The Best Christmas Rap Songs of All Time:
Kurtis Blow, “Christmas Rappin’” (1979)
Album: Kurtis Blow, “Christmas Rappin’ 12” (1979)
As I’m sure you know from reading our list of the best living hip-hop producers since 1979 from the beginning (or do you?), “Christmas Rappin'” had a more fiscal than artistic genesis. Two Billboard editors saw the checks one of their colleagues was getting for writing Christmas songs and wanted in on the action. So they wrote a rap version of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and had it performed by a charismatic MC named Kurtis Blow, who threw in a few of his own party rhymes at the end. But as cynical as the beginning was, the result was magical. The song was a hit from the winter of 1979 to the spring of 1980, making Kurtis the first rap star on a major label. Even today, almost forty years later, it’s enough for Kurtis to take a nineteenth-century poem by Clement Clarke Moore with a “Hold it, hold it, hold it. That’s it, then,” to get any Christmas party going.
The Cold Crew, “Rappin’ Christmas” (1982)
Album: The Cold Crew, “Rappin’ Christmas”/“Rappin’ New Year” Single (1982)
The Cold Crew has only released one single, as far as I can tell. But what a single it was. In late 1982, the country was in the midst of a recession, so the group produced a song that fit that time. In “Rappin’ Christmas,” Santa has fallen on hard times due to Reaganomics. The economic downturn has cost him his reindeer, his toys and even Mrs. Claus. And when he decides to defy the odds and visit the big city anyway, his sleigh breaks down and he gets mugged. The only ones who seem to be enjoying themselves are the rats, who are busy stealing candy canes. If you want an accurate picture of the early days of the Reagan era, you could do a lot worse.
The Treacherous Three, “Santa Rap” (1984)
Album: Various Artists, Beat Street (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) – Vol. 2 (1984)
Santa’s Rap” from the 1984 hip-hop drama Beat Street is an old-school rap artifact that, while musically dated, is just as relevant in content as it was back in the ’80s. Though performed as a nightclub skit in the film, “Santa’s Rap” works perfectly as a full-fledged pre-Golden Age rap song in the form of a conversation between Santa and two giftless adversaries who have had enough of his class-conscious bullshit. The patterned claps and keyboard riffs are typical of the early days of rap music in New York City, but it’s the song’s lyrics (“Jingle, jangle, jingle for the poor/And once you get your welfare check/Y’all can kiss my mistletoe”) that make it both a catchy Christmas number and a notable thought-provoker about socioeconomics.
Sweet Tee, “Let The Jingle Bells Rock” (1987)
Album: Various Artists, Christmas Rap (1987)
Staying true to her name, Sweet Tee has recorded one of the sweetest, most oxymoronic Christmas raps ever with “Let The Jingle Bells Rock.” Despite her emphatic tone and rocking beat that only barely approaches “Bust A Move” quality, Sweet Tee raps about cuddling, candy canes and enjoying the holiday season while you can. Musically, it’s just another ’80s rap beat inspired by the Sugarhill Gang and Marley Marl, but Sweet Tee’s willingness to rap about something as gentle as a kiss under the mistletoe is admirable and the epitome of good, clean Christmas fun for the whole family.
Run-DMC, “Christmas In Hollis” (1987)
Album: Various Artists, A Very Special Christmas (1987)
In 1987, Bill Adler, then Def Jam’s PR chief and a well-known Christmas music fan, was on his way to a studio session with Run-DMC when they were to record a Christmas song for a charity album. From two things he brought with him – the idea that the group should write about their home neighborhood and a copy of the 1968 compilation Soul Christmas – hip-hop’s greatest Christmas song was born. If you don’t automatically start filling out DMC’s mom’s menu as soon as you hear “It’s Christmas time in Hollis, Queens…” then there’s no hope for you. Little bonus: The video for the song was directed by Graffiti Rock creator and former Basquiat bandmate Michael Holman, and the makeup for the clip was done by Entourage’s Debi Mazar.
