I love December because it grants me full authority to blast all the music I've been ignoring the other 11 months of the year. The final 30 days is reserved for holiday music, soul, vibey instrumentals, and pretending I'm Christian while listening to gospel. Sprinkle some occasional rap and jazz in there for balance, and we've got us a perfect playlist for everything from crafting, lighting candles, making cookies, wrapping gifts, cleaning the house, or decorating a tree. Here are five new releases from regional and national artists to check out.
“Oh Santa,” Mariah Carey feat. Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson
I was momentarily devastated when I realized “Oh Santa” missed the cut-off for last week’s Refresh, because the revamped single is exactly the kind of relentlessly cheerful vibe I needed to kick-off the holiday season: three legendary powerhouse vocalists singing sultry while on a sugar-high and begging Santa for impossible gifts as if he’s God. This song, originally from Mariah Carey’s 2010 album Merry Christmas II You, will get you snapping, clapping, and singing “Santa’s gonna come and make him mine this Christmas,” and lip-synching all the notes you can’t reach. Speaking of which, the climax to this single—which sees Ariana perfectly harmonizing with Mariah’s famed whistle pitch—has been on repeat in my head for the last week. Hearing J-Hud nail “Oh Santa!” adlibs (“Heyyy/ I know he will!”) will also get you pumped for her to play Aretha Franklin in the upcoming biopic Respect. Watch the music video for a full and truly delightful experience, and see the lyric video to learn all the ridiculously joyful lyrics.
“Let It Snow,” Boys II Men feat. Brian McKnight
Speaking of lovely revamped Christmas originals, Boys II Men rejoined with co-writer and co-producer Brian McKnight for their 1993 hit “Let It Snow,” giving it a new treatment for 2020. Now with a new sound bed of added instrumental flourishes, and a few added bars of “White Christmas” from Wanya Morris, the song demonstrates that all of these men still got it. Debuting the newfangled song on OWN’s Our OWN Christmas special, these fellas sound as good as ever. Watch it here:
Limbo (Deluxe), Aminé
On December 4, Portland-raised rap star Aminé dropped a deluxe version of his newest full-length Limbo, placing seven new songs at the top of the album. With new album artwork of the emcee’s bare back, and a massive “RIP CITY” tattoo, new songs include the bouncy and falsetto-laced “Mr. Clean,” as well as “Zack and Cody” featuring Valee, “Talk” featuring Saba, “Buzzin” featuring Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the euphonic “Solid,” and more. On the ultra lit “Gelato,” (a reference to a weed strain), Amine raps about constantly getting high on that good West Coast kush: “I'm puffin' on loud, Stephen A/I'm Damian Lillard, I'm runnin' the game, NBA/Call-callin' through Weezy, I feel like a martian/ we are not the same/No, this ain't CBD/ I'm smokin' Gelato at BET, I'm eatin' halal in the Middle East.” All in all, the seven new tracks strengthen an already great album.
“Willie Lynchings,” Glenn Waco
On November 23, Portland-based emcee and activist Glenn Waco dropped a new single with frequent collaborator Samarei from the forthcoming album 46. While the song is packed with relevant truths about the current state of the country, with a focus on Portland, Waco wrote the song four years ago. Since the artist has a compromised immune system and cannot take to the streets in the same way he did pre-pandemic, this song serves as a form of rhythmic protest: “Took streets, now it’s time to take seats / We can integrate still own our own leagues / A few steps and we finally free / But first boot the union, defund the police / Now I took my lashes / Own all my Masters / Pay me what you owe, reparations through taxes / The response is rubber bullets before they gas us / Barely hear us through the static.”
“Stuntin’ On You,” Tyla Yaweh feat. DDG, Dame D.O.L.L.A
I’m not sure a song packed with lyrics that brag about one’s individual spending power is striking the right chord in the current financial climate, but here is "Stuntin' On You" by Florida-born emcee Tyla Yaweh with assists from Epic Records labelmate DDG and Portland Trail Blazer/rapper Dame D.O.L.L.A. Dame’s braggadocious verse is up first: “All of thе family got paper / We from thе land of the Raider's / Pick up the phone for a check / We never check for the haters / That's what suckers do / And we stay sucker proof.”
“Better Days,” Ant Clemons, Justin Timberlake
Many artists are learning that what listeners really need right now is some hopeful tunes to get us through the day, like this duet from soul singer Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake. In Timberlake's verse he sings "I know you've been kicked down / Slept on, let down, faith gone / Waited for too long for somethin' to lean on / You feel weak, just be strong (ooh)/ Deep breath, stay calm/If you just press on, press on, press on." The chorus reassures us "there's a light at the end of the tunnel." The soothing sound of JT and Clemons repeatedly singing “Better days are coming” is like some magic medicine for the heart. See them perform the song on the Rock the Runoff Virtual Concert fundraiser: