“Merry Christmas, motherfuckers,” is the opening line of Hip-Hop & R&B Christmas Gold, a 29-song compilation of hip-hop spins on Christmas songs you remember and R&B renditions you think you remember. Before the album’s 109 minutes are up, you’re treated to a club version of “Jingle Bells” by Freak Nasty (they’re best known for “Da Dip,” though their “Jingle Bells” sounds more like Quad City DJ’s “C’mon ‘N Ride It”); multiple references to macaroni and cheese; more Christmas puns than you’ve ever imagined (Baby Bash’s “Christmas Treez” alone contains both the titular pun and “Triple X-mas from Texas”); the Ying Yang Twins intoning like Cookie Monster to the tune of “Frère Jacques” (“Merry Christmas / Merry Christmas / Ho ho ho / Santa where my present? / Santa where my present? / I been good / I been good”); and a disarmingly G-rated, New Orleans bounce-style take on “Santa Baby” by “My Neck, My Back” artist Khia.
That ain’t the half of it. With a roster that also includes acts like Force M.D.’s, J-Kwon, and Camp Lo, Hip-Hop & R&B Christmas Gold feels less like a Christmas gathering and more like a family reunion that’s scraping at the recesses of your memory and testing the limits of your nostalgia. If you’ve been dying to hear what “Jingle Bells” sounds like in the hands of N2Deep, who last charted in 1992 with “Back to the Hotel,” well, this is the compilation for you and your singular experience on the planet. I bet you can’t believe this day has come!
I’m not quite sure what the rest of us are to do with this. Interspersed between the hip-hop tracks that merely invoke well-known Christmas songs are covers, but they’re more like covers of covers actually. Karyn White (“Superwoman,” “Romantic”) does “What Child Is This?” in the style of Vanessa White’s perennial favorite, while Blu Cantrell (“Hit ‘em Up Style”) redoes Mariah Carey’s housey “Joy to the World” without a choir or the Three Dog Night interpolation (which unlike the Christmas song, isn’t public domain). That change is there, Blu just kind of fakes her way through it. Rose Royce (“Car Wash,” “Wishing on a Star”) do the Temptations’ “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (“Hey Santa!”) but they don’t have the production budget to replicate the lush blast of Motown. Much of the production here is Coby to the originals’ Sony.
And yet, there’s a wider range of discourse about Christmas on Hip-Hop & R&B Christmas Gold than on any Christmas album I’ve ever heard. The sentiment regarding the holiday ranges from ecstatic (Az Yet’s acapella arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard On High” is so ornate it’s got excelsis in excess) to nihilistic (“Fuck Christmas, fuck all holidays,” goes Onyx’s “Jingle Bells, Shotgun Shells”). Multiple songs are about negotiating poverty with this season consumerist gratification. Many are as bleak as Onyx’s take, but leave it to Afroman (“Because I Got High”) to provide the positive spin in “Christmas Time”: “If you don’t have no money, here’s some gifts you can give that are sweeter than honey: give the gift of love, spend some precious time, sing some Christmas carols, even bust a rhyme.” And then there’s a dubstep breakdown.
It’s a weird comp that frequently goes for the nu-classic vibe of TLC’s “Sleigh Ride” or Boyz II Men’s “Let It Snow” or Run D.M.C.’s “Christmas in Hollis,” but never quite manages such heights. The stuff on Hip-Hop & R&B Christmas Gold is to its inspirations and source material what a mall Santa is to actual Santa, what taping a branch on your dog’s head is to owning a pet reindeer. Listening to this in sequence for almost two hours (at the gym, no less) reminded me of working retail. Everyone hustles extra hard this time of year, I guess.