Eazy-E f/ Menajahtwa, Buckwheat from the Lil Waskals, Will 1X, & Atban Klann, “Merry Muthaf****n’ Xmas” (1992)
Album: Eazy-E, 5150: Home 4 tha Sick (1992)
Eazy-E was not named “The Godfather of Gangsta Rap” for nothing. Only someone who has lived and breathed the filthy rap genre could spoil something as pure as Christmas in the best possible way. ‘Merry Muthafuckin’ X-Mas’ is more of a celebration of freaking out with a hint of Christmas spirit, but any song that mentions Santa Claus is fair game for a ‘Christmas Music’ stamp. The collective hip-hop genius of Eazy-E and company shines through in every aspect of this song – the unadulterated American rap beat, the featured verses, the manipulated Christmas sound effects. It’s salacious, explicit, and almost exactly the opposite of what you’d expect from a Christmas song. And yet, somehow, it feels less dirty than any version of “Santa Baby” ever recorded.
C-Murder & Master P, “Christmas In Da Ghetto” (1994)
Album: Master P Presents West Coast Bad Boyz, High Fo Xmas (1994)
“Christmas in the ghetto ain’t worth shit / Tell Santa he better watch out. If you ever wanted a general idea of how disadvantaged people feel about Christmas, the first line of Master P and C-Murder’s “Christmas in the Ghetto” speaks volumes. The production is reminiscent of “Deck the Halls,” one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time. But the beat relies largely on a West Coast foundation that would have fit well with an artist like 2Pac. Instead, New Orleans brothers P and C (who were then from Northern California and about to return home and take over the game) rhyme about the unfair way Christmas plays out for people who can’t afford to give their family and friends the monetary equivalent of their love.
Snoop Dogg f/ Daz, Nate Dogg, Tray Deee, & Bad Azz, “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” (1996)
Album: Various Artists, Christmas on Death Row (1996)
When I first heard “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto,” I felt like the song was made for me. I was 7 years old when it came out, and I was already very aware of the fact that my family lived in poverty. In Texas, where I’m from, there’s a program sponsored by the local police department called Blue Santa that visits children in underserved communities and brings them little gifts. It was always a joy when someone would come by and give my sister and I gifts, but even then we knew it was fuck 12. We wanted a more authentic representation of the character we already knew wasn’t real. (My mother didn’t give Santa an ounce of credit for anything: “I bought the fucking presents!”)
So when I heard this song and saw the music video that went with it, I was overwhelmed. That was it for me. Seeing Snoop driving a ‘Lac in the sky while wearing a black Santa hat over a silk press; seeing Nate Dogg singing in a choir with his incomparable baritone voice; and hearing the individual tales of past difficult Christmases coming from the extended Dogg Pound family made me feel represented. It’s been more than two decades since that song came out, and I still feel like a little girl waiting for her own black Santa to bless the neighborhood with treasures.
Ludacris, “Ludacrismas” (2007)
Album: Fred Claus Soundtrack (2007)
In “Ludacrismas,” Ludacris lists all the things he wants for Christmas while waiting for Santa to arrive, but his wishes are far from an ordinary wish list. “Tell Santa to bring a ten million dollar check so I can spread a little joy, fly a little, eat a little chicken, drink a few beers, kick back and just chill like a player would,” he raps. The song, featured on the soundtrack of the 2007 film Fred Claus, is based on the classic 1947 Christmas record of the same name, but thanks to a menacing, chopped and screwed beat and Ludacris’ aggressive tone, the once wholesome track transforms into a banger to belt out from candy-painted whips.
