Hip-Hop Evolution

Dec 20

HHE Transcripts: Kool Herc, Nelson George, Dan Charnas & More Reflect on The Impact of Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'"

We recently posted about Kurtis Blow's recollection of how "Christmas Rappin'" came to be, its impact was felt across the hip-hop community. Not only did Kurtis Blow become the first rapper signed to a major label, but "Christmas Rappin'" was one of the first records that sparked the commercialization of rap music. So, in the spirit of the holidays, we pulled a few perspectives on what "Christmas Rappin'" meant to some veterans. 

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Kool Moe Dee: "It’s not until Kurtis Blow does "Christmas Rappin’," which is on Mercury at the time, if I’m not mistaken, I was like, wait a minute, who picks who to do records and how is this even be done? At that moment I start really thinking that, okay, this could be an industry, this could be a business." 

Dan Charnas: "There was also a party promoter around the same time named Russell Simmons who managed to get one of his rapping DJs, Kurtis Blow, signed to Mercury Records, a major label, because of a Christmas record that he did. And that led to an album contract with Mercury. So Kurtis Blow, became the very first rap artist signed to a major label in late ‘79, early 1980. And his record, second record, ‘The Breaks,’ also went gold." 

Sal Abbatiello: "He’s good-looking, very good-looking guy. He was a family dude, you know. And before I met him, when he was a kid coming to the Fever, you know, he’s just a customer, so I didn’t know him at all. And then one day, he was on the VIP line. I was like, yo, who is this guy in the VIP line? Because I knew I saw him. I mean, oh, so that’s Kurtis Blow. I go yeah. Yeah, he goes, yeah, he’s got "Christmas Rappin’" out; it’s a big hit. I go, yeah, that’s his record? So now all the people who started making records started coming to the club. So Kurtis, after he made "Christmas Rappin’," which was fantastic, sold crazy records, he was the first artist to get signed to a major label. Why? Because of his look, he was... he spoke well. He went to college, you know. He was very well-mannered and spoke very respectful. So he was somebody that, you know, a major label would take a chance on." 

Lonzo Williams: "When I first heard "Christmas Rappin’," I thought that was a funky ass record. That was a very funky record. This guy, he’s not singing, what the hell is he doing? Now I’ve heard this type of lyrical delivery before, with James Brown, but it was never really a whole record, okay? And I thought it was cool. You know, then Sugar, then Sugarhill Gang came out, and it was even cooler, because now, people started memorizing these lyrics. And that’s kind of when I got the idea at some point in time, rap was going to be coming to the east, to the West Coast, I need to be ready."

Nelson George: "I’m roommates in Queens with Robert Ford, Rocky Ford, who had been my mentor, and is a guy who kind of first hooked up with Kurtis and Russell Simmons. And they, they had marketed... they took that 12 inch of "Christmas Rappin’" to everybody. I mean, both JB and Rocky had worked at Billboard, so they knew all the black executives, or had access to all the black A&R men. And ‘pfft’ no one wanted to sign it. No one would sign it. And they’d made a Christmas record, and it was getting closer and closer to Christmas, and if they didn’t sell this record at a certain time, they would’ve blown their money. You know, because you can’t put out a Christmas record in January. And this guy, John Staynes, Staynsis? Stannsis. This guy, he was kind of, as I remember, I don’t remember him well, well, but he was kind of a new wavy kind of, he was from that wing of the company, British. And he signed him to like a, basically, a 12 inch deal. I have a 7 inch, actually, single of it somewhere, of "Christmas Rappin’." And you know, so it was like, it said a lot about a) the black R&B people weren’t interested. That’s number one. Number two, which said something else that would become very important for hip-hop, that there was a white, kind of alternative group that would gravitate to hip-hop, and would become a big part of its support system and its audience, as it developed in the ‘80s. And this kind of signing sort of says... so it says both things. It says the negative backlash by the mainstream of R&B, black music executives and radio. And it was an alternative way to go. And there was this other audience that connected from the ghettos of the Bronx and Harlem to the, you know, to the ghettos of lower East side and the Bowery."

Bill Adler: "So Kurtis Blow comes along in 1979, his first record, was a Christmas record. Came out in time for Christmas in 1979. And he follows in the footsteps, in the immediate footsteps of The Sugarhill Gang, and the Fearless Four, and the Funky Four. There were only a couple of labels devoted to rap music at that time. And Kurt was the first solo artist to distinguish himself as a recording artist as well. And he was huge. You know, his first record, "Christmas Rappin’," was a hit, and it was funny because, I happened to be in Boston; I didn’t get until New York until 1980s. So all I know is here comes a Christmas record in 1979 and I’m listening to it, and they’re still playing it in February and March. You know, it’s for an occasion, the Christmas season, yet it was so potent, and the music itself was so new, that radio had to continue to play for months afterwards."