COVER STORY | Jingle Bells and Silent Night are cool but there’s something about an R&B Christmas song that makes the season extra bright. Looking for something more than standards for your upcoming holiday playlist? Let’s look at the essential (and original) 90’s Holiday R&B.
Illtown Family – Keep It Real Christmas
When Naughty By Nature’s Kay Gee launched his own label, Divine Mill, he brought the whole hood with him to represent. The Illtown Family’s holiday gathering featured stanzas by Gordon Chambers, Jaz, 4MATT, Kemia, Jaz, Simply Smoov, and an unknown R&B group called Next. Written by Gordon Chambers, the song pours soulful vocals over a nostalgic bopping melody to fill us with the true reasons for the season: joy, togetherness, peace, and love.
Boyz II Men – Let It Snow
On 1993’s Christmas Interpretations album, co-writer and producer Brian McKnight blessed the Philadelphia quartet with their very own Christmas standard. It is never quite the holidays until the velvet harmonies of Shawn, Nathan, Michael and Wanya warm our hearts. McKnight accompanies the iconic group to share the ultimate love song for the season; both day and night.
TLC – Sleigh Ride
Although “Sleigh Ride” has been around since 1948, the song has never slayed like 1993’s rendition by TLC. Produced by Organized Noize, the standard received a funky reinterpretation that complimented T-Boz’s raspy verses, Chilli’s sultry chorus, and animated rap by Left Eye. More than just another cover, the ladies molded the song into their own fun, unique brand, sprinkling fresh lyrics around the original material to make it sound classic yet contemporary.
H-Town – Knockin’ Boots for Christmas
Yeah, this happened. Shazam, Dino and GI re-recorded their chart-topping debut single “Knockin’ Da Boots” for the Christmas at Luke’s House album in 1993. This time; however, they were making jingle bells ring until the break of dawn. Adding some festive sounds to the production and slightly tailoring the lyrics, chestnuts weren’t the only thing roasting on an open fire. It’s just as sexy as the original, which is why we don’t recommend unwrapping this gift until the kids are asleep waiting for Santa.
Mary J. Blige – Christmas in the City featuring Angie Martinez
It’s a fact that there’s nothing like New York City at Christmas time. In 1997, the Queen of Hip Hop Soul delivered this warm tribute to the beloved hustle and bustle of the urban winter wonderland. You feel the love as Blige reminisces on landmarks including the magic of 34th Street, the lights on Broadway, and the tree at Rockefeller Center. Hot 97 Radio personality Angie Martinez adds an extra layer of hip-hop and hometown glory to make us feel at home in the city that never sleeps.
Luther Vandross – Every Year, Every Christmas
Not everyone’s Christmas is a joyous one; and no vocalist captures that longing for love better than Luther Vandross. Co-written by Vandross and Richard Marx in 1995, the bittersweet ballad tells the story of a man who visits the same spot each year for a love who may return one miraculous day. We don’t always think about what the lonely do at Christmas, but we can’t help but hope that this Christmas will be the one that Vandross gets to hold the one he can’t live without.
Sounds of Blackness – Soul Holidays
Blending traditional gospel with contemporary R&B, Sounds of Blackness lifts every voice, inviting us to a celebration that the entire family can rejoice in. Produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, listeners feel like part of the family as the choir serves a plate of all our favorite holidays from Christmas to New Year’s Day. Under the vocal leadership of Ann Nesby and James (Big Jim) Wright, the song uplifts African-American family traditions and the power of total praise.
Mariah Carey – All I Want For Christmas Is You