By Perry Busby
Christmas came with a new funky beat back in 1979 when Kurtis Blow released the rap classic, Christmas Rappin’. The chart-topping single became an instant sensation, selling more than 400,000 copies. Blow, nee Kurtis Walker, was twenty years old when Mercury signed him to the label, making him the first rap artist to sign with a major label.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 12-inch single’s release. I had a chance to sit down with the rap legend recently and ask him about those early days.
WG: How did you come up with the idea to use Christmas as the backdrop for your debut release?
KB: Since rap was new, in terms of the recording industry, I thought it would be best to rap about something everyone could relate to. For me, that is Christmas. It’s the time of year where people are full of joy and love and everyone is singing and laughing. No matter how you’re feeling, there’s always that one Christmas song that makes you feel better.
WG: Did you think it would become a Christmas classic?
KB: Honestly, I am both humbled and amazed to hear it referred to as a classic. When I think about the fact that I am in someone’s playlist with the likes of Nat King Cole, Donnie Hathaway and the Temptations, that blows me away. (Laughter)
WG: In the 40 years since your debut, Hip Hop is now considered mainstream and its influence can be felt from sports to the church. Much of that success can be attributed to you. Was this your goal from the beginning?
KB: First, and foremost, I give God all the praise and glory for allowing me to be a vessel of encouragement and uplift in the lives of so many young people who passionately love this thing called Hip Hop. When I signed with Mercury, I was in the process of receiving my degree in Communications at CCNY. The Communications department at CCNY is one of the best in the country. I knew Hip-Hop was a powerful communication tool, but at CCNY I discovered how to apply it on other media platforms.
Reader’s Note: Kurtis Blow has released 15 albums, the first rapper to receive a gold record (“The Breaks”), first rapper to star in a national commercial (Sprite), released the first rap video (“Basketball”), produced “King Holiday” a collaboration project to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. He also acted in the movie Krush Groove and produced the Netflix original series The Get Down.
WG: After 40 years you’re still finding new ways to bring Hip Hop into Christmas, this time with The Hip Hop Nutcracker. How did you get involved with the project?
KB: A mutual friend of mine and Jennifer Weber, director and choreographer of The Hip Hop Nutcracker, came to me after a concert in LA and told me about this fabulous performance he’d seen. He told me it was a remake of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and it had been revamped with a Hip Hop format. From the moment I saw the young break dancers perform, I was hooked. (He laughs) Their energy and performance is phenomenal. And, when you add the violinist, it just takes it to another level.
As the MC, I get to pump up the crowd and guide them through Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince’s dream adventure. When I look out in the audience and see grandparents, parents and children, all singing and dancing together, that is truly a blessing from God.
The Hip Hop Nutcracker, featuring Kurtis Blow as Special Guest MC, appears Sunday, December 8, 2019, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Show times are 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For more information go to https://browardcenter.org.