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Tag Archives: Hip-hop

Spat over Bernie Sanders rally announced as catastrophe to wake people up, as new track is launched featuring both rappers

Chuck D has said that Flavor Flav is still a member of Public Enemy, and his recent firing from the group was a satirical hoax.

On 1 March, Chuck D said the group would be moving forward without Flavor Flav, his colourful sideman since the inception of the political hip-hop group in the mid-1980s, adding: We thank him for his years of service and wish him well. He subsequently claimed he had been sued by Flav which Flav denied on Twitter and that Flav had been suspended from the group since 2016, complaining that he always chose to party over work. He also added that Flav better find rehab, and accused him of being motivated solely by money.

The spat seemed to have been triggered by Flav not performing at a Bernie Sanders rally, with Flav stating via lawyers that he had not endorsed any political candidate in this election cycle, and that Chuck D was not allowed to use Public Enemys image to endorse a candidate: While Chuck is certainly free to express his political view as he sees fit his voice alone does not speak for Public Enemy.

Flav himself tweeted: You wanna destroy something weve built over 35 years over politics? Ive been clean for 10 years & there is no PE w/o Flavor Flav. Im worried about you Chuck, you can divide people or bring people together, yall know what side Im on.

But Chuck D has now described the entire episode as a hoax: Does it take doing crazy sht [sic] or catastrophe to wake people up? Obviously so, even when paying attention is the cheapest price to pay, he wrote on his website.

He continued: I had watched Orson Welles War of the Worlds from 1938 when he pulled the wool over the publics eyes as they put 100% belief in the technology of radio. Most people followed like a Pavlovic dog just like they do now Hearing the confused mush of political talk while under the bowels of Trumpotus made me use a presidential stage as my platform. Out of this storm came a plan between Flav and me to remind people that whats important should have as much, if not more, value than just whats popular. Thus came the HOAX, our War of the Worlds.

Chuck D (@MrChuckD)

Important > popular…. Fcuk all else

April 1, 2020

He added: Flav doesnt do benefits and stays away from political events we been cool and always agreed about that. He detailed the difference between Public Enemy a group featuring him and Flav with Enemy Radio, an auxiliary unit that features all the members except Flav, and which performed at the Bernie Sanders rally, in Los Angeles on 1 March.

The announcement came alongside a new single, billed as Enemy Radio featuring Public Enemy, that reunites Chuck D and Flavor Flav on a track. Food Is a Machine Gun castigates the US food industry, inspired by Kristin Lawlesss book Formerly Known As Food. The lyrics attack the US Food and Drug Administration, sugar intake, and the use of pesticides and chemicals in food production. An Enemy Radio album, Loud Is Not Enough, was also announced.

In a 70-minute interview with Tim Einenkel, Chuck D elaborated further about the situation. He said he wanted to help bring [Flavs] stock up, as negative stories were dominating over positive ones: I didnt like that he was getting hammered in the media.

He admitted there had been a cease and desist letter from Flavs lawyers, after the Sanders concert was billed as Public Enemy Radio rather than Enemy Radio. I know that hit a sore spot [with Flav] … and then came the cease and desist letter, and I counteracted … The bottom line was a plan to turn this into a teachable moment.

He argued that only negative news stories get traction The news you read about hip-hop is about another dead rapper and that this was proved by the news of him firing Flav, that actually proves the fact the gadgets are ruling the game.

Flavor Flav has not commented on the announcement or the interview.

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Oprahs Bank Account becomes Canadian rappers 208th US Hot 100 hit, beating the record set by the cast of Glee

Canadian rapper Drake now has more US chart hits than any other artist in history, scoring his 208th Billboard Hot 100 entry this week.

The rapper broke the record, previously set by the cast of the TV show Glee, with the track Oprahs Bank Account by Lil Yachty and DaBaby, which he guests on. It reached No 85 off the back of 10.5m streams. He is also at No 3 in the chart with Life Is Good, a track with Future, and at No 46 on Chris Browns song No Guidance.

With a cross-generational, cross-demographic appeal thanks to a blend of rap, pop and R&B, Drake has become the worlds top rapper. Spotify named him the most streamed artist of the last decade, with 28bn global streams.

His first US chart entry was Best I Ever Had, which debuted at No 92 in May 2009, eventually rising to No 2. His 207 chart placements since have been bulked out by frequent guest spots on tracks by artists including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott, as well as his solo hits. He has scored seven US No 1 singles, while all five of his studio albums and three of his mixtapes have reached No 1 on the US album chart.

Watch the video for Oprahs Bank Account

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Acting on behalf of 152 inmates, the rapper and mogul argues prisoners constitutional rights are being violated

Jay-Z has filed a civil lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections on behalf of 152 inmates at a state prison, alleging barbaric conditions.

Parchman prison is accused of abhorrent conditions, abuse and constant violence, inadequate health care and mental health care, and overuse of isolation the people confined at Parchman live a miserable and hopeless existence confronted daily by imminent risk of substantial harm in violation of their rights under the US Constitution.

Among the problems detailed by the lawsuit and an accompanying documentary film made by Jay-Zs company Roc Nation are a lack of staffing that has allowed prisoner violence to flourish, sewage-filled cells, contaminated food and water, and a lack of adequate healthcare. Nine inmates have died at the prison so far in 2020.

The suit calls for the Department of Corrections to eliminate health and safety risks within 90 days. The department wouldnt comment on the suit, but has previously said that violence is gang-related rather than linked to staffing issues.

It is the second lawsuit brought against the prison by Jay-Z, in tandem with fellow rapper Yo Gotti the pair filed a suit on behalf of 29 other inmates in January.

Jay-Z has frequently involved himself in African American civil rights cases using his philanthropy arm Team Roc, including those of other figures from the rap world. He intervened over 21 Savages detainment by immigration officials, and the sentencing of Meek Mill following a probation violation, saying: Whats happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day.

He has also reportedly bailed out protesters in Baltimore and Ferguson who were detained during anti-police brutality demonstrations, and has taken on dozens of other cases with civil rights lawyer Alex Spiro.

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From horrorcore fantasies to soul-searching nightmares, here are the greatest moments from the Detroit rappers tumultuous career

30. Rap God (2013)

Eminem illustrates all the cadences he has mastered over the years, channelling flows from influences such as Tech N9ne and Big Pun like an exorcist summoning spirits, and moving through an impressive 1,560 words in just six minutes. Some critics have dismissed this as empty rappity rap, but the fact a 41-year-old still cared this much about his craft deserves our respect.

29. Same Song & Dance (2009)

Although Marshall Mathers has repeatedly trashed 2009s Relapse in interviews, the record, which is a nightmarish ode to horrorcore rap, has aged well particularly this dread-inducing tale of a stalker who lynches Lindsay Lohan. Critics hated the creepy accent, which sounds like the bastard child of Borat and the Simpsons Groundskeeper Willie, but by embodying such a ludicrous pastiche of a serial killer, Em enjoyed a much-needed dose of escapism at a time where his private life was starting to unravel.

28. The Ringer (2018)

Just like Jay-Zs similarly misguided DOA (Death of Autotune), The Ringer is a track from a veteran unhappy with the direction rap is headed. Mocking the supposed cliches of mumble rap, Em is essentially an angry old man shouting at a (Sound)cloud. But after years of disappointing albums plagued with turgid stadium pop, it was just exciting to hear Eminem sound so fired up again he makes for a very convincing Victor Meldrew.

