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Tyler, the Creator - Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch EP Music Album Reviews

Tyler, the Creator goes green.

Tyler, the Creator has a somewhat weird relationship with Christmas. He released his debut mixtape, Bastard, on Christmas Day in 2009. He was arrested at Odd Future’s Christmas show for destroying equipment in 2011. It would be inaccurate to say he was ever Christmas averse (they were, ultimately, having Christmas shows), but he did write a song called “Fuck Santa.” Odds were likely against a rapper who once snarled, “If you’re the gift from God then I’m the Christmas wrap from Satan,” on a song called “Fuck This Christmas,” soundtracking an animated Grinch movie.

And yet, Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, a 10-minute, six-track EP, finds him getting even deeper into the holiday spirit, after contributing two new songs for the film’s official soundtrack. The Grinch, the second feature-length film adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (following Jim Carrey’s live-action movie of the same name from 2000), follows a crotchety creature with a heart “two sizes too small” living on the outskirts of a town called Whoville during their holiday season. He subsequently—you guessed it—steals the town’s Christmas but is later moved by the locals’ displays of affection for one another without gifts.

After the soul-wrenching reveals of his 2017 album Flower Boy, it’s easy to understand why Tyler would resonate with a character like the Grinch. A one-time hellraiser who released a song called “Mr. Lonely,” Tyler undoubtedly must have a soft-spot for an outcast terrorizing a community out of frustration from not being seen. Which is probably why, in addition to collaborating with composer Danny Elfman on a reworked “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” Tyler wrote a new song: “I Am the Grinch,” a first-person performance of the character’s cantankerous nature that at times blurs the lines between truth and fiction. (When on that song Fletcher Jones sings, “You’re so problematic,” Tyler responds, “Yeah, yeah.”) It’s less roleplaying than it is self-awareness.

Tyler is a Pharrell acolyte who has followed his mentor at many turns, so his pivot to 3D-generated feel-good cinema shouldn’t surprise anyone. (Both the Despicable Me franchise and The Grinch are produced by the animation studio Illumination. Pharrell soundtracked the former and narrates the latter.) This excursion into family-friendly content thankfully doesn’t produce whatever Tyler’s “Happy” might sound like; Tyler’s Grinch songs still sound like his, and not annoying, smoothed-down versions.

The songs on Music Inspired by The Grinch often scan as Flower Boy b-sides or updates on old designs, music from his traditional catalog given a moderately (if noticeably) festive twist. Tyler recently tweeted that his goal with the Grinch EP was to make Christmas music that wasn’t “too xmasy” and that he was keeping seven-year-olds and their parents in mind. Both “seven-year-olds” and “parents” are new audiences for Tyler (the latter being an audience he once actively raged against), and “Christmas music” is a template he’s never seriously explored.

In navigating that gap, some of the songs fall short of their intended effect. Tyler has always done what he thought best for the expansion of his sound (sometimes to his detriment), but here, perhaps for the first time, it sounds like he’s trying to rejigger some of his rudimentary practices to accommodate what he thinks this new audience wants to hear. “Big Bag,” the EP’s only real rap song, is almost patronizingly elementary in its lyrics (“Don’t make noise, my feet thin/I’m looking for the paper, same color my green skin”). Most tracks are sketches of songs, ideas stoked by his work on the movie but not necessarily seen to completion. He doesn’t quite have Pharrell’s ability to crossover just yet.

Setting aside Tyler’s wonky first forays into all-ages entertainment, which show modest growing pains for a musician hoping to branch out and reach a wider demographic, these snippets carry in them many of the hallmarks of Tyler’s most satisfying music. With Christmas as his backdrop, he gets to really unleash the chords without consequence. He tinkers with sounds in this low-stakes arena with all the excitement of a kid tearing through wrapping paper Christmas morning. Little songs like the subtly symphonic “Whoville” and the kazooing “Cindy Lou’s Wish” give him leeway to futz with arrangements and progressions, in service of an audience he’d never thought of before. Using the Grinch as his guide, Tyler finds inspiration in the unlikeliest place.

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