Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
The compilation is packed with hip-hop heavyweights like Kanye West, Pusha T, Talib Kweli and Wiz Khalifa. Also making appearances are the remainder of the Wu-Tang Clan, R&B singers Corinne Bailey Rae and Mable John, and indie rock band The Black Keys.
First things first: You can’t really go wrong with Wu-Tang, whether it’s a whole album by the crew or just one that has their fingerprints all over it. This soundtrack leans more toward the latter; while all Wu members make at least one appearance, there is room for other artists to shine as well.
The album flows well from start to finish, with a finely constructed mix of hip-hop and other genres. Many of the songs have that dark, grimy Wu feel, but others are a bit more smooth and soulful.
RZA and The Black Keys come together for a great opening track, “The Baddest Man Alive.” RZA previously worked with the band on its hip-hop and rock collaboration album, Blakroc, and it seems they’ve developed some musical chemistry. RZA’s deep and raspy voice fits perfectly over the band’s instrumentation. Add a hook from Dan Auerbach and you’ve got a great song.
Some of the better songs include “White Dress” and “Tick Tock.” The former is a Kanye solo effort with a soulful beat and great lyrics from the Chicago MC. The latter features Pusha T, Joell Ortiz, Danny Brown and Raekwon. These talented rappers all have different styles, but they’re blended perfectly on this unforgettable collaboration.
Another great track is Method Man, Freddie Gibbs and StreetLife’s “Built for This,” which has a classic gangsta-rap feel, with the three rappers spitting ruthless verses over a hard-hitting beat.
Iron Fists’ R&B efforts, two of which come from the aforementioned singers, are pretty solid as well. While they might seem out of place on a hip-hop-heavy album, in reality, they provide a nice break from its dark and grimy orientation.
It’s always refreshing to see a mix of genres, and it’s also great to see a mix of new-school and old-school rappers. RZA lined up a solid supporting cast for this soundtrack, and with the help of producers like Frank Dukes, did a great job on the project’s production as well.
Overall, this disc is definitely worth a listen, and the predominately dark feel seems a good fit for the upcoming film. —Ryan Querbach