There are all too few tunes that stand out in the vast and frosty landscape of Yule-themed songs, but “Christmas Rappin’ ” is one. It also narrowly missed beating “Rapper’s Delight” as the first widely distributed rap record.
Billboard writers Robert “Rocky” Ford and J. B. Moore were two of the first journalists to investigate the incipient hip-hop culture of the late ’70s. By the summer of 1979, they were convinced that rap was going to be the next big thing and decided to pool their resources and commit to wax a party routine like they’d heard from MCs like Hollywood and Eddie Cheba.
For the hook of their song, Ford decided to follow the lead of one of his mentors at Billboard, Mickey Addy, and try a Christmas record. Addy was a Tin Pan Alley old-timer who wrote “There’s No Christmas Like a Home Christmas”—no “Winter Wonderland” but, after it was recorded by Perry Como, a dependable source of royalty income. Moore came up with a set of verses, a spoof of ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ and booked time at Big Apple Studio.
Their choice of rapper was a Community College of New York student named Kurtis Walker, an up-and-coming MC whose stage name paid tribute to a popular disco-era party favor. Kurtis ably handled Moore’s novelty rap, and for the second half of the eight-minute cut, ran through his own routines. The backing track, put together by Queens groove giants Denzil Miller and Larry Smith, was a rippling twist on the Chic “Good Times” meme. In spite of the blatant appeal of the track, over twenty labels passed on it before Mercury picked it up, and thereby made Kurtis Blow the first major-label rap artist.
But “Christmas Rappin’ ” didn’t end up being the first major rap record. Two months before it was released, Sylvia Robinson debuted her new Sugar Hill label with a “Good Times”–based rap of her own.