Kanye West f/ Teyana Taylor, Cyhi the Prynce, Pusha T, Big Sean, Cam’ron, and More “Christmas In Harlem” (2010)
Album: KanyeWest.com, “G.O.O.D. Fridays” (2010)
The latest entry in Kanye’s legendary 2010 G.O.O.D. Fridays run, “Christmas in Harlem,” is opulent and joyous, an extravagant celebration that doesn’t lack heart. Standout verses come from Pusha-T, who – to the surprise of no one – creates a Santa-selling-cocaine metaphor that works better than it should, and Cam’ron, who makes the track multi-denominational by shouting out his litany of (allegedly Jewish) lawyers. The real star, though, is Teyana Taylor, whose hook shines like the reflection of Christmas lights on New York snow. You can listen to the song here.
DMX, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (2012)
Album: N/A (2012)
DMX had long since passed the peak of his popularity in 2012, but most hip-hop fans are open to getting the 1998-2003 energy back in some form – including a Christmas remix. After mocking Drake earlier in the year, DMX became a one-man band with this impromptu a cappella performance of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Ignore the Spotify single that adds the cheesy instrumentals: The purity of DMX handling the vocals, beat and adlibs is impressive. Yes, his signature gravelly voice shouldn’t fit so well on a childish Christmas song. And yet, it only takes DMX a few seconds to turn the song into a joyous moment. Isn’t that the spirit of Christmas?
Sean Price, “How Sean Price Stole Christmas” (2012)
Album: Sean Price, “How Sean Price Stole Christmas” Animated Music Video (2012)
The late, beloved Sean Price (who sadly passed away in 2015) had a gruff exterior, a heart of gold and a wicked sense of humor. So it made sense to cast him in the role of the Grinch during the Christmas season in a song and animated video. Instead of handing out presents, P-as-Grinch robs kids of their sneakers, does unspeakable things with toothbrushes and candy canes, and burns down Christmas trees, all while pulling off some nice B-boy routines (the non-animated Price got his start in hip-hop as a dancer, like some of his other Duck Down co-stars, and could still pull off moves when he needed to, right up until the end). “I don’t give a shit, I don’t get a shit, I hate to spit it, and I hate St. Nicholas,” rhymes P. Luckily, he lyricized it anyway, and so we have a lasting reminder of Sean Price’s ability to make us all feel a little better with a few punchlines.
Ying Yang Twins, “Ho Ho Ho (Dirty Christmas)” (2014)
Album: Ying Yang Twins, “Ho Ho Ho (Dirty Christmas)” Single (2014)
You wouldn’t expect the Ying Yang Twins, long past their prime, to release a great Christmas song in 2014. And yet, they’ve pulled it off. “Ho Ho Ho (Dirty Christmas)” shows a more mature group toning down their bawdy side (“kissing a bad hoe” under the mistletoe) with realistic and touching depictions of time with their kids at the holidays. You may not have realized you needed to hear the guys from “Salt Shaker” rapping about “Kids running around, playing with all they toys/You better sit your ass down, making all that noise,” but you do. Bonus points to the guys who make sure the kids wear their jackets when they play outside. After all, it is snowing.
Fetty Wap & Monty, “Merry Xmas” (2015)
Album: Merry Xmas
Fetty Wap is known for his trap-infused love songs with irresistibly catchy hooks, and “Merry Xmas” is no exception. What makes it stand out among the new wave of modern Christmas songs are Fetty and Monty’s unique harmonies. Their vocals are smooth and sweet, but still infectious with flashy one-liners and pop culture references.
Dej Loaf & Kodak Black, “All I Want For Christmas” (2016)
On “All I Want For Christmas,” Dej Loaf and Kodak Black stomp over an enchanting J-Vaughn-produced beat and reflect on never having to experience another gift-free holiday season. Unlike the usual feelings we often get when we hear a verse from Kodak Black, here he drops some heartfelt words, thanking God for the gift of rapping and confessing that even at the peak he feels the loneliness. “And all I wanted for Christmas was to be here/Now I hope to spend it with you this year/God blessed me with a talent, I gotta make it happen/You see this rap shit is my gift, I gotta unwrap it,” he raps. Dej Loaf calmly glides over the song in a melodic pocket that is enhanced by her simple approach to each line. The combination of Kodak and Dej is an unusual Christmas-flavored combination. But when rappers take their listeners on an honest journey of triumph, songs like this are often the best gems.
