On Thursday, hip-hop fans got an early holiday gift with Chance the Rapper and Jeremih’s surprise Christmas mixtape. The collection, titled Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama, features nine holiday-themed tracks with names like “Snowed In,” “I’m Your Santa,” and “Chi Town Christmas.” Its production drifts from the joyful pop-rap of “All the Way” to the sultry, fireside “Stranger At the Table,” including plenty of festive references. The first song samples the iconic “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid” line from 1983 classic A Christmas Story, plus a holiday rant from comedian Hannibal Buress.
The project marks the second time Chance has collaborated with Jeremih, but it also signals something larger: it’s the final cap to a banner year for the standout emcee. Chance previously carved a buzzy reputation with the critically acclaimed 10 Day and Coloring Book, but 2016 marked his official ascent from grassroots breakout to bona fide star.
In February, he appeared on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and usurped the king of rap himself. His scene-stealing verse on “Ultralight Beam” was one of the album’s shining moments, and he snagged five songwriting credits in the process.
Three months later, the release of Coloring Book, his gospel-packed third record, put him on par with some of hip-hop's biggest heavyweights. It was near-universally lauded, and earned Chance some of his first-ever Grammy nominations. He nabbed a staggering seven in total: one for Best New Artist, one for Best Rap Album, two for single “No Problem,” and three for his contributions to The Life of Pablo.
He’s also made history several times this year. Coloring Book was the first streaming-exclusive album to receive a Grammy nod or to even chart on the Billboard 200. If you trace back to last December — less than a month before the new year — he became the first unsigned artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. Outside of music, he bolstered his deep-seated roots in activism. He’s long been a proponent of black rights and anti-violence in his hometown of Chicago, and in April met with President Obama to help campaign for My Brother’s Keeper, a government initiative to promote intervention by civic leaders in the lives of young men of color to promote racial justice.
Against the backdrop of such a major year, Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama may seem like a frivolous feat, but it goes to show that Chance is constantly creating, and gives everything he's got right back to his fans.