Christmas Albums: Various Artists

Christmas on Death Row (Death Row)
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The Independent Culture

Christmas, lest we forget, is traditionally a time for cynical opportunism and ruthless commerciality, and they don't come much more cynical or ruthless than Death Row label head Suge Knight, recently released from jail and desperate for a few more of your gangsta-rap pennies. Hence the reissue of Christmas on Death Row, perhaps the most meretricious Christmas album of them all, and certainly the most cheerless. Originally issued in 1996, it trades heavily on the label's notorious reputation, relying on the tasteless cover shot of Santa strapped into Old Sparky to sucker in the punters, but offering little of substance to back it up. The absence of Death Row A-team artists such as 2Pac and Dr Dre – by then either dead or in headlong flight from Suge's clutches – is particularly noticeable, while Snoop Dogg's contribution to the opening "Santa Claus Goes Straight to the Ghetto" could hardly be more cursory, as if he's muttering it over his shoulder on his way out the door. In their place is a series of irritating musings on criminal matters by a cast of characterless third-string dullards, a few mealy-mouthed platitudes about the plight of the homeless, and vast swathes of teeth-itchingly awful R&B crooning and wobbly-voiced would-be soul divas. Some idea of the depth of inspiration involved here can be gleaned from the unfortunately named Operation from the Bottom's "Christmas in the Ghetto", which, he informs us, "ain't much to talk about". And guess what? He's right.