I remember hearing Gang Starr for the first time. I was in my friend’s garage, the one at his mom’s house in South Central L.A. that he’d converted into a hangout spot, which was the fashion at the time. The neighborhood dogs were barking pointlessly in all the yards and the LAPD helicopters chop-chop-chopped the sky, ever present. It was a warm day, as I recall, and the sound coming out of the garage was damn smooth. I liked the raspy voice of the MC. He was rapping about the streets, which was also the fashion. He wasn’t just bragging, rhyming about how hard he and his crew were. But he wasn’t wagging a finger in condemnation, either. There was a balance to the song, something real from the standpoint of someone who knows. Like something Johnny Cash would have understood.

Christmas music has never ranked highly among music aficionados. It exists, but no one likes to think about it much. Still, to create Christmas music is to belong in America. I don’t think this is a religious phenomenon. It is about homely feelings, about playing at tradition in a land that hasn’t any real ones. Americans imported their traditions from other lands and then went on to neglect them generally. Christmas is our pathetic, if charming, attempt at compensation.

The big question no one was asking in the 1980s was whether rap music could ever go that far. Was rap American enough to accomplish the Christmas song? When you do the Christmas song you are solid, you are in the club. Moreover, you are in the club to stay. A successful Christmas song will make it into a radio-cum-internet rotation that is beyond the vicissitudes of time. Think of “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. No one… More…