27. Dont Front (2013)

On this overlooked B-side, Eminem tears through the thunderous boom-bap of Black Moons classic street-corner drama, I Got Cha Opin. This is that rare museum exhibit that doesnt bore you to tears, with Em giving his fans a nostalgic serotonin boost after a duo of truly awful albums: Recovery, and The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

26. Its OK (1996)

Much of Eminems forgotten 1996 debut, Infinite, is spent trying to imitate the multi-syllabic flow of Kool G Rap over beats that sound like cheap rip-offs from Nass Illmatic. But the playful nocturnal funk of Its OK, which is littered with enthusiastic ad-libs from best friend Proof, results in the records most inspired rapping, as an introspective Em uncharacteristically discusses finding God.

25. Till I Collapse (2002)

This shot of cathartic rage is still wildly inspiring, even if its appearance on every video game trailer sponsored by Mountain Dew might have diluted its impact a little. It was also fun to hear Nate Dogg sounding so emo and getting a chance to croon about something other than being a horny stoner.

24. Stay Wide Awake (2009)

With synths that appear to scream out in pain, this is one of Dr Dres weirdest concoctions. The songwriting may be the byproduct of a recluse spending his days writing raps amid Jeffrey Dahmer YouTube documentary binges, but Eminem mostly succeeds in trying to replicate the unhinged tone of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and thats impressive. Tyler, the Creator said this had the best flow ever.

23. Drug Ballad (2000)

On Drug Ballad, Eminem is high as a kite, resiliently throwing jabs from beyond the clouds and refusing to come back down. The funky thrusts of bass replicate the energy of a horny, if incredibly tacky, spring-break party in the nu-metal era. Its a window into a simpler, trashier time, where sniffing glue while playing with a Rubiks Cube was somehow considered an attractive personality trait.

22. Brain Damage (1999)

Turning his childhood traumas into whimsical entertainment, Eminem transitions from being bullied into being the bully, and his nutty turn of phrase and dark recollections of a Detroit high school where even the principal joins in with the beatings are frequently hilarious. Few artists can find light in such a dark setting and this song, released just a few months before the Columbine massacre, presciently hints at American schools dangerously abandoning their outcasts.

Eminem in concert in 2001. Photograph: Nicky J Sims/Redferns

21. Role Model (1999)

With jokes about the alleged OJ murders and Lauryn Hills mythical hatred of white men, this is Eminem starting to realise his power as a cultural provocateur. The fact he bluntly erases his predecessor (I saw Vanilla Ice and ripped out his blonde dreads) also feels significant, with the Detroit native reshaping the idea of the ascendant white rapper.

20. Without Me (2002)

With a mischievous beat that sounds as if it was crafted by Dr Dre rhythmically squeezing a bunch of clowns noses, this is a continuation of the silly pop theatrics of The Real Slim Shady and My Name Is. When Eminem claimed rap would be empty without him around, it was hard to disagree.

19. Cleanin Out My Closet (2002)

A bit like watching a white trash family drama unravel on the Jerry Springer show, this intensely autobiographical song works because Eminem isnt afraid to operate from a place of weakness. Em also shares his mission statement as an artist, rapping: Give em hell for as long as Im breathing.

18. Scary Movies (1999)

Eminem has always made an artform out of killing people and his absurdist pledge to Throw you down a flight of stairs / Then Ill throw you back up them is undeniably hilarious. Scary Movies is a reminder of a time when Em wasnt just a great rapper, but a great comedian, too.

17. The Way I Am (2000)

As good as The Slim Shady LP was, it was a bit too heavy on dick jokes, and this highlight from its follow-up showcases clearer artistic growth. A haunting meditation on fame, its a paranoid, inward-looking tale of being so famous that you get followed to the bathroom.

16. Hellbound (2000)

Rapping over regal music from beat-em-up game Soulcalibur, Ems promise to fuck the planet until it spins on a broken axis projects a larger-than-life confidence. Eminem slashes through the beat like a katana sword, writing the hyper-animated blueprint that Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj would later follow.

15. Jay-Z Renegade (feat Eminem) (2001)

Originally an Eminem collaboration with frenemy Royce Da 59, Ems potent critique of middle America proves he was one step ahead of his broadsheet critics. He is operating at the height of his powers, with verses so vivid that Nas even taunted Jay-Z with the barb: And Eminem murdered you on your own shit.

14. If I Had (1999)

Em has rarely sounded this dejected, with the artist wondering what he must sacrifice in order to make a million dollars. When he would rap about his personal life later on in his career there was too much syrupy sentimentality and self-pity, but here (where he recalls earning $5.55 an hour) Eminem has never sounded so relatable.

13. Superman (2002)

The kind of song that might get an artist cancelled today, Superman is a twisted take on the love bops Nelly and Ja Rule were routinely pumping out. Endlessly catchy, its the closest Em has come to a club banger, and his problematic Lothario dazzles rather than disgusts because he dares you to take him seriously.

12. Im Back (2000)

Not all of Dres beats on the Marshall Mathers LP have aged that well, but Im Back remains truly compelling theme music for a comic-book villain. Eminem fans the flames by threatening to murder Columbine bullies; at this point, he genuinely felt like pop cultures most provocative son.

11. Guilty Conscience (1999)

Playing into media claims that rap music was leading young people astray, rarely has a mainstream rap single been so conceptual, as Em and Dre play the two conflicting sides of the male conscience. Em tells Dre who assaulted TV host Dee Barnes in 1991 hes in no position to lecture someone else on how to treat a woman. Its still bold.

10. Deja Vu (2009)

This is a three-dimensional account of what its like to be a person with the kind of privilege that might fuel a drug addiction. Em recounts being in an ambulance after an overdose, but the fact he does so while joking about his fears of suffering a cliched death like Elvis makes for an endearing listen.

9. White America (2002)

Aware that he was every parents worst nightmare, Eminem dissects his cultural influence with real precision. Screaming his vocals from the very back of his throat, he also grapples with his white privilege, acknowledging: If I was black, I wouldve sold half. White America showed rappers they could be rock stars, too punk rappers such as Slowthai and Denzel Curry will have learned a lot from this.

8. Remember Me? (2000)

Designed to be blasted out of a car in a dingy alleyway at 1am, this abrasive shot of horrorcore is as raw as an exposed nerve ending. Each verse is more unhinged than the last, with Eminem fully embracing his growing mythology as raps angry blonde.

7. My Name Is (1999)

You couldnt make these kind of jokes today, but back in 1999, this subversive doozy really felt like Slim Shady was breaking through MTVs glass ceiling. Em played the role of pop cultures Dennis the Menace ever so well, mocking the misguided idea that rappers should be considered role models over a catchy Labi Siffre sample.

6. Square Dance (2002)

Eminem is too self-aware to create truly transcendent moments, but this experimental banger is the closest he ever got to crafting one. Tapping into post-9/11 paranoia, Em plays the role of the demented ringmaster, bringing you into his garish circus with aplomb. It is basically the rap version of Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite!

Eminem in 8 Mile, the film featuring Lose Yourself. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

5. Lose Yourself (2002)

This is the Rocky theme song reimagined for millennials, with Eminem at his most inspirational while forcing you to empathise with the plight of the working class. Its rare that a whole generation knows the lyrics to a rap song, but Lose Yourself is more than worthy of that honour (even if Marty disagrees).

4. Kim (2000)

Arguably the darkest song to ever appear on a diamond-selling album, the murderous chaos of Kim powerfully reflects a misguided lovesick rage. Em switches between male and female voices with an unsettling schizophrenic power, with the bittersweet chorus also strangely enchanting. This broke new ground for storytelling rap, and made your mum lock away your copy of The Marshall Mathers LP in a safe, for ever.

