De La Soul's sophomore album is one of Hip-Hop's great about-faces. Most fans can tell you the shorthand version: after the success of their debut 3 Feet High & Rising, De La resented being painted as "soft" and "Hip-Hop hippies," due to the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" image and ethos they'd embraced on the project. When it came to drop album No. 2, Posdnous, Trugoy and Maseo decided to actively tear down their Day-Glo image, and De La Soul Is Dead was born. The album is more reactionary and sometimes darker than their debut, and no song embodies the grittier, more downbeat approach than the gripping "Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa."
The song tells the story of teenaged Millie, who is distraught over her father, a school social worker named Dillon. Dillon is secretly molesting his daughter at home, and her mostly oblivious friends and classmates note that she's beginning to show signs of depression.
Over a sample of Funkadelic's woozy 1974 classic "I'll Stay" and drums and piano from the ever-reliable "Synthetic Substition" by Melvin Bliss, De La Soul peels back the layers of Millie's dark tale. Things ultimately come to a head, with a hopeless Millie buying a gun and shooting her father dead as he works as a Macy's department store Santa.
Yo Millie, what's the problem? Lately you've been buggin'/ On your dookie earrings someone must be tuggin'/ You were a dancer who could always be found clubbin'/ Now you're world renowned with the frown you're luggin'/ Come to think—your face look stink when Dill's around you/ He's your father—what done happened? Did he ground you?"
- Trugoy ("Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa")
What's harrowing about the story of Millie, isn't just that her father is abusing her, but that her friends at school are so dismissive. Even as Pos explains that Millie is suffering at home, Trugoy (aka Dave) is the voice of doubters at school. Millie tries to get help by telling her peers what's going on, but her words are dismissed due to Dillon's sterling reputation with her schoolmates.
Pos raps that he got to know Millie because Dillon was his social worker because, as Pos puts it "I had some troubles" and he briefly acknowledges what sounds like anger issues. Pos also says that he's attracted to Millie, but notes that it's troubling that her own father apparently is preying on the girl. Dave plays the role of doubter, but Pos provides the audience with more context—revealing that Dillon was also beating Millie and threatening her to remain silent about his abuse.
When Millie tells Dave she's going to need a gun, Dave asks her why. She explains to him directly what she plans to do, to which Dave dismisses her as over-exaggerating because she doesn't like the fact that Dillon is her disciplinarian at home and at school. It's telling that the song doesn't spare any of the "friends" in Millie's life: she's looking for help and finds none. The positive image that her father has means more to her (male) friends than anything she's saying about what he's doing to her.
Wanted to know if I could get a loaded pistol/ That ain't a problem—but why would Millie need one?/ She said she wanted her pops Dillon to heed one/ Ran some style about him pushin' on her privates..."
- Trugoy ("Millie Pulled a Pistol On Santa")
De La Soul would share that there was real inspiration behind the story of Millie. Though the actual chain of events depicting in the song is entirely fictional, Pos admitted that it was rooted in an experience he'd been told by a friend when he was younger.
"We always deal with things that apply to our own lives," Pos told Steven Daly in a 1991 SPIN interview, "And I know a young friend who was going through that problem, her father was abusing her. I was really upset about that and just applied it to wax—that's all it was."
Macy's department store, the scene for Santa's kisses/ And all the little brats demandin' all of their wishes/ Time passes by as I wait for my younger brother/ He asks his wish, I waste no time to return him back to Mother/ As I'm jettin', Millie floats in like a zombie/ I ask her what's her problem, all she says is 'Where is he?'/ I give a point, she pulls a pistol, people screamin'/ She shouts to Dill: 'He's off to hell cuz he's a demon!'"
- Posdnous ("Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa")
"Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa" ends abruptly ("...it was over.") and Millie's fate is mostly unknown. But the casual way that this dark story unfolds, the helplessness of the protagonist and the dark climax in front of unknowing children at a seasonal display all make for one of the most unsettling songs the group ever recorded. "Millie..." isn't the kind of Christmas song that you whip out at parties. It's the kind you listen to intently by yourself. It doesn't inspire much cheer, but it is an inspired piece of art from a group that was trying to show the world it was always a lot more serious than some may recognize.