On Thursday morning, Chance the Rapper and Jeremih released a surprise holiday mixtape, "Merry Christmas Lil' Mama," featuring nine collaborations by the two artists that stay away from the jingle bells and D m7♭5 chords of so many other holiday classics. The duo sticks to pared down drum machine beats and laid-back verses to deliver a mixtape that's less a holiday soundtrack and more a hip hop album that happens to come out around Christmas.
The tracks have titles like "Snowed In" and "I'm Your Santa" but their lyrics speak to pretty different parts of the holiday than snowflakes and evergreen trees. In "Snowed In," Jeremih's hook goes, "Now we ain't got to hit the club / Know you cold, let's bundle up / I'm just tryna get some love." Their voices are put through effects that sound like Daft Punk's influence. And in "I'm Your Santa," he says, "We've been through problems, we've been test enough / Drinks to the sky, we gettin' f*cked up' / Tis ain't the season without the one you love," lines with different rings to any Mariah Carey tunes.
"All The Way" starts the mixtape with a song full of samples. It opens with the famous lines from A Christmas Story:
"No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!"
"You'll shoot your eye out kid."
Behind the lyrics the song plays the hook from "I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas." But the music is disjointed between the samples and the faux holiday theme. The lyrics don't entirely stay away from the holiday cliches but the songs take an original, better-than-so-many-others angle on the season. Hip hop's lacking in holiday music and that's probably a good thing, but it looks like that lack hasn't gone unnoticed by the artists in that genre.
The fact that it's a hip hop mixtape luckily pulls it away from the mushy holiday themes (for the most part) and makes references to some of hip hop's favorite moments. In "All The Way," Jeremih says, "And your presence is a present for me / For Christmas or just because," throwing back to Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy song, "Monster."
"Joy" brings in more of the familiar Chance sounds, with trumpets and orchestration. Chance raps, "Why y'all always arguing and carrying on / Christmas was meant for sharing a bond." The contrast between Chance's relatively tame lyrics and Jeremih's sexual interpretation of Christmas images struggles to fit next to each other on the mixtape. But the arrangements of the songs and the samples hold it all together and bring in some guest verses by Hannibal Burress and others.
In "Chi Town Christmas" uses a different ode to a holiday classic, featuring the two rappers singing their first lines as the notes from "Carol of the Bells":
Best time to give
Chi-Town it is
Fam all around
Trying to run the town
Even "Stranger At The Table" opens with a surprising sound-cover of The Jackson Five's "I Want You Back." Chance and Jeremih's album is a musical collage of holiday songs and other favorites that add up to the same kind of relaxed, easy listening that other Christmas music is known for, but without all the literal bells and whistles.
Recently, we recommended Chance the Rapper as one artist who hadn't made a Christmas album, but should have. (We hoped he wouldn't, but had faith that if he did, it would succeed). So this surprise release is a funny coincidence in the run-up to December 25. It works, too, as background music for the Christmas celebration that doesn't want to play Bing and Frank and all the rest.
Listen to "Merry Christmas Lil' Mama" above or on SoundCloud.