3. Dr Dre Forgot About Dre (feat Eminem) (1999)

This track perfected the juxtaposition between Dr Dre as the world-weary OG and Eminem as his deranged apprentice. Rapping like a cartoon rottweiler, Em chomps his way through the beat in a way that is linguistically dizzying. As far as perfect producer and rapper dynamics go, this remains the one to beat.

2. The Real Slim Shady (2000)

If MTV had become a little safe and too draped in shiny suits by 2000, this was Eminem attempting to liberate it from its excesses and give pop cultures trashier icons (Will Smith, Fred Durst) a much-needed spanking. This was a single so big that it opened up hip-hop to the suburbs and made millions of white teenagers dye their hair blond.

1. Stan (2000)

Six-minute epics about crazy fans who drown their pregnant girlfriends dont usually top the pop charts, but Stans storytelling was so vivid and claustrophobic that it grabbed you by the neck and forced you to get into the back of that car. This shifted the pop paradigm completely and gave a face (and name) to the kind of toxic fan culture that would later multiply with the explosion of social media. As far as rap storytelling goes, it is unlikely Stan will ever be bettered. This is Eminems Stairway to Heaven, and the fact he could even make Dido sound bearable is testament to just how good he used to be.

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The influence of Lil Nas Xs Old Town Road has resulted in one of the first viral hits of 2020 being a country trap ballad featuring a sample of Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts.

After the seminal, Grammy-winning track, it quickly became clear that this genre fusion was here to stay. Blanco Browns The Git Up continued the trend in late 2019 with the aid of the song going viral on TikTok with an accompanying dance challenge.

Artist RMRs Rascal has been quickly gaining attention on Twitter due in part to the clashing imagery in the video and RMRs wholly unconventional sound. The official video has been taken down on account of copyright claims but a re-upload of the video has since accumulated over 450,000 views.The original video was first removed on Saturday at approximately 500,000 views.

Overdoses or violent crime have claimed Mac Miller, Juice WRLD and Nipsey Hussle. Its not a fairytale lifestyle, admits an insider but should the business do more to protect its stars?

It might sound callous, but Jacob Thuresons parents, Erik and Judy, were not too worried when they heard about his latest overdose. It had happened a couple of times already and the 18-year-old rapper had always made it out of hospital in one piece. Thureson, who performed under the name Hella Sketchy, was among the wave of emo-influenced trap rappers who came up using the music platform SoundCloud. He had recently relocated from the family home in Texas to Los Angeles after being signed to Atlantic Records.

As Erik drove to work, he cycled through a mental list of options: more inpatient treatment? Thureson had already been to rehab, twice. Ketamine therapy?

There would be no further plan of action. Shortly after Erik left for work, Judy received another phone call. Things were very bad, and they should come to the hospital now. Fourteen days later, on 27 June 2019, Thureson died.

Many young rappers have died in the past few years. Mac Miller died in 2018 aged 26 after consuming cocaine and counterfeit oxycodone containing the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Lil Peep died at 21 in 2017 an accidental fentanyl and Xanax overdose. Juice WRLD died late last year after a drug-induced seizure aboard a private jet. It is believed he swallowed multiple Percocet pills in an attempt to hide them as police raided the plane. On New Years Day, a rare female death: Minnesota rapper Lexii Alijai, the victim of yet another accidental fentanyl overdose.

Alongside these deaths by misadventure, there are the victims of violent crime. Despite being accused of horrific abuse by an ex-partner, XXXTentacion enjoyed massive popularity before being killed in 2018 aged 20 as he was robbed outside a Florida motorcycle dealership. Pittsburgh rapper Jimmy Wopo touted as the heir to local forebears Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller was killed in a drive-by shooting the same day. Two weeks later, 21-year-old Canadian rapper and Drake tourmate Smoke Dawg was killed outside a Toronto nightclub. In March 2019, Nipsey Hussle was shot dead outside his Los Angeles clothing store.

Lil Peep, who died from an accidental fentanyl and Xanax overdose.

Many of these rappers engaged with their own mortality in lyrics that talked about death, drugs and depression. Death is everywhere in SoundCloud rap: the genres unofficial logo is a teardrop. Smokepurpp posed in a coffin in the artwork for his mixtape Deadstar, and Peep often called the Kurt Cobain of his generation owing to his cherubic face, placid manner and dedication to his ever-spiralling nihilism intoned: Everybody tellin me lifes short, but I wanna die, on his 2017 track The Brightside.

Looking at such lyrics, you might reasonably conclude that these rappers wanted to die. But while some of them did experience mental illness and addiction, their death wish was as much of an aesthetic as the pink hair and facial tattoos. So why did the nihilistic pose become a self-fulfilling prophecy, ending the lives of young people barely out of their teens? And what can be done to arrest it?

One problem lies in the way these rappers careers have built with unprecedented speed. While earlier generations of musicians might spend years gigging before being spotted, DIY rap stars have circumvented the record industrys gatekeepers to accrue wealth and success often while still in their teens leaving them struggling to adapt to sudden fame. Peep went from having no manager to being managed by a very large company that deals with high-profile artists, and with that came more money and more pressure, says his friend and collaborator Adam McIlwee, who performs as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.

In an industry that is ruthlessly dedicated to discovering the hot new thing, pastoral care can be nonexistent. Record labels often dont care about these rappers. They know that when theyre done, the next SoundCloud or Instagram rapper is behind them, says Calvin Smiley, an expert in hip-hop and social justice at Hunter College in New York. On an even more cynical note, he questions why Juice WRLD was carrying his drugs personally. Ive been around hip-hop artists, and the rule of thumb is that there is a friend who holds the drugs and takes the fall, Smiley says. You wonder: where were his handlers? Where were the people giving him direction?

The role of management is also coming under scrutiny. Peeps mother, Liza Womack, is suing First Access Entertainment, who managed the rapper. She claims that they encouraged drug use on Lil Peeps final tour, would obtain drugs for him, and pushed the rapper beyond the limits of what somebody of his age and maturity level could handle emotionally, mentally, and physically. (First Access Entertainment did not respond to a request for comment, but in a legal filing has said its dealings with Peep were purely of a business nature and not the type of special relationship giving rise to an independent duty of care.) McIlwee claims that Peep had a fight with his management shortly before he died. I know there was a show he did not want to play for whatever reason and [the drug-taking] was him just showing the world he didnt really care.

McIlwee says that labels and management should give artists time to recover. If your artist is in trouble, you have to step in and say its time to take a step back or re-evaluate the release schedule, the touring, he says. So the artist can get healthy and have a long career. But that doesnt happen much, because long careers are boring.

There are signs that lessons are being learned. Giuseppe Zappala of Galactic Records manages Lil Tecca, the 17-year-old SoundCloud wunderkind whose track Ransom reached No 4 in the US and has amassed more than 650m plays on Spotify. He has learned to read Teccas moods carefully: if the young rapper appears overtired, Zappala will clear the schedules. He ensures that Tecca has at least a day off between shows and that tours last no longer than five weeks. Sometimes he brings chefs on the road to ensure he is eating healthily. Sleep is another priority, although there is a limit to what Zappala can do, given that Tecca is a teenager. There will definitely be times when Tec wants to go to the studio until 8am, Zappala sighs. I say: That may not make the most sense, because youve got a show tomorrow at 1pm. Its about trying to instil routine in him.

