Every Christmas, the radio airwaves are bombarded with a vast array of holiday music. Each genre has its standards. Country music lovers will recognize Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” as a staple, while R&B lovers will surely point to Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” as a classic tune. Well, the genre of Hip-Hop has also produced a variety of memorable Christmas songs, including Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” and Kurtis Blow’s landmark release, “Christmas Rappin.’”
I wanted to know why Kurtis decided to release a Christmas song as his first ever release as a Hip-Hop artist. The record, which is officially 35-years-old, has stood the test of time since it’s release, in 1979. Check out what Kurtis had to say.
“Christmas Rappin’” was my very first song and let me say, it’s my favorite of all the Kurtis Blow songs, because it was my first. The record was an idea that came from my producers, J.B. Moore and Robert Ford. J.B. had the idea of making a Christmas song and doing something different that would last throughout the ages. J.B. Moore and Robert Ford, they were very special producers. They had the idea that they wanted to do something musical, and mix it with Hip-Hop, which was basically a street thing I had been doing for 7–8 years.
Adding the elements of music was very important to us back then. We wanted to use original music and we wanted to get the sound like the music of the day, yes, but our whole image and standpoint was that we are going to be different, take this thing to the next level. J.B. Moore was a white guy and writer for Billboard Magazine as well as an ex-musician. He brought the real creativity of music to the table. I knew the style of music I wanted, I was a DJ. Larry Smith, who was a bass player and a musician’s musician, also played on the song. He went on to produce Run-DMC and Whodini.
We were at J.B.’s apartment and we mapped the thing out. I remember one of the conversations J.B. and Robert and another musician, Denzel Miller, who did the piano solo on “Christmas Rappin’” and “The Breaks,” had about the song. Denzel asked me, “what kind of sound do you want?” I said “sound? What do you mean sound?” They said “pick your favorite musician.”
I said “well, if I had sound, I would wanted to be right in between a mixture of James Brown and Chic.”
Nile Rodgers and Chic were the hottest thing going at that time with that “Good Times” record. I needed that R&B/Disco sound, but mixed in with James Brown. That’s where you get the guitars from “Christmas Rappin’” sounding like James Brown. And then the bassline, sounding like Chic. Also Queen’s song “Another One Bites the Dust” took that bassline from “Christmas Rappin’” and we never got paid for that.
So, J.B. wrote the first half, I wrote the second part. J.B. wrote the Christmas part. He came up with the idea of Santa Claus visiting a house up in Harlem on Christmas Eve. I wrote the second half, which is what happened after Santa Claus got into the party.
Now, Russell Simmons always tells this story different. He says that he’s the one that got me the record deal with Mercury Records. But it was J.B. Moore and Robert Ford. They went to 22 different labels. No one wanted the record but two people. Cory Robbins, who went on to found Profile Records and sign Run-DMC, liked the record but he could not get the deal done.
The other guy who like the record was an English fellow named John Stains, who was the A&R Director of Mercury/Phonogram out of London. He liked it and said “We can recoup this record in six months. Sign him up!” I was first signed as a British artist, and my records were imports. This was the deal that they gave me. I could do a single. If I sold more than 30,000 copies, and I could do another single. Then I have to sell more than 100,000 copies and then I can do an album. The first single, “Christmas Rappin’,” sold over 373,000 copies. “The Breaks” came out and sold over 940,000 copies, becoming the first certified gold Hip-Hop record.
Here I am, a young kid 19, 20-years-old, Coming out of Harlem, coming out of the ghetto, Getting to travel to places that I’ve never seen. I want to say thank you to all of the media, including radio. To the radio programmers and on air personalities, thank you for making “Christmas Rappin’” an annual classic that you play like Nat King Cole’s records. Thank you guys for that because we are going to live forever with that one.