Boston is not exactly a city renowned nowadays for its weird rap scene, but Michael Christmas might challenge that assumption. His early 2014 tape Is This Art? was criminally slept on, and just discovering it myself, it’s amazing how the young rapper (only 19, as frequently referenced over the project) is able to pack so much charisma and genuine humor into his craft.
Is This Art? toes the line between Kool A.D.-esque hyper-referential nonsequitor punchline rap and storytelling with a boastful, and occasionally dark edge. Much of the tape is gleeful in its tongue-in-cheek humor and clever hooks—comparing himself to Michael Cera with a discordant giggle on an early single, callback to “Duck Duck Goose”. But there’s also flirtation with themes of being a broke, lovelorn, and reckless adolescent. It’s as if the jokes are a necessary, a learned coping mechanism to hide the pain revealed on tracks like “Still”, one of my favorites on the album.
An uncanny eye for detail is what sets Christmas apart as an MC—“I’m sending out emojis with the red face/pissed” as a way of expressing his discontent at not getting tacos on the Goodwin-produced “Taco Truck”. Another unique metaphor to express emotion on “What’s Happening”, “same face as Kobe after every losing Laker’s game,” show that Christmas has a real talent for expressing these complexities in a humorous way. On that track, the whole first verse is about Christmas (or the character) waking up, being locked out of the bathroom by his father, and his mother bitching at him to get out of the house. It’s not a posturing attempt at showing his hardship, it’s a heartfelt portrait of a very relatable young adult’s struggle. The goal is not to intimidate or provide evidence for a persona, it’s to explore the minutiae of Christmas’s less-than-glamorous life, cast into art by technical rapping talent and an comedic lens.
The closest touchstone—although it’s a lot to live up to—feels like Chance’s Acid Rap, in the sense that Christmas has debuted with a surprisingly consistent tape showing technical prowess and a fully-formed aesthetic. The three features feel appropriate, and since they’re so infrequent, the listener really gets exposed to the multifaceted and hilarious Michael Christmas. I’m down with dick jokes, I’m down with “Talkin’ to yo’ bitch/Dr. Doolittle,” I’m down with the song name “Overweight Drake” and all the images that calls to mind. The best gift that could come this December is another tape from Michael Christmas, as long as it’s full of the same self-aware degeneracy, hopefully updated with a slightly broadened subject matter. It is art, or it doesn’t matter, I just want more of it.