Since the business of Christmas music is growing so fast – it occupies five of the top 10 places on the Billboard Hot 100 this week – we are re-presenting some of our stories from Christmas past. This piece, about how two former Billboard staffers produced the holiday hit “Christmas Rappin’” for then-up-and-coming rapper Kurtis Blow, originally ran in 2019. Since then, in 2020, Robert Ford passed away.
One groundbreaking Christmas hit didn’t just make the Billboard charts — it was produced by two former employees. In 1979, J.B. Moore and Robert Ford left the magazine to produce “Christmas Rappin’ ” for an up-and-coming rapper named Kurtis Blow. Released on Mercury Records, the single went gold, and Blow became the first rapper to sign a major-label deal.
At Billboard, Moore was an ad salesman who sometimes wrote music reviews, and Ford was a production manager who also wrote a column about R&B. They both knew that hip-hop represented the future of music — Public Enemy’s Chuck D has cited a 1978 article by Ford as one of the first mentions of the genre in a national publication. Even so, they didn’t get any interest from A&R executives in New York, so they took “Chrismas Rappin’ ” to Chicago-based Mercury Records, where John Stainze, a recent transfer from the label’s U.K. office to its West Coast operations, convinced Mercury that the song would recoup its costs (about $6,000, remembers Moore) in the United Kingdom alone.
“Christmas Rappin’ ” — a song “ ’bout a red-suited dude with a friendly attitude” — wasn’t originally intended to be a Christmas tune. Moore, who wrote the lyrics, decided to give it a holiday theme because labels like songs they can sell every December. “Christmas Rappin’ ” turned out to be one: It peaked at No. 53 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in 1995 and at No. 35 on Hot Rap Songs in 1999.
“It took Mercury forever to realize how big it was,” says Moore, who with Ford went on to produce Blow’s landmark “The Breaks” and work with the R&B group Full Force. “I’m sitting here staring at my gold record that should be platinum.”