Fans pay their respects to Nipsey Hussle at the spot where he was murdered. Photograph: David McNew/Getty

But young rappers can face just as much pressure from outside the industry: The environments where these kids come from its not a fairytale lifestyle, says Taylor Maglin, who discovered Wopo and managed him until his death. Its a war zone, you know? Rivals get created, enemies get created. He believes that Wopo was murdered by disaffected members of a rival gang, who were envious of his success. (Wopo was allegedly a member of the Hill District gang 11 Hunnit, and was name-checked in a police indictment shortly after his death.)

XXXTentacions lawyer, David Bogenschutz, says the rapper had been concerned that someone would kidnap or kill him. He was generating money and notoriety. The day XXXTentacion was shot, it is believed he was stalked from his bank to the motorcycle dealership.

The rap game isnt like any other industry, says producer Jimmy Duval, who worked with XXX. There are a lot of guns and bullets flying around.

Smiley says that hip-hops relationships with drugs has changed absolutely. Earlier generations of rappers used drugs as a tool to accrue wealth, speaking about selling them as a way out of poverty, rather than using narcotics themselves (bar weed and alcohol). Once success arrived, drugs were used as a social signifier: music videos depicting tables groaning with bottles of Hennessy and cocaine-dusted mirrors. That reality has shifted to a more flagrant form of glamorisation.

A turning point came at the turn of the 2010s, when rapper Juicy J helped popularise lean, then the drug of choice in Houstons chopped and screwed music scene. An addictive and dangerous concoction of soda, candy and prescription cough mixture containing codeine, references to lean oozed into rap: Lil Wayne celebrates it, Young Thug freely drinks it during interviews, and Juice WRLD said he was inspired to try lean after listening to Future. Roddy Ricchs hit track The Box, currently the US No 1, has an anthemic chorus with a line about drinking lean to get lazy.

Rappers also began hitting party drugs such as MDMA and cocaine, as well as the prescription drugs OxyContin, Xanax and Percocet. Future celebrates molly, Perocets in his 2015 smash Mask Off. (That is a horrible combination of drugs, says Duval of Mask Off: The whole hook is you having a fucking heart attack.) The rapper Lil Pump posed with a Xanax-shaped cake to celebrate reaching 1 million followers on Instagram, a particularly brain-dead stunt given that counterfeit prescription drugs containing fentanyl have been blamed for the 10-fold increase in opioid-related deaths in the US between 2013 and 2018.

A culture of performative excess began to strangle the scene, viewed through the panopticon of social media, which encourages risk-taking behaviour, says Smiley: You have to be on 24/7, because everything is about likes, shares and counting how many followers you have. Thureson posted videos of himself drinking lean on Instagram; when his parents confronted him, he claimed it was purple Gatorade. He told me it was just the culture, his mum, Judy, says. Peep posed with prescription pills on his tongue hours before he died.

Braden L Morgan, known as producer Nedarb Nagrom, was Peeps roommate for three years. He believes Peep abused drugs to alleviate the pressures of touring, which he hated, and that hangers-on offering him drugs made things worse. He was really nice and would say yes to everything, so hed do whatever anyone offered him. And as he got more popular, more people wanted to be his friend, so they gave him the stuff more. He calls Peeps death a horrible accident. He got unlucky. I have no doubt that if he hadnt passed away, he was going to chill out.

Lil Tecca performs at the Rolling Loud festival in New York City. Photograph: Steven Ferdman/Getty

After so many deaths, a brutal comedown. After Peep died, a lot of people stopped partying every day, says Morgan. He has seen drug use tail off among the young rappers he produces; Lil Pump and Smokepurpp announced they were quitting Xanax following Peeps death. The younger kids dont do stuff as much, because they see all the shit that happened in the last few years. For those who do still indulge, drug-testing kits are becoming common. No one was testing drugs before Peep died, says Morgan.

There are promising indications that the rap scene is beginning to course-correct. Theres enough of a bad taste in everyones mouth that saying, go pop a molly doesnt feel right now, says Duval. The backlash has been rumbling for a while: J Coles 2018 diss track 1985 was scathing about SoundCloud rappers. They wanna see you dab, they wanna see you pop a pill / They wanna see you tatted from your face to your heels.

As the narcotic aesthetic becomes less fashionable, rappers are becoming more mindful of the message they are sending to fans. Artists including Isaiah Rashad, Lucki, Travis Scott and Danny Brown have spoken out about prescription drug addiction. Sacramento rapper Mozzy has urged his followers to quit lean. Lucki, considered by some to be the father of SoundCloud rap, talks in Freewave 3 about his mother looking up the effect of lean on his kidneys. Even Lil Xan, easily most cavalier artist in this group, has considered changing his name.

As Miller sang in his biggest hit, it is time to finally start practising some self-care. But the burden should not fall to individuals: as labels and management cash in on this wave, they must take greater responsibility for artist wellbeing. You have to prioritise their health and happiness before music or fame, says Zappala. Its tough being a successful artist, not knowing whether the people around you have genuine intentions.

His goals for Tecca are clear. Im going to develop Tec into an artist who has a 10, 15-year career, says Zappala. When hes 30, hes still going to be relevant.

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After a frenetic year, the Grammy-nominated star is the hottest rapper in the US. He talks about his quest to be the best and the forces that could bring him down

Its impossible to know where to focus your attention. On the six members of Jabbawockeez, the dance troupe wriggling on stage like breakdancing stormtroopers? The wobbling pair of blowup kewpie dolls? Or maybe the man with DaBoy Baby carved in Carolina blue script on his chest?

Then DaBabys track, Bop, explodes from the loudspeakers and a new sensory assault begins: backflipping dancers in black Billion Dollar Baby tracksuits; synchronised routines from people in Nasa flight outfits; a dancer with red booty shorts who bounces on her head, splits her legs akimbo and twerks.

DaBaby performs during the 2019 Rolling Loud festival at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

We are at Rolling Loud in Los Angeles, the worlds largest travelling rap festival, held in the teeming stadium car park of the Los Angeles football club. Nearly all of the genres biggest names are here, from Young Thug to Future, A$AP Rocky to Lil Uzi Vert. Yet the most claustrophobic it gets all weekend is for a 28-year-old rapper from Charlotte, North Carolina, who practically none of the 55,000 attendees had even heard of at this time last year. And despite the frenetic chaos and Wheres Wally panorama, your attention ultimately fixates on the ringleader at the centre of this circus, the PT Barnum of bop, DaBaby.

I like pushing the envelope and being creative, he tells me the next day. Im a high-level performer [its about] how I can take it to another level. I try not to be complacent in my music or with my performances. I gotta keep it fresh and rock out.

In the past 12 months, DaBaby has become the hottest rapper in the US. He has released two acclaimed albums, with the latest, Kirk (his full name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk), debuting at No 1 in September. Four singles reached the Top 10 Suge, Bop, Intro, and his assist on Post Malones Enemies with the biggest, Suge, up for two Grammys this month. Another 18 songs crashed the charts, including collaborations with Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, Migos and J Cole. Not bad for a new rapper from a mid-sized US city with no previously notable hip-hop scene, who as recently as 2017 was walking around SXSW festival in an adult nappy demanding that people pay attention to him (under his old alias, Baby Jesus). If DaBaby isnt the best rapper alive, hes at least in the conversation.

