find holiday music created from every genre, and rap, while it’s taken a while, is finding its way into the unexplainable side of music we describe as holiday.
If you look, you can find hundreds of rap songs that sound like holiday music, but I’m going to narrow it down to 5 songs per generation, and rate them on the Cheerometer™, starting with the 1980’s and going to 2016. Keep in mind, these songs do not have to be about the holidays, they just need to have sound that could be considered reminiscent of the wonderful season that comes each year when the temperature decreases and happiness increases.
5. Chillin with Santa – Derek B.
Many of the holiday songs in this generation will come from the above album. Some of the songs are cheerier than others, and while this song is still solid, it’s pretty generic, and not very cheery. Still worth a listen on Christmas day, but Derek B’s strengths as an artist are not in the holiday department.
4. Merry Muthafuckin’ Xmas – Eazy E
Firstly, I love Eazy E. He was a great artist and this is one of my favorite songs he did. If this was a list ordered by best song, this would be 1 or 2, but it isn’t, and Eazy E is not a particularly cheer filled artist, and this song is no different. Most of its points come from the name alone, though the song frequently discusses Christmas, which is a big plus.
3. Let the Jingle Bells Rock – Sweet T
Another off this album, though it won’t be the last. Sweet T’s let the Jingle Bells Rock is a really solid Christmas jam. It’s cheerful, the instrumental is loud and upbeat, and Sweet T spits happy verses that fit the song rally well.
2. Christmas Rappin’ – Kurtis Blow
This was back when rap was still very much like disco. This was also when the songs lasted longer than a modern-day Gucci Mane album, so this is 8 minutes of exactly what you’d expect from a Kurtis Blow song. He focuses on a family holiday gathering, and does a great job of it. If you want to get up and dance this holiday season, this is the song for you.
1. Christmas in Hollis – Run DMC
What else could be here? This is the OG Christmas rap song (not disco rap, but full on rap), and the best song on the Christmas Rap album. It’s peppy, upbeat, and certainly cheery. Run DMC killed it with this song, and the impact was obvious, as later in this article we’ll see plenty of samples and remakes of this track.
5. Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto – Snoop Doggy Dogg
Okay, I love this song. I wish I could put this song higher, but I can’t. Not my rules, just the rules I made up and wrote down. This song is great, I love Snoop, I love the title, and I love the video. Unfortunately, it isn’t very cheery, so it only goes to the fifth spot.
4. Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa – De La Soul
Once again, great song, not a great holiday song. The 90’s brought the birth of punk, and that influence is obvious in rap, because downtrodden, depressing songs became much more common in 90’s rap. This is one of those songs. Not very Christmassy
3. Deck the Halls – RZA and Craig Ferguson
“C’mon c’mon c’mon” “Absolutely”. I don’t care that this didn’t air in the 90’s, RZA is a 90’s artist, this is my article, get out of my face. This song is hilarious, and I love it. I docked it points for not being an original song, and for it not being a full song, but it’s still fun and wonderful.
2. Player’s Ball – Outkast
This is hardly a Christmas song, but Outkast called it one, and I love them, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. The original and Christmas versions of this song are great, and this should get a play this holidays.
1. Santa Baby – Run DMC, Mase, Diddy, Snoop Dogg, Salt N Pepa, Onyx & Keith Murray
This isn’t the garbage 1950’s version, so get that out of your head immediately. That song sucks and I hate it, this song is great and I love it. Snoop Dogg’s verse is my favorite on the song, but everything about it is wonderful, and it takes the 90’s title.
5. All I Want for Christmas is to get it Crunk – Drity Boyz
This song encapsulates everything great about 2000’s rap, and adds Christmas, what more could you want? This falling to fifth speaks to the quality in this decade.
4. Sleigh Ride – Ying Yang Twins
Shoutout to the Ying Yang Twins for making a Christmas banger album. Even if there’s just 4 songs on it, they’re all great, half are on this list, and I wish more artists would have fun like that.
3. Ballin on Xmas – Jim Jones
Here’s that remake I was talking about. This one is cheery and exciting. The lyrics are funny, and the song is really solid. Merry Christmas to Jim Jones, wherever he may be now.
2. Deck Da Club – Ying Yang Twins
Yes. Yes, this is great. I love this song, and I love everything about it. It’s funny, cheerful, and just a really fun song. Blast this in your home on Christmas morning. Wake up your children with it. Create fan art about it. I don’t care what you do, just please appreciate this work of modern art.
1. Ludacrismas – Ludacris
Fred Claus is a garbage movie and you shouldn’t watch it, but it did do one thing right. It brought this song into existence. This is one of my favorite Christmas rap jams from any decade, and I plan on destroying my mediocre neighbors with this song and a large speaker for years to come.
5. Snowed in – Chance the Rapper and Jeremih
Chance the Rapper and Jeremih threw a jolly ass wrench in this entire article when they released a damn Christmas album on December 20th. I had to change my entire 2010’s rankings, and I still wouldn’t trade it, because of how wonderful this album is.
4. This Christmas – Chris Brown
Part of enjoying music and art in general is being able to separate the music from the person. Chris Brown is a bad person, but he’s a good singer, and this is a good Christmas song. It’s cheery and extremely pleasant, and would’ve been the winner in most other decades.
3. Christmas in Harlem – Kanye West, Teyana Taylor, Cyhi the Prynce, Pusha T, Jim Jones, Big Sean, Cam’ron, Vado, Musiq Soulchild
Kanye got the whole family in on this song. Christmas in Harlem, a play on the title Christmas in Hollis, features pretty much everyone Kanye knows. It’s an exemplary Christmas rap song, and despite its not so PG lyrics, you should listen to it this Christmas
2. Chi Town Christmas – Chance the Rapper and Jeremih
This is pretty much the perfect holiday song. It’s cheerful, it has soul, and it’s just so, so good. I love the song, the album, and the artist, please listen to this with the family members that you like, and only the ones you like. There’s only one song that could possibly top this one.
1. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – DMX
There’s always leftovers after a great holiday meal. You’ve just spent 4 hours eating great food, and watching the Cavs smack up the Warriors, and now you’re in a food coma in the comfort of your own home. The next day, you’re going to wake up, stumble downstairs, and chow down on some cold ham, and have a great time. You get to do that with this article too. I took the liberty of creating a YouTube playlist of every single song here, ordered by Cheerometer rating. All of the Christmas rap goodness can be found in one place, right here.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all, I hope you enjoy time with those you love this holiday season, and who knows, maybe you should do it with some marvelous holiday rap.