Yo Gotti, Fabolous & DJ Khaled, “3 Kings” (2017)
Album: A Very ROC Christmas
The Hustle is a 365-day commitment. And even at Christmas, Yo Gotti and Fabolous remind us that the game never stands still. “3 Kings” is full of bars about wrapping presents, Santa Claus and snow. But as you might imagine, those sentiments relate to serving packages to the gutter in an anti-Hallmark remembrance of the holidays. “On Christmas Day, my plug gave me a whole sleigh full of snow so the whole gang could eat,” raps Yo Gotti. Fab maintains the same energy in his verse, saying, “If you tryna light up tree I know the block with the piff/Rudolf want a red nose I know the block with the sniff.” DJ Khaled, as always, makes things cinematic. But even without his voice, the narrative in this song puts a lot of emphasis on what Christmas looks like through the lens of the block.
Jeremih and Chance The Rapper, “Merry Christmas Lil Mama” (2017)
Album: Jeremih & Chance the Rapper, Merry Christmas Lil Mama: Rewrapped (Disc One) (2017)
Over electric piano chords as warm as a blazing fire, Chance and Jeremih pay homage to their Chicago roots with a subtle, juke-influenced Christmas track featuring contributions from King Louie and TekLife’s DJ Spinn and Gant-Man on the boards. A master of restraint, Jeremih’s verse is romantic but understated, while King Louie’s verse is lusty in comparison. And for those who like their Christmas music a little more rooted in the church, Chance pops up in the hook to remind us that the holiday is also Jesus’ birthday. “Merry Christmas Lil Mama” acts as a touching ode to Chicago DJ legend Rashad, who passed away in 2014, incorporating a subtle “R.I.P. Rashad” into the skittering footwork beat. It’s the rare Christmas track that captures both the warmth and romance of Christmas, and the sobering thoughts of those no longer around to celebrate it.
Rae Sremmurd, “Nothing for Christmas” (2018)
One can only dream of being present at a studio session of Rae Sremmurd, because a crazy hit is guaranteed to come out of it. A few years ago, the Ear Drummers gifted their fans with a two-song party pack that both lightened up and energized the holidays and associated festivities. As a contrast to Swae Lee’s subdued ballad “Christmas At Swae’s,” Slim Jxmmi kicks it up a notch with “Nothing for Christmas.” As a Mississippi version of the Grinch, he explodes into the song declaring that his version of Christmas is not sweet. Right at the beginning he raps, “Your bad ass gettin’ nothin’ for Christmas,” with the ad libs “freaky girl” playing in the background. This song is no different than any of Rae Sremmurd’s other bangers: even with the jingle bells vibrating in the background, it’ll pull you out of your seat.
Tyler, the Creator “Big Bag” (2018)
Album: Tyler, the Creator, Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Grinch’ (2018)
The manic color of Tyler, the Creator’s music doesn’t lose a bit of dust even through a story as old as the Grinch. On the contrary, it gives it another layer of focus. The Grinch’s heart doesn’t get three sizes bigger with Tyler’s interpretation of his perspective. His giddy internal rhymes and cymbal-heavy percussion make the Grinch sound almost like the anti-hero. No, the Grinch probably doesn’t listen to “Hot in Herre,” but imagining that he does is a charm in Tyler’s continued creativity.
Gucci Mane, “Jingle Bales” (2019)
Album: East Atlanta Santa 3
How could we compile a respectable list of the best Christmas rap songs without including East Atlanta Santa himself? A day before the release of “Jingle Bales,” Gucci shared a video of himself dancing shirtless to the song, declaring it the “hardest Christmas song ever.” Honestly? He wasn’t exaggerating. Set to a hard-hitting beat by J. White Did It, Gucci sets the mood for Christmas with lines like “Coke like Christmas and pints like Easter.” But the real showstopper is the music video, in which Gucci storms SantaCon in New York City. A Christmas Legend!