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Enfield hip-hop star Classified started 2020 with the hopeful single Good News, and now he’s rapping it up with a festive bow on his brand new Christmas single The Bells Are Ringing.
Both songs are reflective of the times — not to mention the tracks on his recent album simply titled Time — and the rapper known to friends and family as Luke Boyd tries to use some optimism to cut the bitter pill that this year has been for everyone to swallow.
“This year’s been a tough one, so I’m just trying to celebrate and spend it with my loved ones,” says Classified in an early verse, knowing that some of the most basic things we take for granted are painfully out of reach for more people than we realize.
“A lot of people can’t see their family for Christmas, especially if they have older parents or people in retirement homes. Or if you want to travel to Ontario, you’ve got to self-isolate and all that,” says Boyd in his home studio, with walls lined with record sales awards and music industry trophies.
“Just having those moments of showing people that if you can do that, appreciate it. Coming together, that’s the biggest thing with the world this year. People just feel so divided, whether it’s Trump or COVID, or whatever it is on Facebook. For Christmas, forget all that — everybody’s got their opinions — let’s come together and appreciate what we do have, and what we do agree on.”
This year also marks 25 years since the release of Classified’s earliest recordings on the Time’s Up, Kid cassette, and in all that time, he’s never gotten around to releasing a Christmas song. It wasn’t for lack of trying; Boyd recalls more than one late night hazy studio session with friends, putting together holiday ideas that in the cold, hard light of the next day wouldn’t have put him in Santa Claus’s good graces.
But it was worth the wait. With a sweet countermelody provided by his Good News songmate Breagh Isabel and an uplifting Hallelujah chorus from keyboardist Owen (O’Sound) Lee, the song is bittersweet balance between what everyone’s been going through and the hope for better things that the holidays bring.
Like most musicians, Boyd admits to getting restless without the release of taking his crew on the road, and although he’s been connecting with fans via online performances and special Zoom events, it’s just not the same as having a whole crowd bouncing in a sweaty club or arena.
Ultimately, getting creative in the studio has been his primary antidote to cabin fever in the era of COVID-19. Spreading some Christmas joy to his fans felt like a worthy pursuit, but he didn’t want to just do a holiday rehash of one of his hits — although he says his mom suggested turning Inner Ninja into Inner Santa.
So he came up with a beat that had a certain jingle to it, and started coming up with a list of his favourite things about the season, with family members coming by and the kids building snow forts. Boyd's three daughters with his wife Kim even make an appearance, but the rapper says they’re not overly impressed by what their dad does for a living.
“They weren’t happy with it,” he chuckles. “Anytime I try to get the kids to come into the studio, they’re like, ‘Leave me alone, dad!’
“They used to be into it, but now they are getting older and thinking, ‘Nah, I don’t want to hear my voice on it.’ ”
Holidays need more hip hop
Boyd was bolstered by the fact that there isn’t a huge canon of classic holiday hip-hop songs. Apart from Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis, the NSFW track by NWA’s Eazy-E, Merry Mutha******’ Christmas, plus a handful of songs by Classified collaborator Snoop Dogg, it takes a search on Spotify to come up with a few more gems, from Kurtis Blow’s 1980 Christmas Rappin’ to Tyler, the Creator’s take on You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.
“Usually when Christmas songs are done for hip hop, it doesn’t sound like the artist anymore; they have to go this way to make it Christmasy,” says Boyd. “With this song I was able to keep the Classified sound, my vibe, and not so much get into the whole thing with Santa coming and all this stuff.
“It’s more about appreciating your family, the family time you have at Christmas, and those special moments. That was the vibe of the song, especially this year where you appreciate those moments more than ever.”
The upcoming Classified video for The Bells Are Ringing, due out later this week, shares some of those moments, with old home video footage of the Boyd family’s Christmas Eve parties with all the aunts, uncles and cousins coming by the house to share the good cheer.
“For me, that was the best time at Christmas,” Boyd recalls. “All your relatives coming over, staying up late, kids eating junk food, aunts and uncles giving you presents that you’d open that night, and just spending time with family and enjoying it.”