Yet, he also has a darker streak that inevitably shrouds discussions about him: most infamously, the late-2018 incident when DaBaby was involved in an incident when a 19-year old was killed in a North Carolina Walmart, while DaBaby was shopping with his then one-year-old daughter, her mother and her mothers five-year-old son from a previous relationship. He claimed in an online video to have acted in self-defence after a gun was pulled on him and the state ultimately dropped charges against the rapper for carrying a concealed weapon.

To understand his meteoric rise it helps to see DaBaby in his element. A 5ft 8in speedball, he hurtles across the Rolling Loud stage like a basketball player. He raps at whiplash speeds, as if he is plugged into a power grid, and attempts to plough through the packed crowd. Then he basks in the moment of triumph and screams: Its pandemonium!

DaBaby is heir to the lineage of Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Missy Elliott and Ludacris virtuosic inventive rap stylists unafraid to make videos full of funny parodies and rubber-faced camera goofs but there is another side to him, that I only witness briefly: the trash-talking hustler who grew up poor.

DaBaby: I gotta keep it fresh and rock out Photograph: Cooper Neill/Getty Images

It is the night after Rolling Loud, inside Snoop Doggs studio compound in Inglewood, California. Upstairs in the game room decorated with silkscreens of the Las Vegas skyline and the Rat Pack DaBaby is running the dice table, recklessly shaking a rattan craps stick.

I was doing this when I was pissing in the bed, he smirks to six friends gathered around the blue felt table. He is wearing a purplish luxury hoodie-and-sweats combo. A half-smoked blunt dangles from his mouth. Ive been doing this way longer than rapping,he adds. I used to do it like this up against the wall! He mimes throwing the dice into a mural of Casino.

There are things that DaBaby deems off-limits in interviews, namely, what he did between dropping out of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and starting to take rap seriously five or so years ago. It is filed euphemistically as stuff done in the streets. If you accept his early mixtapes as confession, there is plenty of drug-dealer talk, but watching this side of DaBaby you understand the hustler streak, the confidence and ability to make money, and the shrewd wariness that allowed him to stay alive and out of jail.

After a few minutes, his manager Arnold Taylor interrupts to tell him: We got work to do. Silently tossing the dice over his right shoulder, DaBaby instantly changes his facial expression from carnivorous glee to a solemnity thats largely absent from his recorded output. To listen to a DaBaby record, you might assume that his life was circumscribed by hedonism, violence and the desire to be the best rapper alive. But there is also a meticulousness to the way he moves.

Ive studied the greats, DaBaby says. He leans back on an overstuffed couch, his voice pitched to a near-whisper, the exhaustion of the past 12 months hitting the moment he finally slows down. I studied people like Future, Lil Wayne and Kanye, who came up and consistently progressed. Ive studied all the genius marketers throughout the rap game. I borrow from anybody with something to offer.

I never studied marketing, he adds, his eyes half-closed. Ive just always been a hustler. I didnt even have a major decided at college. I only went to school for my parents.

Even before he was famous, DaBaby acted like he was, rolling 50 deep in branded outfits to the Charlotte clubs. The idea of being a locally famous rapper was never real to me. I was immediately trying to get on the same charts as Drake. His career received a massive boost when he signed to Arnold Taylor, the president of South Coast Music, the biggest radio promoter in the state, who was instrumental in the early rise of southern rap stars including Yo Gotti and Future.

We wanted to show his fun side but also the street side, says Taylor, who guided DaBaby from a gifted but obscure regional street rapper to a major label bidding war that ended with a seven-figure deal from Interscope. Were from the hood and are serious and real, but at the end of the day, that dont get you anywhere. He can be a worldwide artist; he can act and do comedy. He can really spit with the best of them, but he can also make songs. Some spitters cant make songs.

In this sense, DaBaby reflects an anachronistic approach to the rap game. If the charts are filled with opiated threnodies about addiction and sadness, he eschews singing in favour of raps that could take your head off (I cant sing, but Ill hit some notes here and there), usually starting the second the beat hits. It helps that he gets beats from his nascent fellow Carolina star, JetsonMade, whose productions blend post-trap grit with a springy trampoline bounce.

His most poignant song, Intro, from Kirk, intersects with another less-seen side of DaBaby: the devoted family man. Its a tribute to his father, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, who died the same week that his son reached No 1 in the charts. And in conversation, DaBabys eyes most readily light up when talking about his love for his father and mother (who worked for a finance company), his older brothers and his young daughter. When I ask what he would be doing today if he didnt have any work responsibilities, he immediately answers: Whatever my daughter wants to do. Shes bright and brilliant. Im just blessed to be able to establish a path for her before she even knows how to tie her shoe.

Yet he doesnt seem to have escaped his previous life entirely. Last month, Charlotte police cited him for marijuana possession and resisting arrest, overshadowing the earlier part of the day where he had given out hundreds of Christmas toys to underprivileged families; DaBaby claimed the arrest was illegal and tweeted: Black Excellence right here in our own city, & they hate it. Earlier this week, authorities detained and questioned DaBaby in Miami in connection with a robbery investigation, and later arrested him after police discovered an outstanding warrant pertaining to a battery charge in Texas. His team declined to comment on the Miami arrest, but he took to Instagram to tell people to please stop talking to me about that weak ass 48 hours I spent in jail and that failed attempt to break my spirits and interrupt the path Im taking to my God given success.

Back in that room in Inglewood last month, he was similarly undeterred in his plans for world domination. Im just a quick learner I learned to cook watching the cooking channel, he says. There are plans to act, the growth of his Billion Dollar Baby label, and vague ambitions about using his platform for real change. When I ask where he thinks he will be in five years, he says that is way too far ahead for him to think about. Fifty years? He beams. Fifty years, man? I better be damn near the president of the United States.

When the time is up, DaBaby thanks me then excuses himself to go back upstairs. He has been so busy that there has been no time to record, but for the next few hours he has Snoops studio all to himself. I ask Taylor and his representatives if its possible to watch him make a song or two. It becomes quickly clear that it might not be the best idea. Its probably for the best, Taylor tells me politely. DaBaby doesnt really like surprises.

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Billie Eilish and Lizzo are competing for a string of the top prizes, but could the likes of Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey and Rosala cause upsets?

Noise threatens to drown out the music at the 2020 Grammy awards. A line had been drawn under the tone-deaf leadership of Neil Portnow, who had presided over the ceremony since 2002 between 2013 and 2018, Grammy winners were 91% male, but, after a 2018 ceremony where men swept the board again, Portnow said it was on women to step up and create opportunities for themselves.

A woman, Deborah Dugan, replaced him; a taskforce was appointed, and in December they published their report, calling for greater diversity in the Academy voters. Any hopes that they had moved on, though, were scotched last week by Dugan being suspended for alleged misconduct; Dugan countered by saying she had been sexually harassed, that the Academy had covered up an alleged rape by Portnow, and that the voting was corrupt.

So we go into this years ceremony more jaded than ever, but the irony is that, no matter how poisonous the Academy is and regardless of whether it is rigged or not, we ended up with a much more diverse range of nominees this year. Leading the pack are Lizzo with eight noms and Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X with six each a vibrantly youthful and non-conformist trio. But will the Academy members shake off the past and vote for the future?

