On the 1st Day Of Christmas… “Christmas On Death Row” (album review)

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Hip hop and Christmas aren’t strangers. Run DMC’sChristmas in Hollis” even made the cut for the holiday compilation album A Very Special Christmas. Rapper Cee Lo Green dropped a seasonal disc, Cee Lo Green’s Magical Moment. DMC kept their track family friendly, and Cee Lo opted for a soulful take. Enter Christmas On Death Row. No, this isn’t an amalgamation of criminals bursting into joyous carols. Rather, Death Row in the title refers to the well-established rap record label which features notable artists such as West Coast legend Snoop Dogg.

Christmas On Death Row features original holiday tunes by a collection of the unlikeliest of folks. Snoop Dogg and the late Nate Dogg spit a West Coast Xmas ditty, “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto.” The funky bassline sets the tone for the entire album. Nate Dogg’s baritone hook actually could fit on a mainstream track, but the references to weed which proceed from (surprise, surprise) Snoop remove any illusions that this is a traditional holiday album. Directly following the comedic “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” is Danny Boy’s poignant “The Christmas Song.” I guess the producers deemed Snoop’s nasally drawl too sacrilegious for such a revered holiday favorite. Running down the tracklist, the ratio of classic Christmas hits and original hip hop tracks is pretty even.

While recognizable seasonal songs by Death Row crooners are enjoyable, the true standouts and reasons to bump Christmas On Death Row are the ghetto inspired tracks. They’re unique and manage to deliver seemingly honest messages. The Dogg Pound roc the mic on “I Wish,” with a chorus of “I wish I had love.” Verses present traditionally rap content, such as shout outs to recently deceased homies and admittances of dopage. Danny Boy reappears on “Peaceful Christmas,” and Michel’le provides an emotive “Silver Bells.” Thankfully, after these covers “Christmas in the Ghetto” steers the album back towards the holiday-themed Chronic. Again, the eggnog and indo play prominent themes, and hearing gangstafied Christmas tunes pleasantly mixes up the festivities. If you’re into alternate leaves of green, you’ll likely appreciate this West Coast rap take on Christmas.

As previously mentioned, the traditional tracks, though well done, feel like filler. They’re worth listening to, but everyone’s heard these songs more times than they’d like to recall. That’s not to say that the iterations found on Christmas On Death Row pale in comparison to their urban counterparts. Nate Dogg lends much appreciated appearances on several tracks. Much like Cee Lo Green, his booming voice feels natural rapping or spitting seasonal lyrics. He can hang with the funkiest of hip hop beats and schmooze with slowed down, expressive instrumental.

Christmas On Death Row offers an entertaining and unusual West Coast funk-soul-holiday fusion. Though the combination may sound incompatible, it works surprisingly well just like the sweet-salty M&M trail mixes. If you’re a hip hop head, definitely add this to the collection, though be mindful of tracks to skip if you’re among a more conservative crowd.

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On the 8th Day of Christmas… “Afroman’s A Colt 45 Christmas” (Review)

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You’ve probably heard of Afroman, but I’ll wager you haven’t been exposed to his holiday album, A Colt 45 Christmas. Chances are you may be familiar with his hilarious stoner tales “Because I Got High” and “Crazy Rap” (contrary to what your friends tell you, the track is NOT named “Colt 45”). As such, you may be so inclined to believe that this is a fictitious album, as Afroman is the last artist who’d be expected to kick it Christmas style. But this is all too real, and much funnier than anyone wants to confess.

A Colt 45 Christmas belongs to the category of albums you don’t want to admit enjoying, but can’t help bursting into fits of uncontrollable laughter. While “Colt 45” in the title may initially be misleading, keep in mind Afroman refers to malt liquor, not a firearm. If this further confuses you, just look at the track list. ‘fro initiates the festivities with “Deck My Balls.” As the title suggests, the song is set to “Deck the Halls.” It’s a holiday melody full of drinking, weed, and of course sex. The entire disc consists of these parodies, all of which are vile but tear-jerking laughter inducing.

Afroman raps primarily about weed and alcohol, and judging from the way he completely trails off in “The 12 J’s of Christmas,” he very well may have recorded the album under many influences. Unlike the holiday albums I’ve reviewed thus far, A Colt 45 Christmas is not suitable for a family get together. Unless, of course, you’re like me and relish in the prospect of keeping relatives at bay. At the beginning of “Afroman is Coming to Town,” Afroman chronicles smacking your grandma’s dentures out. He proceeds to discuss a certain sexual favor from said grandmother which I will not explain. Undoubtedly she was better off being run over by a reindeer.

All 11 tracks are laugh out loud funny, though you wouldn’t want to listen with anyone else. Easily offended readers may want to pass this indescribably strange album. Afroman brings his off-beat humor to the Christmas season in a way only Afroman could pull off. While the lyrics aren’t always the most appropriate, they’re undeniably creative, and the instrumentals are quite well produced and underrated. Having seen Afro in concert several times, I can attest to his proficiency on the guitar. Should you cop A Colt 45 Christmas? If you can stomach the raunchy, sure to insult lyrics, then yes. Just don’t pop this in the family stereo.

On the 10th Day of Christmas… “Silver Bells of Christmas” — Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney (Review)

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A few years ago while ambling about the aisles of Big Lots I uncovered Silver Bells of Christmas in a bargain bin of CDs. Noticing the album was a Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney collaboration at the traditional Big Lots low price, I picked up a copy. If you’ve seen the classic holiday film “White Christmas,” you’ll realize this isn’t the first Crosby/Clooney tag team.

Upon first listen I was struck by the raw audio quality. As a vinyl fan, I actually appreciated the rough pops and hisses. Granted, my Roxio Easy LP to MP3 kit delivers much richer vinyl transfers, but then again Silver Bells of Christmas was a dollar. My second reaction was surprise. Although the cover art advertises “With Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney,” there’s only one song featuring the two musicians together. Interestingly, it is the title and opening track “Silver Bells.” Of the remaining nine songs, six are Bing solos leaving Rosemary only three.

What sets Silver Bells of Christmas apart from other Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney releases is the raw audio. Complete with the flaws of a rough transfer, this CD mimics an old-timey feel. As soon as you push play you’ll be transported in front of a wood-paneled gramophone. Sure, you might have other iterations of these songs, but the versions found on this release, particularly the initial song, are worth the price of the disc alone. Undoubtedly the greatest track is “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bing delivers a jazzy rendition complete with a slam-bam finish as the crooner would say. He truly goes to town, hollering: “whoa Rudolph, what a shiner/brightens up the whole darn sky/whoa Rudolph, looks like a miner, prancing across the sky.” Then he proceeds to drop a dose of scat, ending with “whoa diddy, abadoodeeda, abadoodoodadeedee (rough approximation).” After listening to this, it should come as no shock that ol’ Bing partook of the green stuff. And no, I’m not referring to Christmas trees…

From the Amazon store, it seems like you can cop this album at a Big Lots price online. Audiophiles might want to skip out, but if you aren’t bothered by the tinny quality, this is a great addition to the Christmas collection. You can’t go wrong with the B-sides of Bing and Rosemary. Heck, it’s worth the money just to hear Bing lackadaisically scatting his way through “Rudolph.” Maybe he should have voiced the Claymation snowman rather than Burl Ives…