How OutKast Begrudgingly Made One Of The Best Christmas Rap Records Of All-Time
Twenty-five years ago this season, OutKast released their first single, “Player’s Ball.” Big Boi and André 3000 had appeared on TLC’s remix to “What About Your Friends” as teenagers in 1992. Like that opportunity, “Player’s Ball” was birthed out of LaFace Records trying to cross-promote its fledgling Rap duo.
For the 1993 holiday, A LaFace Family Christmas would be one of many label compilations marketed to fans. TLC, Toni Braxton, and Usher were centerpieces on the 10 tracks, and rightfully so. On the cover with those three acts, as well as A Few Good Men, was ‘Kast, barely showing their faces under the big wreath graphic from Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Babyface’s imprint.
That was by design. Since the Tri-Cities High School students rapped before the run-out on TLC’s 12″, their label was reportedly not wowed by the group’s sound. “[L.A. Reid] was like, ‘Yeah, I think I like them, but I don’t think that they’re stars,” André 3000 recalled in the 2016 Netflix documentary, The Art of Organized Noize. Presumably, the Christmas compilation needed filler for the R&B ballads from buzzing vocalists. The label brass turned to ‘Kast’s producers to cook up something. As respected labels like Death Row, Tommy Boy, and Def Jam typically did, soundtracks were a place to test the waters, even if the prospects felt grim.
Veteran production trio Organized Noize was grooming OutKast, as they had been for some time. Ray Murray, Rico Wade, and Sleepy Brown were recording the teenagers’ vocals in Wade’s grandmother’s basement, affectionately remembered as The Dungeon. That’s when they got the call from LaFace. In 2012, Wade told Complex‘s Linda Hobbs, “[The] thing is, we don’t really f*ck with Christmas like that. That’s where we were at the time, we were on some, ‘Christmas is not one day out the year, it’s every day.’ For us, it was just about being realistic. People get caught up in the excitement of, ‘I got to buy this, I got to do this and that” and they lose they mind.” The hitmaker added, “I told OutKast, ‘We gotta do a Christmas, song but we’ll just talk about what we don’t do on Christmas, or what it means to us.'” He would later pinch a beat that partner Ray Murray had been work-shopping for a group called The Drip Drop to bring what Dre and Big wrote to life.
High Snobiety aggregated a MySpace interview back in 2016 that captured the reluctance in the studio. Wade says, “I thought, ‘How the f*ck are we gonna do a Christmas song? We’re a Rap group! How are we gonna get any respect?’” They did, simply by refusing to compromise.
As legend has it, a straightforward Christmas song called “Socks & Drawz” evolved into a present for what was to come in the form of “Player’s Ball.” The song made the Christmas compilation, as did a 55-second “Joy All Day” interlude oddly credited to the duo, despite its lack of a clear-cut connection to the group.
Although it holds back the red-and-green socks, scarves, and any mentions of mistletoe, “Players Ball” is a Christmas record at its core, especially on the compilation verse. One can hear it in the sleigh bell percussion of the song, and the opening line, “It’s beginning to look a lot like wha—.” The line is a sardonic contrast to the fairy-tale winter wonderlands and the Dirty South reality. That attitude holds through 3 Stacks’ verse, which references snow, “tis the season,” and “Silent Night.” He closes with that mantra, “You thought I’d break my neck, to help y’all deck the halls? / Oh naw, I got other means of celebratin’, I’m gettin blizzard at HoJo, I got that hoochie waitin’ I made it through another year can’t ask fo’ nothin much mo’/ It’s OutKast for the books I thought you knew so now you know.”
The Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik version finds ‘Dre stuttering and covering up some of the seasonal cues, as well as the mention of Christmas Day and chimneys in the chorus to prevent an excellent song from being pigeonholed.
In the second verse, Big Boi references the lack of a Christmas gift wish-list in his cold reality, after opening the bars with “Hallelujah, Hallelujah,” broken down into syllables. OutKast took an assignment and made art out of it. Big and ‘Dre did not do what so many rappers in their position would have—just tried at another come-and-go record to appease the label and built-in fanbase. Instead, they went big and bold. They stayed true to the notion that not all Christmases are white, plentiful, and happy. This realness resonated, in a way that made a Christmas record sound hot in the middle of an Atlanta summer.
The song, serviced as a single in November of 1993, would take on a life of its own. The record superseded filler on a predictable label compilation and became the first taste of a game-changing 1994 album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Puff Daddy directed the video that left the Santa hats and wreaths at home. That release began an album-run as historic as any in Hip-Hop.