Why Run-DMC didn’t want to make ‘Christmas in Hollis’
Shopping for the holidays is stressful enough to send anyone reaching for the eggnog, but for Darryl McDaniels, a k a DMC of Run-DMC, it’s especially taxing.
“At this time of year, I can’t walk five steps at the mall without someone shouting the lyrics to ‘Christmas in Hollis’ at me,” he tells The Post. “Just yesterday, I was at the grocery store, and a lady said, ‘Guess what’s on my playlist right now?’ I said, ‘Christmas in Hollis.’ She said, ‘How did you know?!’ It’s a beautiful thing, but I got to expect that for the rest of my life!”
That didn’t seem likely when the song was first released 30 years ago. In 1987, Run-DMC was invited to contribute a holiday song to “A Very Special Christmas,” a charity compilation benefiting the Special Olympics. Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Whitney Houston and other artists recorded covers, but the New York rap trio went the extra mile and came up with the fun and funky “Christmas in Hollis.”
The song didn’t chart at the time, but over the years, it’s developed a cultural cachet as one of the few holiday songs that isn’t sappy. It’s also been featured in movies such as “Die Hard” (1988) and Seth Rogen’s 2015 comedy “The Night Before.” DMC’s just given it a 30th anniversary revamp to help promote the IFC network’s “Christmas in the ’80s” movie marathon over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
“We’re down with Christmas forever because of that record,” says the 53-year-old DMC, who recently released a four-track vinyl-only EP “Back From the Dead — The Legend Lives.”
“We’re part of the holidays, and I get paid a lot of money to do that song at parties this time of year.”
But the coolest Christmas song of all time almost didn’t happen. Kurtis Blow released the holiday track “Christmas Rappin’ ” in 1979, and the group worried about looking like copycats by releasing another. “In hip-hop culture, you can’t duplicate what’s already been done, so we weren’t sure about doing it,” says DMC.
But publicist Bill Adler convinced them otherwise. An avowed enthusiast and collector of lesser-heard Christmas music, Adler bought the group’s DJ Jam Master Jay (a k a Jason Mizell) a crate of festive records, hoping there would be something they could use to build a song. Eventually, Jay came across Clarence Carter’s 1968 R&B track “Back Door Santa,” and it immediately caught his ear.
“Run and DMC were in the next room and came in, as if they’d been drawn to the scent of a big Christmas pie or something,” Adler tells The Post. “They nodded at Jay, and everybody knew that was going to be the sample.”
Lyrically, the song followed Run-DMC’s established trope: writing about their native Queens. Joseph “Run” Simmons’ verse centers on spotting Santa Claus in Hollis, while DMC captures his own childhood Christmases, with his mom “cooking chicken and collard greens” at home.
“I ate that meal for 48 years before my mother passed away [in 2013], and I got tired of it,” says the rapper, who’s since left Queens for New Jersey.
“Now, I go out with my family on Christmas, because when you go to the city on Christmas, the whole city’s yours. You can get reservations in places you never would. The next Christmas song I do is gonna be about going out on Christmas to eat!”