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Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Snipes Talk New Holiday Song, 'Puppy For Hanukkah'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So many of the songs we enjoy around the holidays are standards or classics that have been around for years. Even if they get a remix, it's rare that we get to enjoy a new holiday song that feels like an instant hit. But on this, the fourth night of Hanukkah, we've got a present for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUPPY FOR HANUKKAH")

DAVEED DIGGS: (Singing) I'm a get what I wanted-a (ph). Whatcha wanted? Whatcha wanted? Whatcha wanted? Whatcha wanted? Whatcha wanted? I'ma (ph) get a puppy for Hanukkah. Get a puppy, get a puppy, get a puppy, get a puppy. I ain't even trippin' on you, brah (ph). I ain't gonna trip. I ain't gonna trip. 'Cause I'ma get a puppy for Hanukkah.

MARTIN: That was "Puppy For Hanukkah," and that voice you heard was Daveed Diggs, Grammy and Tony Award-winner of "Hamilton" fame and other acclaimed projects. The song premiered on the Disney Channel and was written by the trio Clipping, which is comprised of Diggs, Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson. And we're joined now by Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Snipes, who is a composer for film and theater.

Welcome, and happy Hanukkah.

JONATHAN SNIPES: Happy Hanukkah (laughter).

DIGGS: Thanks. You, too.

MARTIN: So the song is pretty great. Can you tell us how it came about? I read that you got a call from a Disney Channel exec asking you to come up with something. Is that right? Daveed, do you want to start?

DIGGS: That's pretty much it. Disney sort of hit us up and was, like (laughter), there are not a lot of Hanukkah songs. Do you want to write one? And my knee-jerk reaction was, absolutely not. And then...

(LAUGHTER)

DIGGS: ...We got on the phone and talked about it for a while.

SNIPES: (Laughter).

DIGGS: And this is the case with a lot of Clipping music and a lot of our music in general. Once - you know, once the idea is in there, it's going to be kind of hard to not make it. And we sort of started spinning on the idea, and there were just - there were a lot of fun things that came up. And so - I don't know, by the end of the conversation, we sort of had an idea of how to do it. And it seemed silly to not make it at that point.

MARTIN: Jonathan.

SNIPES: I think we're really good at one thing - and the three of us are really good at kind of taking a prompt or taking a challenge. And so it - just, I mean, it really seemed like a fun challenge to make a children's rap song about Hanukkah for the Disney Channel.

DIGGS: (Laughter).

SNIPES: And I don't think any of us expected it to be good or for anyone to hear it.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But how did you decide on the sound of it? It's got a little hip-hop. It's got a little klezmer.

SNIPES: Well, we knew it was going to be a rap song, and I simply adore klezmer music. And I just thought it was such an obvious thing to make a really clean, contemporary kind of bouncy drum machiney-feeling rap song with a solo clarinet line. And I just never heard anything like it. And there's a handful of, like, klezmer rap groups and some klezmery-feeling (ph)...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SNIPES: ...Rap songs, but nothing that quite nailed it, like, exactly the way that I wanted...

MARTIN: Yeah.

SNIPES: ...That we - you know, we thought...

MARTIN: Well, I think nailed it is something that you're going to hear a lot. But, Daveed, you - in the music video, the kids who are - you don't appear in the music video, although everybody knows it's you. Your song - your - it's definitely your voice. But the kids who are lip-synching along to your singing are also of color.

And I know this has been resonating with a lot of Jews of color who are just really overjoyed at seeing this. I mean, some of the comments on the YouTube video - Evan (ph), this makes me so happy to see Black Jewish representation. Yes, we are beautiful, and we exist.

And another comment - as a Jew of color, this makes my heart so happy. I can't tell you the joy it is to raise my children in a world where seeing images like this is just a normal part of their childhood, and they will always feel like a fully embraced part of the Jewish community. Thank you so much for making this. Also, Daveed Diggs is everything. So...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...Just in case you didn't see that. So, Daveed, I just wanted to ask you, is this - was this always part of the idea for the video - that this would be part of it?

DIGGS: Yeah, I mean, that was really how the Disney Channel was approaching it from jump. They wanted to make something that was - that displayed, like, the diversity that exists in the Jewish community. And that was cool.

You know, I - what I - when we first talked about it, what I was sort of really clear on was that I didn't want it to feel - there's a thing that happened to me a lot growing up where, like, in some ways, I felt very embraced by the Jewish community when I was rapping or when I was doing something cool. But there was a kind of tokenism there. Like, I didn't really feel like it much involved me, you know, when I was getting pulled over by the cops or whatever.

So (laughter) I - what I really like about how this came out is that it is not - there's no comment on it at all. These are just kids trying to get a puppy (laughter). And...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

DIGGS: ...They also happen to be Jewish, you know? But what I like about how the song came out is that the way that Judaism is practiced in there. And, like, I - you know, I barely remember when Hanukkah is coming around - or any of the holidays, for that matter. But that's part of being Jewish, too. So I love the lines, like, not sure what it means, but I learned it phonetic. Like, that's very real for a lot of us, you know (laughter)?

And to be able to express things like that and be of color and still be able to be recognized as being Jewish - that's sort of the whole package to me.

MARTIN: You know, the Hanukkah song list is not long. I'm just wondering if either of you or both of you - did you ever want to - you know, it's like - I've asked this of directors who've done Christmas movies. It's, like, did you kind of always in the back of your head kind of want to do one? And so the Hanukkah song list isn't long. Have you always kind of wanted to do one or wished that there was a song that you could sing when you were growing up?

DIGGS: I never had any interest in doing it.

SNIPES: We never - have we ever talked about it?

(LAUGHTER)

SNIPES: Well, I mean, you know, Daveed is certainly the most Jewish of us, though I think Bill and I can both sort of claim some sort of hereditary Judaism. And it just didn't - it never - I mean, I love Jewish music, and I love klezmer music, but it never really felt like my place. And something our manager said when she was really trying...

DIGGS: (Laughter).

SNIPES: ...To sell us on doing this was, look; Jews wrote all the best Christmas songs. It's time for you guys to...

(LAUGHTER)

SNIPES: ...Come back.

DIGGS: True story.

MARTIN: Hey, whatever it takes to get the job done.

DIGGS: (Laughter) Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUPPY FOR HANUKKAH")

DIGGS: (Singing) Lights keep burning, and nights just pass. Menorah is now covered up with wax. I thought it would be obvious. I didn't want to ask. But will tonight be the night I get my puppy at last?

MARTIN: That is Daveed Diggs and Jonathan Snipes, two members of the trio Clipping. And their new song is "Puppy For Hanukkah."

Thank you both so much for speaking with us. And happy Hanukkah once again.

DIGGS: (Laughter) Same to you. Thank you.

SNIPES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PUPPY FOR HANUKKAH")

DIGGS: (Singing) You're everything I ever wanted for - you are what I want. You are what I want. You are what I want. You're my puppy for Hanukkah. Got my puppy. Got my puppy. Got my puppy. Got my puppy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.