Record of the year

Bon Iver Hey, Ma
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
HER Hard Place
Khalid Talk
Lil Nas X ft Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Post Malone & Swae Lee Sunflower

Aside from the merely pleasant HER and Khalid tracks, this is a strong field. While lots of eyes are on Lizzo and Eilish, this could perhaps be Ariana Grandes year. Its her first time with nominations in the big four categories rather than being patronised in the pop awards and, with its My Favourite Things melody, doddering Academy voters might listen to 7 Rings and say: Hey, its one I know! Triumphant earworm Old Town Road is the longest-running No 1 in US history; Bad Guy is a showcase of the kind of fiendish genius usually employed by Hollywood horror movies to construct elaborate ways for teenagers to get killed. But an Academy eager to telegraph its modernity might go for Lizzo: Truth Hurts is a great underdog story, reaching No 1 two years after release, and her charisma is near universally infectious.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

Album of the year

Bon Iver i, i
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
HER I Used to Know Her
Lil Nas X 7
Lizzo Cuz I Love You (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride

This is Grandes best chance of a big win. Thank U, Next is a superbly realised almost-concept album about heartache, grief and moving on that can be witty, even caustic, but never cruel it sealed her as one of the three or four definitive pop stars of our time. Lizzo, HER and Lil Nas X are hampered with too much 6/10 material across their albums; Lana Del Rey was the critical hit of the year and will certainly beat out fellow Pitchfork darlings Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, but may not cut through to the more august and mainstream Academy members. Eilish was the inescapable pop-cultural breakthrough of the year, and her album has such terrific range and invention. She will, hopefully, squeak this.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Song of the year

Lady Gaga Always Remember Us This Way
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now
HER Hard Place
Taylor Swift Lover
Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell
Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved
Lizzo Truth Hurts

Piano-driven ballads dominate the songwriting category, including Taylor Swifts only big nomination. Lover is such classic American songcraft, though Lewis Capaldis powerful Someone Like You is the best of these ballads and it would be a British win to remember. Eilish is streets ahead in terms of songwriting innovation and should win for that Duh! alone. But, while Truth Hurts most famous lyric (I just took a DNA test, turns out Im 100% that bitch) may have been plagiarised and its British author later added to the credits, Lizzo has this sewn up. The lyrics are hilarious, and it is a massively successful example of that new school of songwriting where a single melody is repeated over and over until the brainwashed public is involuntarily chanting it and then clawing hopelessly at their faces.

Will win: Lizzo Truth Hurts
Should win: Billie Eilish Bad Guy

New artist

Black Pumas
Billie Eilish
Lil Nas X
Maggie Rogers
Tank and the Bangas

Nice to see some country-soul curveballs here in the excellent Black Pumas and Yola, though the less said the better about the tune-free Tank and the Bangas at any rate, theyre all making up the numbers. Maggie Rogers didnt really break beyond her fanbase with her underrated debut album, and Im sure the Academy will see Lil Nas X merely as a two-hit wonder. Lizzos debut album came out in 2013, whereas Eilish has only just turned 18 and feels like the rightful owner of this award. But you can bet than every Latinx voter is going to be going for the astoundingly talented Rosala, who won big at the Latin Grammys and could cause an upset here.

Will win: Billie Eilish
Should win: Billie Eilish

Pop solo performance

Beyonc Spirit
Billie Eilish Bad Guy
Ariana Grande 7 Rings
Lizzo Truth Hurts
Taylor Swift You Need to Calm Down

Just as performances where you cry, shout and climb inside the carcass of a bear win you Oscars, the leading pop award rather behoves you to give it some welly not for nothing has Adele won it three times. Eilish and Grandes variously murmured and chatted performances will appear to the Academy like weirdo arthouse choices here, and even Swift is in a relatively conversational mode. Beyoncs ponderous Spirit was the lame old wildebeest eaten by the younger jackals on the Lion King soundtrack, so this is Lizzos to lose.

Will win: Lizzo
Should win: Billie Eilish

Rock performance

Bones UK Pretty Waste
Gary Clark Jr This Land
Brittany Howard History Repeats
Karen O & Danger Mouse Woman
Rival Sons Too Bad

Anyone looking for evidence of backroom dealing in the Academy might well make Bones UK their exhibit A: Pretty Waste is the kind of creative vacuum beloved only of nihilistically cocaine-addicted LA music industry execs looking for something to soundtrack rock bottom. The rest is pretty good. Rival Sons riffs and hollering make them the most tangibly rock thing here Karen O essays 60s pop, and Brittany Howards History Repeats is a kind of bluesy funk tune, but with mainstream rock stranded out on a sandbar while rappers and pop stars taunt it on jetskis, they need to blur the genre lines. Gary Clark Jr could edge this with his politically charged This Land, half-rapped over a heavily skanking backing.

Will win: Gary Clark Jr
Should win: Rival Sons

Rap performance

J Cole Middle Child
DaBaby Suge
Dreamville feat JID, Bas, J Cole, Earthgang & Young Nudy Down Bad
Nipsey Hussle feat Roddy Ricch & Hit-Boy Racks in the Middle
Offset feat Cardi B Clout

Many voters hearts will go with Nipsey Hussle, whose murder last year robbed the world of a skilful, soulful MC who united backpacker hip-hoppers and mainstream rap fans. Racks in the Middle also features Roddy Rich, who has broken through spectacularly over the last year. But the track pales next to two others here: DaBabys Suge is a slowly prowling piece of minimalism that makes Offset sound fussily overworked in comparison; its ridiculous that DaBaby isnt up for best new artist. He is rather damaged goods after a series of run-ins with the law, however. That could hand Middle Child the win, on which J Cole raps as if hes high-stepping across the surface of a lake, his triplet time full of balletic grace.

Will win: J Cole
Should win: DaBaby

Country solo performance

Tyler Childers All Yourn
Ashley McBryde Girl Goin Nowhere
Willie Nelson Ride Me Back Home
Blake Shelton Gods Country
Tanya Tucker Bring My Flowers Now

If you scoff at country, youll probably always scoff at country, but this spread of songs shows off the admirable breadth of the genre and may pique your interest yet. Willie Nelsons song is a bit something-and-nothing; Tanya Tuckers Bring My Flowers Now is nominated in the song of the year category, and its live-for-today message and simple piano backing will appeal across the Academy, but its rather workmanlike. Ashley McBryde outdoes her in the ballad stakes, but its Tyler Childers and Blake Shelton both strongly channelling the gospel and soul music that not so secretly underpins country who are the strongest here. Childers song would make for a classy first wedding dance, while Sheltons stirring ode to proud Christian labour, while deeply unfashionable, will have you gazing soulfully across a cornfield.

Will win: Tanya Tucker
Should win: Tyler Childers

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Rapper died last month at 21 after reported seizure following landing at Chicago airport

The rapper Juice WRLDs official cause of death has been ruled an accidental overdose. The Cook county medical examiners office cited toxic levels of codeine and oxycodone in Juice WRLDs system in the ruling, released on Wednesday.

Higgins died as a result of oxycodone and codeine toxicity, the office wrote in a statement. The manner of death is accident.

Juice WRLD, real name Jarad Anthony Higgins, died on 8 December. Reports claim he entered a drug-induced seizure after his private jet landed at Chicagos Midway airport, where police and federal agents confiscated weapons, pills, and over 70lb of marijuana. Higgins was temporarily revived with a dose of the opioid antidote narcan but died at a hospital shortly after. He was 21 years old.

Higgins was known for penning lyrics that addressed addiction and drug usage. He was candid in his music about abusing the drink lean which includes codeine cough syrup releasing an addiction-centric song titled Lean With Me in 2018.

Cook countys announcement comes as pop culture continues to reckon with the rappers sudden death.

