Everyone loves the Christmas Holidays, even rappers! And whether it’s ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!’ by Frank Sinatra or ‘All I Want For Christmas’ by Mariah Carey, there is a lot of money to be made by providing a festive soundtrack for everyone’s favourite holiday. So, it is no surprise that in 1987, Queens trio Run-DMC took advantage of this by making a celebratory song of their own.
Run-DMC had a seismic impact on music and were integral in hip hop’s continuous rise throughout the 1980s. Run-DMC were the first act fro the genre to have a Grammy-nominated album and were (along with others) effectively responsible for crossing hip-hop into the mainstream.
We could talk about Run-DMC’s greatness for days. However, in this article, we’re going behind the mic to take a deeper look at one of the first commercially successful hip hop Christmas songs ever made, ‘Christmas In Hollis’. Going behind the mic, we’ll look at its inception, how and where it was made, and try to highlight the multitude of people integral to creation.
‘Christmas In Hollis’ was produced by the legendary Rick Rubin with contributions from the trio themselves. Rubin grew to become very close to Run-DMC and, alongside the group’s manager Russell Simmons, helped co-found Def Jam. Rubin has executively produced many of the genre’s best albums. This includes the likes of Jay-Z’s The Black Album, LL Cool J’s Radio and others.
Produced by Rick Rubin, ‘Christmas In Hollis’ was recorded in Chung King Studios, Run-DMC’s go-to studio in New York City. However, they only recorded the track after some convincing. When initially approached by their publicist, Bill Adler, to record a Christmas track, the trio were utterly adamant in their refusal.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels even admitted in a 2013 interview with The AV Club that initially, the trio concurred and told Adler, “Nope. We’re not doing it.” McDaniels explained that initially, the trio did not want to lose their authenticity, recalling, “We were totally against anything that’s going to be fake.”
Furthermore, the trio were initially against it because they did not want to overshadow or replace what they believed was the perfect hip hop Christmas song, Kurtis Blow’s ‘Christmas Rappin’. However, although it was popular among African-Americans, it has not exactly gained the mainstream success you’d imagine.
The trio only ended up doing it because of Rick Rubin and Jam Master Jay’s ingenious flip of another song. ‘Christmas In Hollis’ samples another Christmas song, this track being Clarence Carter’s ‘Back Door Santa’. Initially released in 1968, Rubin and Jay created such an infectious beat through their ingenious use of the 1968 track that Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons couldn’t resist.
The track was not released on a Run-DMC project but was released on an exclusive Christmas compilation album curated by Interscope’s very own Jimmy Iovine. The compilation project A Very Special Christmas featured the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Pretenders, Madonna, and U2. However, all of the other acts performed covers, with ‘Christmas In Hollis’ being the only original track on the compilation.
A hidden gem that not many know, the music video, directed by Michael Holman, even features a guest cameo from group member DMC’s mother. Bringing the track to the present and showcasing it again, the track has featured in several modern-day Christmas films, including The Grinch (2018) and Holiday Rush (2019).
Below is the music video for the legendary 1987 track, ‘Christmas In Hollis’ by Run-DMC.