I like my Christmases engulfed in powdery snow, but growing up in Canada’s freezer it’s the odd green December that appears most vividly in my memory. For some people, their first experience with OutKast has nothing to do with shaking Polaroids and everything to do with Christmas—“Player’s Ball,” for my money one of hip hop’s finest holiday tunes ever committed to record — was André “3000” Benjamin and Big Boi’s formal introduction to the masses. And it was a bold one at that; instead of rhyming about prancing elves, they hit listeners upside the head with dynamic flows and refreshingly subversive lyrics (Dré suggests reactionary purists “shut up that nonsense about some silent night” because he “gots it crunk, if it ain’t real, ain’t right”).
The two emcees from Atlanta’s East Point brought hip hop to Christmas … or rather seized Christmas by the balls and decked its halls with rattling Cadillac Seville trunks and crude liberation. Dark-emerald woodland, dusty roads, asymmetrical housing, beautiful women, crumbled ‘erb, filthy rum and soulful music — all things “Player’s Ball” might evoke. About the only traditionally “Christmas” aspect of the song is the sleigh bell that sets the tone for what ultimately becomes a celebratory ode to the hustler’s lifestyle.
A silk-smooth, debonair chorus sung by Sleepy Brown of Organized Noize helped propel the tune to certified Gold status, and OutKast proved that blacks in the South had something important to say, a multiplex audio-visual story worth following. Their voice would only grow louder, and it still reverberates far and wide today amidst the grating screech of Donald Trump & His Gutless Thugs. OutKast offered the uninformed public a peripheral awareness of XMAS — shedding light on the vapid institution of annual mad-dash consumerism. Moreover, if Santa had witnessed first-hand what then-teenage Dré and Big Boi were conjuring up in their Dungeon, he would have returned to the North Pole with a hell of a lot more funk in his hair and some fresh boom for his pockets.
Below is the music video for the 1993 single, directed by none other than Sean “Puffy” Combs…
(Song recommendation by Thomas L. Winters)