The Christmas season can be polarizing, and the media surrounding it is no exception. As passionately as seasonal viewers feel about universally beloved classics like the original Miracle on 34th Street or Elf, there are a handful of Christmas movies whose mere mention can cause as much partisan divide and heated exchanges at the dinner table as politics. Most recently, this contentious distinction belongs to the 2000 live-action film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Barely holding onto its 49 percent critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, the debate often comes down to whether the viewing experience is defined by Jim Carrey’s committed performance as the title character, or by the jarring deviations from the original book’s plot. But both arguments cast an absolutely massive shadow over an element of the film that’s been under-acknowledged for far too long: The soundtrack contains Busta Rhymes rapping with Jim Carrey, who raps in-character as The Grinch. Yes Virginia, there’s a song called “Grinch 2000” that may be the best — or worst — thing about the film’s existence.
If you were skeptical if I was telling the truth (and I wouldn’t blame you), here’s a little preview: Busta Rhymes, Jim Carrey and a choir of children sing an updated remake of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and it almost reads like a bingo card of things people hate about music in one track.
Let’s start with Carrey declaring the song “A Flipmode Squad / Jim Carrey Collabo” and giving “a shout out to the West Side of Whoville.” What the fuck? Then, Busta kicks it off with the following lines:
Kids hear this come on
While I’m lacing and tryna prepare this
For y’all, oh well I got a story to tell
About a dude I met once, miserable as hell
How grouchy he was
And how slouchy he was
And when he talked, you’d smell his breath
And how lousy it was
Later, he laments how The Grinch would show up when he was young, had a notorious reputation, and even if you have “state-of-the-art surveillance,” it’s likely he “already took the liquor out your Heineken.” Periodically, Carrey-as-Grinch jumps in to defend himself with poignant lines like, “Yo B, I am the mean one.”
Seriously. Give it a listen:
Today, “Grinch 2000” remains a fairly clandestine Christmas offering, but it still inspires strong reactions in those who encounter it. When I asked hip-hop producer Blockhead, whose two 2021 albums Space Werewolves Will Be the End of Us All and Aesop Rock collaboration Garbology will surely be under discerning hip-hop fans’ trees this year, about the song, he had some choice words. “I literally didn’t know this existed until right now,” he says. “This shit is a travesty, though. Carrey sounds like he’s doing a weird Sean Connery impression.”
He does. That’s why it’s all the more puzzling that the story of how “Grinch 2000” came to be a cult classic among Christmas music enthusiasts has never been told. For as many interviews as Busta Rhymes and Jim Carrey have done in the 21 Christmas seasons since, the subject of “Grinch 2000” seems to have almost never been mentioned, and the one and only instance I could find of anyone acknowledging it was in a 2000 transcript of a Carrey interview promoting the film:
“It was a blast being in the studio rapping with Busta Rhymes. It was not exactly what I thought it was going to be. Of course I had an idea of where the rap groove was and you know I am from Toronto. I had a good groove going but then Busta Rhymes said to let it hang off the edge. His rhythm was amazing. Plus, my daughter was with me and I was cool in her eyes for the first time. She just connects so much with the hip-hop world and is so into that and it was the first time she looked at me and went, ‘Dad, wow!’ I was cool suddenly.”
But how did such a “cool” song come together? Once upon a time, the music industry and the movie industry had a symbiotic relationship in the form of Original Motion Picture Soundtracks. Half the time, these soundtracks were recordings of the original scores. Other times, they were albums listed as containing “Music From and Inspired By” a movie.
In retrospect, that particular wording seems like a pretty silly way to shoehorn in music from popular artists that wasn’t actually found in the film. Imagine the Foo Fighters and Queen’s Brian May attending an early screening of the Mission Impossible sequel M:I-2 and being so moved that they were “inspired” to hit the studio together to record a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar,” but then having to wait because Tori Amos, Rob Zombie and Uncle Kracker were at the same screening and also so “inspired” by the high velocity Tom Cruise action that they had to book the studio and record new music as well. Regardless, these CDs were flying off the shelves, and no movie seemed to be complete without an hour of curated music selected to properly convey the cinematic experience.
Thus, if a new version of The Grinch absolutely had to exist in 2000, the iconic theme song of the 1966 cartoon would have to be updated as well. You can almost envision the Hollywood execs in suits, with visions of sugarplum fairies holding sacks of money dancing in their heads whispering, “What if we made it a rap?” But which rappers to choose?
