Almost 25 years ago, Hip-Hop pioneer Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and group members Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell were faced with a dilemma.
The trio, which made up pioneering Hip-Hop supergroup Run-DMC, were asked to record a novelty record for a charity album being produced titled “A Very Special Christmas.”
After much contemplation, Run-DMC decided to record the single “Christmas in Hollis” and much to their surprise, the song became one of the most successful tracks in their lucrative catalog.
Every year since it’s release in 1987, “Christmas in Hollis” has been heard on the radio, in movies and especially in television commercials.
AllHipHop.com examines how group member DMC came up with his verse for one of the most popular Christmas songs in American history.
“Christmas in Hollis” is much more than a novelty record. The song has also helped raise $109 million for the Special Olympics, since its release on “A Very Special Christmas,” in 1987.
AllHipHop.com: So “Christmas in Hollis” becomes a huge hit every year around this time. How did you come up with your verse?
DMC: Well for me, it was all personal. First of all, we never thought in 1 million years that Hip-Hop could have a classic record like Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby or Perry Cuomo. So 25 years ago they approached us, like “they want y’all to do a Christmas album with Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Eric Clapton.” There were two things: “What the hell you’re trying to ruin us?” Then we were like “yo could this work?” So when I was approached to do my Christmas lyrics, it was literally for me, like Christmas was like when I was a kid. My mother, she was cooking the collard greens, chicken, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, the biscuits, the ham, the sweet potatoes. So when I set down to write my rhyme, I didn’t have to make up a story or fantasy. That’s exactly how it was in my house in Hollis.
AllHipHop.com: Where were you at when you created your verse for Christmas in Hollis?
DMC: That’s so cool you asked me that. I was sitting in my house in my room in Hollis when I wrote my rhyme. You know this was a couple of years after disco was dead. Even those couple of years in, Hip-Hop as a recording industry was still relatively new. Even up to that point everywhere me Run and Jay would go, the question was “is Hip-Hop a fad?” You know you had your powerful songs like “The Message,” “Planet Rock” you know Kurtis Blow even did “Christmas Rapping.” But at that time, Hip-Hop was controversial. It was just becoming commercial, and we damn sure didn’t want to be corny!
AllHipHop.com: What finally sealed the deal for you guys to record the song?
DMC: Once Bill Adler (legendary publicist) finally came up with the idea to use that track. Bill Adler was like “you’re going to do this record for “A Very Special Christmas,” with Bruce Springsteen and all these other people. What do you think about this beat?” He played it for us and the beat was funky. So Jam Master Jay took the beat, arranged it and put it together. Me and Run did our verses, but we still weren’t convinced. But at the end of the first session, we heard the mix and we were like “this s**t is dope.”
AllHipHop.com: Speaking of Jay, do you have any memories of him during this time, since the 10th anniversary of his death recently went by? (Jam Master Jay was killed in his Queens, studio in October 2002 by unknown gunmen)
DMC: You look at a show like “CSI” when the people are in the lab, when Jay was at work, he was like a pioneering mad scientist. Jay is the reason why the song came out dope. DJ’s always make the best producers. If somebody else would’ve called and said they wanted me and Run to put down a Christmas record, I don’t think we would’ve done it and I don’t think we would’ve had a classic. We would’ve had a jingle for that Christmas and it would’ve been over.
AllHipHop.com: It’s definitely a classic, I mean after 25 years, it pops up everywhere all the time. I just heard it in a new commercial for a Honda minivan.
DMC: It’s everywhere right now. I can’t even go to the mall during the holidays cause everybody in the mall screams the lyrics at me. Every person in the mall, you know what comes out of their mouth. They start singing the lyrics to “Christmas in Hollis.”
AllHipHop.com: The song really has become as recognized as some of the more popular Christmas songs throughout history.
DMC: Right, it’s right up there with (breaks into singing) “Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire….” which is unbelievable for a Hip-Hop song.
AllHipHop.com: I know you’re out there on the road promoting is “A Very Special Christmas,” which came out 25 years ago. What’s it like being a part of the 25th anniversary of such an influential album, that has donated so much to charity?
DMC: It’s like being in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame all over again. Look at who I was on that album with. Whitney Houston, Bono, B.B. King. And all the proceeds go to the special Olympics and I just found out today, it’s the most successful benefit recording series ever.