Last week, Eminem released a collaboration he recorded with Higgins shortly before his death, titled Monsters. Shortly after, 26 unreleased songs by Higgins were leaked online by an unnamed hacker. Higgins fans responded to Wednesdays ruling with an outpouring of fan-made art and tributes to his music.

Carmella Wallace, Higgins mother, told TMZ she hoped her sons death raised awareness around addiction. We hope the conversations he started in his music and his legacy will help others win their battles as that is what he wanted more than anything, she said.

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From John Fahey, the Sonics and the Waitresses to Slade, Wizzard and Mariah Carey, we count down the best festive numbers

50. John Fahey

The First Noel

Tiring of the fact that no one wanted to buy albums of experimental American primitive guitar music, but they bought White Christmas every year, John Fahey recorded an album of Christmas instrumentals. It was, by a margin, his bestselling record. Atypical of his work, but beautiful.

49. The Sonics

Dont Believe in Christmas

The Sonics believed some folks liked the taste of straight strychnine, so of course they didnt believe in Christmas. What happened when they stayed up late to try to catch a glimpse of Santa? Well, sure enough, dont ya know / The fat boy didnt show. Cheeky so-and-sos.

48. Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler

Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)

Sounding much more like Ash than Emmy the Great and the loudest, most raucous thing on their 2011 Christmas album this is a song that sounds joyous, but is really about the desire to escape, to anywhere that isnt cold. So long as its not alone.

47. Little Joey Farr

RocknRoll Christmas

Rocknroll and rockabilly are a treasure trove of Christmas novelty numbers (try Marlene Paulas I Want To Spend Xmas with Elvis), but weve only got room for one. So, given Christmas is all about the kids, bless their souls, lets have a song by an actual kid who promptly disappeared from the pop world.

46. Lou Rawls

Santa Claus Is Comin to Town

One imagines this would be the soundtrack to Don Drapers Christmas as creamy as eggnog, with a supple swing thats nagging but not unobtrusive, its exactly the sound of an idealised Christmas from the 60s. Rawls made a ton of Christmas albums, but his first from 1967 is the best.

45. Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo & Simon Wright

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How would Christmas sound reimagined by Black Sabbath? Almost exactly as you would imagine, to be honest. The most oddly foreboding of all the big Christmas songs suits the grinding and roaring. And it helps, naturally, that it contains a reference to Satans power.

44. Saint Etienne

I Was Born on Christmas Day

From fire and brimstone to prosecco and chocolate, bursting with optimism for the winter: Getting groovy after Halloween / Mid-November, got back on the scene / Im so glad that I just got my pay / I was born on Christmas Day! A song as sweet as a selection box.

43. The Free Design

Close Your Mouth (Its Christmas)

Probably the song that goes on in Don Drapers apartment after Lou Rawls, when the hip young kids have arrived. Get to know the people in your house, they sing. You might like them. Draper knocks back a whisky, raises an eyebrow and shakes his head.

42. Sally Shapiro

Anorak Christmas

A gorgeous bauble from the mid-00s wave of Scandinavian music that crossed electropop with the feyest indie. Sally falls in love on a Tuesday before Christmas, at a gig with a band that we both liked. But will she end up by herself or in the perfect kiss?

41. Solomon Burke

Presents for Christmas

The king of rocknsoul pitches himself somewhere between a revivalist preacher and Santa Claus: We want to give out a present to everybody this Christmas! All around the world for every man, woman, boy and girl! he exclaims in the intro. One of the few artists whose spoken sections routinely rival the songs (track down a copy of Soul Alive! if you dont believe me).

40. Joy Zipper

Christmas Song

Blank-faced and affectless, heres Christmas for the shoegazers from the duo briefly toasted at the start of the last decade. Kevin Shields and David Holmes produced, and you can bet Beach House were listening.

39. Neil Halstead

The Man in the Santa Suit

Truthfully, this version is only here because the Fountains of Wayne original an homage to the Kinks Father Christmas isnt on Spotify. But what a perfect, sad song: And hes a big red cherry / But its hard to be merry / When the kids are all laughing / Saying: Hey, its Jerry Garcia.

38. The Everly Brothers

Christmas Eve Can Kill You

The Man in the Santa Suit is a laughfest compared to this Everly Brothers number from 1972, about a hitcher alone the night before Christmas. Organ and pedal steel sound like the wind whistling through the trees as our hero trudges on: The sound of one man walkin through the snow can break your heart.

37. Santo & Johnny

Twistin Bells

Do we need cheering up? I think we do. Thank goodness, then, for the twangy guitars of Brooklyn duo Santo & Johnny, the gaudy, overlit shop window that contrasts with the stark loneliness of the Everly Brothers.

36. Run-DMC

Christmas in Hollis

Hip-hop hasnt been a huge source of Christmas songs, but Run-DMC were on top of it back in the first golden age. What would you do if you found Santas wallet on Hollis Avenue? Its a perennial question. Run decides its best to post it back; he is rewarded for his honesty.

35. Shirley & Dolly Collins

The Gower Wassail

Two of the greatest British folk voices combine for a drinking song that, if were honest, is unlikely to be ringing out in pubs this Christmas. The asceticism of the British folk tradition can be a useful astringent amid the sleigh bells and tinsel.

34. Tracey Thorn

Snow in Sun

Originally from Scritti Polittis sublime 2006 album White Bread, Black Beer and reworked by Thorn on her gorgeous album Tinsel and Lights which is enough to qualify it as a Christmas song here is a featherlight breath of winter to freshen your face.

33. Mahalia Jackson

Go Tell It on the Mountain

You cant really have Christmas without acknowledging that someone significant was born on 25 December and not just Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne. The queen of gospel wants you to spread the news far and wide, and she imparts her message with due gravitas.

32. Big Star

Jesus Christ

Big Stars Third is the least likely album to contain a Christmas song, but amid the desperation and despair was this huge burst of fervour. Did Alex Chilton mean it? Was it a joke? Its effect is magnified by the music that surrounds it on the rest of the album.

31. Calexico

Green Grows the Holly

Gorgeous and stern, and undoubtedly the best adaptation by an Americana band of any poem written by Henry VIII. The horns bloom, like the flowers of the song, turning something indisputably English into a desert lament.

30. Jimmy McGriff

Winter Wonderland

McGriff opens with a squall of organ that doesnt lead you to believe Christmas is coming anytime soon, then takes Winter Wonderland at such a leisurely pace that it takes a moment to recognise it. (If you like this, try Jimmy Smiths Christmas 64 as well.)

29. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Aint No Chimneys in the Projects

When you live in poverty, certain logistical problems come to mind. Namely, if youre in a big public housing block, how does Santa get the presents underneath the tree? A fabulous addition to the long line of socially conscious soul and funk Christmas music.

28. Sons of Heaven

When Was Jesus Born?

We all know the answer, but when its posed this beautifully, in such impeccable close harmony, the obviousness of the question can be forgiven. There are many versions of this, but its a hard song to do anything but beautifully.

27. Thea Gilmore

Listen, the Snow Is Falling

Yoko Onos is the original version and Galaxie 500s rendition is more celebrated, but Thea Gilmore gets the perfect ratio of iciness to wonder it sounds like a Christmas tree, if such a thing were possible. The 2009 album Strange Communion is highly recommended.

26. The Temptations

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Oh, wrap yourself in the blanket of those glorious voices! Motown took Christmas seriously, with the result that you could probably do this list entirely from Motown tracks. This one gets selected because what is really a fairly dismal song is transformed by a perfect arrangement.