The choice for Busta Rhymes to helm “Grinch 2000” was an inspired one and probably the safest bet considering the scope of 2000’s hip-hop scene. A far different Busta than the aggressive, gritty shaved-head rhymer we’ve known lately, he started out as a more outlandish, fun-loving one-man party. While most remember this era of Busta for his loud wardrobe, Hype Williams-directed videos and genuine belief that the world was going to end on December 31, 1999, he also was a burgeoning mainstream star seemingly destined to follow in the Hollywood-bound footsteps of Will Smith and LL Cool J. He’d recently been the star of a years-long Mountain Dew ad campaign, voiced the Reptar Wagon in The Rugrats Movie and had roles in the films Shaft and Finding Forrester. When you factor in his intricate rhyming style, and the fact that “Rhymes” is in his name, it made him a prime candidate to include in a project under the Dr. Seuss banner. Carrey also has some notable rapping experience, parodying the flows of early 1990s rappers Snow and Vanilla Ice during his tenure on In Living Color.
But Busta would be the sole hip-hop artist on the star-studded soundtrack of original Christmas music released in conjunction with the film. The sticker on the album gave top billing to Faith Hill, the singer of lead single “Where Are You Christmas,” and she was followed by frequent soundtrack-vets Smash Mouth (six months before Shrek revived “All Star”) as well as the turn-of-the-century Christmas-time capsule of Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds, *NSYNC, the eels and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Smack dab in the middle is “Busta Rhymes & Jim Carrey,” as if such a pairing would be a completely normal thing to slide in amongst a list of the year’s top artists. Despite this positioning, “Grinch 2000” is at no point heard in the film, or even listed in the credits. Unless you actually had the soundtrack itself, you may not even know it exists.
That could be due to the song apparently having a journey that significantly altered it by the time it was immortalized on the compact disc. It was revealed in 2016 that legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier (one-half of Gang Starr, who non-rap fans might recognize as the person behind the beats for Limp Bizkit’s 1999 Method Man collaboration “N 2 Getha Now” and later Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”) made the track’s original beat, but according to his DJ Premier Blog, the reasons for this original beat’s removal from the final version of the song are still unknown.
While Premier’s initial “Grinch 2000” beat did find a home with Coca-Cola four years later, the song went through quite the metamorphosis by the time it arrived on the soundtrack. The final released version of “Grinch 2000” now had Carrey and Rhymes’ vocals over a beat produced by Teddy Riley (then-member of Blackstreet, fresh off the success of “No Diggity” and The Rugrats Movie’s sample flip of the original Nickelodeon theme for “Take Me There”) completely removing the cut-up 1966 “You’re a Mean One” orchestral samples. Replaced by an infectious, bouncy production and a choir of children singing the chorus — as well as the hyper-sterilized censoring of the words “hell” and “Heineken” — the sheen production feels much more in line with Ron Howard’s vision of Whoville that hit cinemas that December.
Despite being seemingly banished to a cave on Mount Crumpit, “Grinch 2000” appears to have survived solely through Christmas music collectors and obsessives. Every year for over a decade, a crop of new uploads of it seem to hit YouTube, some with upwards of 100,000 views. What’s interesting to note, is that despite being on a widely distributed major motion picture soundtrack, the file that’s been in circulation for years in just about all of these unofficial uploads is likely the same marginal quality MP3 that functioned as the soundtrack’s release. Rapper Christopher Michael Jensen recently examined the Napster-acquired file from his collection and found it had a November 24, 2000 download date. A listen to it reveals it has the same muffled, condensed flaws as the versions that had been uploaded by listeners on YouTube over a decade ago.
Presumably, due to the soundtrack’s release happening concurrently with the rise of Napster, it’s possible that one person’s digital rip has been the exact same one shared on peer-to-peer services, then burned and traded onto CD-Rs and marginal quality YouTube uploads. This seems to be all we had until Busta Rhymes uploaded a crystal clear version to YouTube in 2018 (presumably, he cleaned it up a little to coincide with the animated Grinch movie released that year). How did a better version not enter Christmas underground music circulation sooner? It’s impossible to say, but I’d guess it’s because it would require any Christmas music purist’s heart to grow much more than three sizes to want that original soundtrack in their home.
On the flip side, “Grinch 2000” does have its champions. During Auggie 5000’s time as a DJ on Minneapolis’ recently defunct hip-hop station Go 95.3, he’d play the song on-air as a regular part of his December broadcasts. “It’s fun, it’s bouncy and it has star power, so it’s a great song for morning radio during the holiday season,” he tells me. “Plus, we got some bars from Jim Carrey, a solid 15-plus years before we heard Kevin Hart and Lil Duval rapping on tracks. Once again, Carrey is a pioneer.”
Whether you agree with him and think “Grinch 2000” is worth its weight in pantookas, dafflers and wuzzles — or the mere mention of it makes you lose your appetite for Roast Beast — there’s something heartwarming, and dare I say Seuss-ian about how the song has survived as a cult classic. Burgeoning indie hip-hop artist Nur-D, also a staunch defender of the movie, agrees. “If there’s a better Christmas movie with a better Christmas soundtrack made with some of the greatest hip-hop minds of our generation,” he tells me, “I will eat every bit of holly and tinsel the world has to offer.”