With the holidays just around the corner, there seems to be no shortage of seasonal music permeating our public spaces and (for better or for worse) taking up some choice real estate in our collective minds. And while a lot of the tunes, particularly the more modern, retail-friendly versions of Christmas carols, can wear out their welcome pretty quickly, there’s still a lot of audio gold out there glistening out there waiting to be discovered. We’re talking about tracks with a beat and a groove that you can get down to during the season of sweaters and eggnog. With that festive spirit in mind, here’s a few holiday hip-hop tracks that you can dance to, whether in front of the bright glowing tree beside the yule log fire, or out in the street with your b-boys and girls.
1. ‘Christmas in Hollis’ -Run DMC
This 1987 single from a holiday compilation benefiting the Special Olympics sets the standard for hip-hop Christmas songs. An instant classic upon its release, ‘Christmas in Hollis’ transcends novelty and has found a place in the American holiday playlist. Telling the story of a visit by jolly St. Nick to NYC, hip hop group Run DMC gives a rundown of Santa’s mission to spread goodwill and cheer in their humble neighborhood of Hollis, Queens. Very few tracks on the planet mix classic beats with a fun and goofy little story like this treasure from the early innovators of the art.
2. ‘Sleigh Ride’ – TLC
This feelgood masterpiece by TLC finds the ladies laying out a list of positive vibes and desires over a truly funky beat-driven backing track. Featuring the familiar singing and rapping dynamics of their signature sound, ‘Sleigh Ride’ has smaller ambitions than some of their other massive hits, choosing to focus on good times and peace on earth. A little piece of the ‘90’s lives forever in this holiday gem, a gift that keeps on giving.
3. ‘I’m your Santa’ – Chance the Rapper w Jeremih
This fairly recent addition to the Christmas canon is a beautiful, downtown soul-inspired collaboration between Chance and Jeremih full of tender love messages and soulful vocals. Put this on the playlist for sweethearts and slow dancing.
4. ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ – DMX
Starting out in 2012 as a video of DMX giving an off-the-cuff performance that soon went viral, the late rapper and Ruff Ryder read the writing on the wall and eventually issued a full-length version of this beloved holiday tune. Given that we lost DMX in April of this year and for his many fans this is the first Christmas without him, this sweet version of ‘Rudolph’ serves as a reminder of the man’s timeless talent and emotional range.
5. ‘Santa Rap’ – Treacherous 3
This tune might be a deep dive for some of you out there, but it comes with an added present that you can put under your tree: A fun movie to discover. Culled from the 1984 street dance period film ‘Beat Street,’ this performance by the Treacherous 3 features a young Kool Moe Dee and company rapping over a funky fresh track with a dance trio of wooden soldiers providing backup. If you love the carefree camp of early b-boy culture, this is about as good as it gets.
6. ‘Drummer Boy’ – Justin Bieber with Busta Rhymes
Found on Bieber’s 2011 smash holiday album ‘Under The Mistletoe,’ this collaboration with Busta Rhymes adds a hip-hop breakdown reboot to the familiar Christmas carol. Whether you are a Belieber or not, there’s enough crossover appeal in this track to earn its place on your winter playlist.
7. ‘Christmas Rappin’’ – Kurtis Blow
Kurtis Blow made a name for himself as an early innovator of the hip-hop genre, and his tracks are known for their dedication to the art of funky grooves. So it should come as no surprise to his fans that this song has a deeply funky sound, with an infectious bassline sliding through some riveting rhythm guitar work. Put this one on with the subwoofers turned up.
8. ‘Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto’ -Snoop Dogg
With the title inspired by the 1968 James Brown version of the Hank Ballard tune with a similar name, this track from the 1996 Death Row Records Christmas comp has one of those basslines that were the backbone of West Coast gangsta rap’s formative era. Listen for the vocal contributions from the late great cousin Nate Dogg who shines on this holiday rap classic.