It is my position that “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is the greatest diss track ever recorded. There are other challengers, of course. “Ether” is the most notable of these, in large part because it contains the line “You 36 and in a karate class?,” which remains to this day the funniest and most devastating thing anyone has ever said about Jay-Z. I don’t know if you’ve listened to “Ether” lately, though. Large parts of it just devolve into cheap anti-gay rhetoric that doesn’t track at all in 2018, and probably shouldn’t have back when it was released. So that’s out.
“Hit ‘Em Up” is heavy and mean like an ornery rhino. The entire last minute is just Tupac yelling at people, no bars, no rhymes. Go listen to it again. It’s crazy in hindsight. Out of all the stuff he says (which includes calling out people’s moms, claiming he slept with Biggie’s girl, and threatening to kill basically any person who has ever lived in New York), the cruelest is probably the line about Mobb Deep and sickle cell. Too real, Tupac. Definitely crossed a line with this one. And we know how that ended. No, this will not do either.
Even recently, there was the Pusha T and Drake battle that involved revelations about hidden children and ghostwriters and other such information that made it really look like they had a team of personal investigators on each other. I kind of like this idea. I hope one day a diss track starts out like “Don’t come back at me until you settle up that unpaid cable bill from 2014, you 486 credit-score-having buster.” Get hackers involved. Show receipts. Literally. Show me actual receipts of actual purchases. “Back in 2005 you spent $450 on an eBay auction for a phone that turned out to be just a plastic display model, you easily duped clown-ass mothereffer.” And so on.
None of those can touch the Grinch song, though. The Grinch song — from the original half-hour cartoon, as sung by a man named Thurl Ravenscroft, which is a top-five real name ever and something I have factored into my outlandish declaration about this song — is a killer from beginning to end. It’s six verses — no chorus — of non-stop brutal owns. Creative ones, too. Ones that cut deep. It starts out slow and straightforward but, by the end… I mean, there’s no coming back from some of these. Let’s look at it verse-by-verse. You’ll see. I’m not crazy.
Hit me, Thurl.
You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel
You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch
You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel!
Two thoughts on this opener:
- You think this is just a cutesy set of insults but please do imagine how steamed you’d be if you went to get a banana for a snack and discovered the last one in the bowl was bad with a greasy black peel. You’d be like “Ah, gross.” Much more hurtful than it appears.
- I like to picture a friendly eel hearing this for the first time and being all “Awww, come on! What did I do to anybody?!”
You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch
Your heart’s an empty hole
Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch
I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!
What’s the roughest line in here? I’m torn. I want to say it’s “you’ve got garlic in your soul,” but I’m not even entirely sure what that means. Sure does sound bad, though. So does a brain full of spiders. If I knew a dude with brainspiders, I wouldn’t touch him with a 39.5 foot pole either. What if the spiders scurry out onto the pole and come racing toward me? What if they stink from the garlic? I don’t have time for that, man. I have things to do over here.
You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch
You have termites in your smile
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch
Given a choice between the two of you I’d take the seasick crocodile!
Look at that setup. Termites in the smile is gross and oddly specific, as though he’s implying the Grinch either a) has wooden teeth that he does not perform standard maintenance on or b) has regular teeth that are in such a state of disrepair that it looks like they’ve been ravaged by a real or metaphorical termite infestation. People are sensitive about their teeth. This one stings.
The best part is the punchline, though. First, he compares the Grinch to a seasick crocodile, which is bad enough because who wants to be stuck on a boat with a puking crocodile? Not me. I don’t want to be stuck on a boat with a healthy crocodile. Or any seasick person. Definitely not both.
But then, the twist: After creating that miserable image — an angry crocodile on a boat, tilting from side-to-side in choppy waters, puking crocodile bile (crocobile) (sorry) into the cruise ship’s hot tub — Thurl says he’d prefer the crocodile. Really think about how awful someone has to be for that to be true. If someone said that about me and meant it, it would probably result in weeks of intense self-reflection.
“Damn. Rick would rather hang out with a barfing crocodile than me. Wow. What have I been doing with my life? I need to change everything right now.”
You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty-wasty skunk
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote
“Stink, stank, stunk!”
If we want to nitpick, there’s some inconsistency here. Just a few verses ago, Thurl said the Grinch’s heart was “an empty hole” and he had garlic in his soul. Now, he claims the Grinch’s heart is full of unwashed socks and his soul is full of gunk. Which is it, Thurl? Get your story straight.
Unless he’s implying that the Grinch just takes off his gross sweaty socks at the end of the day and stuffs them into his empty heart-hole instead of throwing them in the hamper. If true, this is disgusting. You should not keep dirty socks inside any of your body cavities. This is nasty. I’m gagging.
As far as the gunk thing… I guess maybe it was roasted garlic in his soul and it got all squeezed and smushed? I don’t know. I’m still caught up on the dirty socks. That is cutting. I realized this even more once I thought about someone deploying it in real life.
“You never do what I want to do!”
“You have a pile of unwashed socks in the empty hole where your heart should be, Karen!”
Grounds for divorce.
You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch
You’re the king of sinful sots
Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots!
Remember the thing I said at the beginning of all this, about how Tupac closed out “Hit ‘Em Up” with a 60-second freeform rant about killing anyone who crossed Death Row? This is kind of like the cartoon version of that. My dude Thurl busted the form and rhyme scheme to just start rambling the Grinch’s soul again. But this time, no garlic, no gunk. Read it again slowly. Really get an image here.
“The most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable” is a solid double burn because not only does the rubbish suck, it’s also been selected and arranged like crap, too. Beautiful. But then, the kicker: “Mangled up in tangled up knots.”
So, to recap: The rubbish is deplorable and assembled poorly— poorly even for rubbish!— and even if it had been a reasonably respectable collection of rubbish, it’s still been so neglected that it’s gotten tangled into hopeless rubbish knots. The layers at play here. My god. Still not “you 36 and in a karate class” but powerfully hurtful on its own merits.
You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous super “naus”!
You’re a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch
You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce!
“Yeah and your horse sucks too, you puke-inducing muppet reject.” Incredible.
You’ll note that, in the special, the Grinch never releases a reply track after hearing this song. How could he have? How do you come back any of this? You don’t. You just have to internalize it all and change who you are. That’s how you know this was a great diss track. Because by the end of the story, the Grinch stopped and looked around “Damn. He’s not wrong. I gotta re-evaluate some things, man. Damn.”
This would be like if, after hearing “Ether,” Jay-Z just quit rapping and started a foundation that found homes for rescue dogs or something. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was such a brutal diss track that it led to the Grinch becoming a better man.