They’re all terrible. In fact, a shocking number of well-known artists have put out Christmas EPs or even full-length albums. Almost all of them seem half-assed, mostly made up of covers of the famous seasonal hits you already know, dashed off in an hour or two.
With one exception: Snoop Dogg.
Christmas on Death Row, a 1996 compilation of Christmas songs by artists on the Death Row label at the time, follows the typical pattern. Most of the tunes are mediocre covers. Except for the first track, and sole single off the album: “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto.” This track is so good I’d listen to it in the summer, but it’s also soulful enough for the holiday season. Written and produced by Snoop himself, the song features Daz Dillinger, Nate Dogg, Tray Deee, and Bad Azz.
“Tell me, tell me, where do the homies and bums got to sleep? Where do hungry and the needy-greedy’s got to eat?” Snoop asks. He reminisces about being a kid and growing up poor—and notes how capitalist society has convinced us we all “need” to spend tons of money to be happy on Christmas. “They got us brainwashed dumb,” Snoop raps. “And when you find, it ain’t no Santa, Christmas still mean a lot Cause it’s the time to get together and give all you got.” Later in the song, he raps about helping out at the local church and handing out turkeys to those in need.
Traditional Christmas songs recall an idealized past, and are an essential contributor to the veneer that slides over Americans’ eyes and ears every December, compelling them to hand over their bank accounts to corporations. “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto” speaks to people living in the real world, and asks them to recognize the things that truly matter.
Even better: Snoop’s tune is a tribute to James Brown’s song of the same name, which is equally (or perhaps even more) fantastic and forward-looking—and equally neglected by Spotify users and radio station DJs.
Why make time to deconstruct the problematic lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”? Does Mariah Carey’s saccharine “All I Want For Christmas is You” really need a 483rd play today? “White Christmas” will shortly be rendered moot by climate change, and the backward-looking “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” is beginning to sound a lot like a MAGA anthem.
Instead, try starting a playlist with either version of “Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto,” two unacknowledged classics worthy of the Christmas canon.