25. Clarence Carter

Back Door Santa

Pure Christmas filth. Back Door Santa can make all the little girls happy / While the boys are out to play. But dont mistake him for Father Christmas: I aint like old Saint Nick / He dont come but once a year. I dare you not to dance, though.

24. Ramones

Danny Says

Merry Christmas (I Dont Want to Fight Tonight) is better known as a Ramones Christmas song, but the sublime Danny Says gets the nod, qualifying on the grounds that the desperate, lonely band are stuck on the road deep in winter and it aint Christmas if there aint no snow.

23. Cristina

Things Fall Apart

No matter how bad your Christmas is, its not as bad as Cristinas. Mind you, given its the early 80s New York art underground, she was probably forbidden from liking something so bourgeois. Even a party cant cheer her: I caught a cab back to my flat / And wept a bit and fed the cat.

22. Joni Mitchell


Joni Mitchell is bereft, too, on this gorgeous piano ballad, when Christmas just makes her mourn her relationship and flee Laurel Canyon for her home in Canada, where there might be a frozen river she could skate away on, away from everything.

21. David Banner

The Christmas Song

Completing the mini-run of joyless Christmases, heres the most joyless of all when the only way to pay for Christmas is to rob and deal and kill. The climactic jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way is not intended as cause for celebration.

20. Lindstrm

Little Drummer Boy

Hans-Peter Lindstrm takes almost 43 minutes to assemble a Christmas song from electronic squiggles, through the martial drumbeat, to the melody coming in at eight minutes. It then spends a further 25 minutes warping and mutating, picking up and discarding musical phrases, before exploding orgasmically in its final 10 minutes or so.

19. William Bell

Every Day Will Be a Holiday

It doesnt actually mention Christmas, but gets counted and not just by me as a Christmas song because of the little horn lift from Jingle Bells, for it being about being lonely waiting for his baby to come home (presumably for Christmas), and because its B-side was Please Come Home For Christmas. Its also a fabulous piece of Stax soul.

18. Belle and Sebastian

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

On the 2000 charity album Its a Cool Cool Christmas which was pretty strong Belle and Sebastian took on the most beautiful of all the Christmas hymns. Something so delicate suited them. Also recommended: El Vez merging Feliz Navidad and Public Image.

17. The Staple Singers

Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?

The Staple Singers are worried: too many wars, too much space exploration means people are searching for light and cant seem to find the right star. Jesus isnt just another baby boy, they warn. So show some respect. Glorious.

16. The Watersons

Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy

Just listen to the voices: this is Christmas as it must have sounded when it was a religious festival in the depths of winter, rather than an excuse to rack up debt. Make your own fun! Maybe weave an Action Man out of three pieces of straw! And yet its so beautiful.

15. Eartha Kitt

Santa Baby

Were into the start of the big songs now, and Eartha Kitts contribution is the precise opposite of the Watersons vision of Christmas. She wants a sable, a convertible, a yacht, a platinum mine She wants every sensation. And whats Jesus got to do with anything?

14. Otis Redding

White Christmas

Who knew the most famous Christmas hit of all could be so emotionally wrought? Where Bing Crosby sounded as if he was fondly pondering his Christmas, Otis sounds like hes breaking into a sweat trying to will it into existence through sheer force of desire.

13. The Pretenders

2000 Miles

Sometimes simple is best: Robbie McIntoshs guitar playing on the Pretenders 1984 hit is a model of folk-rock restraint, taking from the Byrds, and offsetting Chrissie Hyndes voice and lyric with a sense that everything, somehow, is going to be OK.

12. Bob Seger and the Last Heard

Sock It to Me Santa

Santas got a brand new bag! hollers Bob Seger, who was a Detroit R&B shouter years before he became a heartland American beard rocker. Sock It to Me Santa is a fabulous explosion garage rock and soul brought together into something made for the best bar in the city on Christmas Eve.

11. Wham!

Last Christmas

A big Christmas hit that was unlike previous UK seasonal singles it wasnt wrapped in sleigh bells, there was nothing consciously novelty about it. Perhaps George Michael had been paying close attention to some of the great US Christmas soul singles, because this was a heartbreak song that just happened to be set in December.

10. Darlene Love

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector codified the sound of Christmas: maximal, filled with signifiers of the season (there is nowhere sleigh bells cant be draped). Darlene Loves Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was the standout on a record on which the quality didnt drop from start to finish.

9. Wizzard

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Roy Woods enduring contribution to the season owed a huge debt to Phil Spector theres almost certainly a kitchen sink section at work somewhere in the mix but it transcends imitation by its sheer verve. It was recorded in summer, with the studio air conditioning turned down to make everyone feel wintry. Attention to detail, right there.

8. Slade

Merry Xmas Everybody

Christmas 1973 brought not just Wizzard but the most enduring of all British Christmas singles. Forty-six years later, people still bellow Its CHRISTMAS! in Noddy Holders face, which, apparently, gets a little wearisome. The whole thing was Jim Leas mums idea why didnt Slade have a song they could release every year? She got her wish.

7. Donny Hathaway

This Christmas

It wasnt a hit at the time, but took off when it was included on a 1991 reissue of the 1968 Atco compilation Soul Christmas. To which you can only say: why did it take the world so long to notice? Its a Christmas song that stands up regardless of the season. And according to the publishing body Ascap, its now the 30th most performed Christmas song of all time in the US.

6. Tom Waits

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Probably not one to play when youre unwrapping the presents. A character study that begins grimly, then offers hope, as the narrator says things are getting better before ripping the rug away without ceremony. Do you want to know the truth of it, she asks: Charley, hey, Ill be eligible for parole come Valentines day.

5. Marvin Gaye

Purple Snowflakes

A song so beautiful its almost otherworldly Marvin Gayes flawless falsetto, the unexpected chord changes, the sense of mystery. Yet its wrapped up in the most comforting of Christmas imagery chestnuts roasting, blankets of white without ever explaining why the snowflakes are purple.

4. The Waitresses

Christmas Wrapping

Like Cristinas Things Fall Apart, Christmas Wrapping was originally written for the Z labels 1981 compilation the most punching-above-its-weight Christmas comp ever. Its a fabulous stream of consciousness, during which Patty Donahue talks herself from wanting to miss Christmas to knowing she cant miss Christmas, that bursts into joy at its horn refrain.

3. Low

Just Like Christmas

Lows 1999 Christmas EP released as a gift to fans was one of the most unexpected seasonal delights: ascetic indie band embracing the season without irony. Its lead track was a joy, the discomfort of touring reminding them of when they were young, and it feeling just like Christmas. Just two verses, and a repeated refrain perfect.

2. The Pogues

Fairytale of New York

Theres almost nothing left to be said about Fairytale of New York, a song that has been impossible to avoid for more than 30 years. Such is the strength of the songwriting and the grace of the performance that, despite the overexposure, it feels fresh every single time. That a scrappy folk-punk band produced something that will endure as long as Christmas itself is a real Christmas miracle.

1. Mariah Carey

All I Want for Christmas Is You


The best Christmas songs should only work at Christmas. They should make you feel festive, in the same way that the 174th repeat of The Snowman does. They should work anywhere in shopping centres, in bars, pumping out of PAs in gig venues after the band has gone off, on the radio in a cafe, in your home or on your headphones. All I Want for Christmas Is You is all of those things. Its a shameless pastiche of Phil Spector thats so brazen and joyful and simple it took Carey and Walter Afanasieff only 15 minutes to write that it transcends its lack of originality. Its the rare modern Christmas song that has become a standard, and deservedly so.

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