Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Frohe Weihnachten," from Kurtis Blow!

When I wrote that article on "Christmas Rappin'" for HiLoBrow, and then backed that up with an extensive blog post talking about the record's history and dualistic format, you probably figured I'd told you all there is to know about Kurtis Blow's holiday classic. But no, there's more - a whole record more!  Yes, the man himself returned came back fifteen years later to update the song, now on Mascotte Music*. Ladies, gentlemen.... and lowlifes, it's "Christmas Rappin' '95!"

Yes, this is another 12" that Blow released in his German period, and this particular track is produced by Claude Schmidt and Christian Schneider. But it's worth pointing out right at the start that this isn't just some cheap, foreign remix of an old school hit scrapped together with a few old masters overseas. Kurtis Blow is here himself, providing all new vocals over this all new instrumental.

Now, they call this "'95" because it came out in 1995, but while they did update the old disco rap tune for slightly more modern times, it doesn't really sound like anything that would've come out in 1995.  Except for slightly more modern production style elements in the production, it sounds more like "Christmas Rappin' '85." It does have a very high BPM (surely the European influence), but otherwise it's still done with a lot of live instrumentation, which is definitely a good thing, because it doesn't betray the feel of the original at all. It's like a just a slightly newer disco band, fast and funky. It's got a piano solo right where the last one was, but it's a totally new one. There's new background vocals - something you may remember me highlighting as being pretty important to the song in my Herc Your Enthusiasm piece - it sounds like a much bigger crowd; it fits the new track. They almost sound too professional, like maybe they've been created by a sound studio; except later in the song he leads them in a shout and call response saying things like (just as in the original) "mucho macho," which could only have been brought to wax by Kurtis Blow.

And yeah, he does all of the original raps, the full song, but it's not the old acapella. He raps quicker for the new track; but you can tell they haven't just sped up his old vocals because he puts new stylizations on his lines (though he still pronounces "stereo" as "stere-ooh"), giving this some version some added flavor. But most exciting of all, since he's rapping faster, he gets to the end of the song quicker. So he makes up for that... by kicking an all new verse at the end! It's actually a fairly impressive showcase of skills, too; a fast rap with a lot of multiple short syllable rhymes. He's not saying much beyond "amateurs fear me just like adversaries" and such, but he comes off really well. He definitely shows the capability to pull off a more advanced style than he displayed on all his classics. Usually, you think of Kurtis Blow as having one of the most dated, almost silly flows by later standards; but apparently he could've held his own with the 90s generation of MCs just fine.

This 12" single presents us with three versions of the "Christmas Rappin' '95:" a concise three and a half minute edit, a longer six minute edit, and the complete nine and a half minute version. Really, there's no reason to mess the shorter edits on side A unless you're pressed for time; the full version is definitely the definitive version, not one of those drawn out "extended" mixes where they just let the beat ride for two minutes at a stretch.

This seems to have been completely overlooked - and somewhat understandably. A 1990s Kurtis Blow records, only released overseas, remaking an already beloved hit? You can't replace the original in peoples' hearts, right? Well, no; and I'm not suggesting you should replace the copy of "Rappin' Blow" in your crates for this... but this is a surprisingly good, catchy and genuinely enjoyable alternative. It's almost a waste that he put this much good music into this record, since it was never going to get a sliver of the recognition it deserved. He probably should've put that energy into an all-new record. But his mistake is no reason for us to miss out on it now. Track this one down and spin it one of these holidays when you find that the original is feeling, as Blow first put it, "played out."

*Mascotte Music is actually a French label, but Kurtis is working with the same German producers who made "Freak Rock 'Till the Break of Dawn" with him; and this was presumably also recorded in Germany.

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