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Courtesy of Chance The Rapper & Jeremih

December 23, 2016

TEST SPIN: Chance The Rapper & Jeremih — Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama

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A holiday wishlist in 2016 is a strange concept, and I’ve found mine filled mostly with things that I don’t want. In no particular order: I don’t want any more surprise election outcomes, I don’t want music and film icons to continue dying in such quick succession and I don’t want to walk into another store that’s playing Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I should have known that what I really wanted — what we all wanted — was a Christmas mixtape from Chance The Rapper and Jeremih.

The surprise project arrives as a much-needed dose of relief, in particular for those faithful to the Church of Kanye West left rudderless by their leader’s newfound bromance. Last holiday season, I wrote a column on the sacred tradition of Christmas-themed rap songs, a small but undeniable canon that originated with Run-DMC’s classic “Christmas in Hollis” (which, not coincidentally, Chance parodied on last week’s SNL). In one fell swoop, Chance and Jeremih have nearly doubled the size of that canon, contributing nine original songs in a project more cohesive than it has any right to be. It’s the best Christmas gift since Gucci Mane’s “St. Brick Intro.”

Holiday cheer is a natural extension of Chance’s buoyant demeanor, and on most of these songs you can hear the real-life Christmas elf smiling through the microphone. Christmas puns (“sleigh” becomes “slay”) and references to holiday standards (“We could have a silent night”) abound, but the project’s improvisational feel renders the lyrics secondary. The most focused verse, unsurprisingly, comes from Noname on “The Tragedy,” a highlight that also serves as the tape’s only morose track.

If Chance is a great rapper who also happens to sing well, then Jeremih is the exact opposite, approaching his verses with an ear finely tuned to cadence and wordplay. Chance even lifts some of his flows wholesale, occasionally opting to play second fiddle in a year that’s rarely seen him cede the spotlight. If he isn’t the Second Coming, then Jeremih makes his case as a capable heir to the King of Pop, somehow pulling off an interpolation of “I Want You Back” (“Stranger at the Table”). It’s a shame this guy’s career started with “Birthday Sex.”

While the bulk of the mixtape revels in glad tidings and gospel (it’s the most faith-based rap project since Coloring Book), “I Shoulda Left You” is its cathartic centerpiece. The two vocalists take turns addressing the haters, condemning them to an eternity spent in 2016 while leaving just enough room for a Christmas wish: “Please can we get back Prince?”
Merry Christmas, Lil’ Mama inevitably feels like it was recorded over a short period of time, but it’s a damn good soundtrack for whatever holiday gatherings you’ve got left. If nothing else, it features Hannibal Buress wailing into Autotune about “Jesus’ birthday,” and telling the sound engineer to “put them Travis Scott effects on my shit.” That has to count for something.

Chris Stanton is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at cms459@cornell.edu.