Tuesdays are mine, forever. Time to celebrate. Summon the wheel.
Wheel! Wheel! Wheel!
McGruff the Crime Dog failed to kill drug culture. But for one shining moment, he killed beats. Perhaps the game itself. CDs simply took credit for cassettes rejecting moral panic. McGruff’s Smart Kids sits next to ET: The Game and Grimes’s lawyer for ending an entire medium.
I found Sgt. McGruff late in life. When I hit prime brainwashing age, he’d already abdicated to a lion with a flashier purity vow.
I missed that too. Island Baptists are more into uppercuts than mascots. That’s why no Jamaicans do drugs.
I see the appeal: McGruff’s the perfect strawman, louder and blunter than a G.I. JOE PSA. Which fits my agenda. Everyone that dates artists with arrest records loves drugs. A good Five Minutes Hate imitates chemistry.
After all, it’s fun and profitable to imagine The Enemy as brainless mannequins. Lord knows I indulge when a sibling speaks or an election exists. But everyone follows some kind of logic. Which made McGruff’s Smart Kids a puzzle. It’s an album for no one.
If McGruff’s new to you, think Rosie the Riveter for the War on Ourselves. A werewolf in a streaker’s coat, quoting Nancy Reagan with a soprano’s impression of a baritone. Every McGruff PSA felt like a glitch, so he did a decent job replacing drugs. His debut album includes this beautiful checklist:
Amen. The untainted shall inherit heaven’s dullest cloud.
McGruff’s Smart Kids shares a year with Ride the Lightning, after Dave Mustaine somehow drank too much for a thrash metal band. That sounds like a pull, but it’s the best sobriety fable we’re getting today. Stay clean or lose screentime on Some Kind of Monster, the most humiliating music doc without a sex crime.
Imagine twelve tracks of drug war anthems, featuring McGruff singing in-character. Now double the synths and triple the fear. If there’s a stoner in your life, here’s their wedding gift. McGruff’s Smart Kids slam dunks the wrong net. It’s Reefer Madness with color and star power.
Yet McGruff’s Smart Kids has a reason to exist. Two, even. One: through sheer numbers, someone must have avoided morphine after listening. Thousands more sprinted into freshman alcoholism after learning McGruff was full of shit, but this album saved the life of Sam Lagow of Yorktown Heights, New York. Good for Sam. Addiction is for food and pornography.
Two: the production’s good. If you like Devo or their children, you’ll dig half of these songs. Until the vocals hit your brain like eight semesters in a toga. McGruff sings just as well as he saves lives. If the owners want half their money back, they should sell McGruff’s Straight-Edge Instrumentals. Electronic music fans aren’t into drugs.
Enough pregaming. The first track’s called “Winners Don’t Use,” and broadens McGruff’s appeal to Wall Street. Someone’s done a line off this cassette before short-selling a continent’s future. In concept album tradition, “Winners Don’t Use” gently hints at coming themes.
Pure eighties magic. Before threats of early death, addiction, and more McGruff vocals, we face life’s worst pain: losing. Producing less. Burial with fewer trophies and concubines. “Users don’t win” channels zero children, and every Madison Ave coke rant. Which, in McGruff’s defense, lead to desperate Geico spots.
Still, the backbeat works. The brief said “Steal You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and the team delivered. When late Pixar finally sinks to PSA content, it’ll sound like this sans throat cancer vocals. And the competence gap only widens from here.
I like slapstick as much as the next uninsured clown. But first graders giving addicts unsolicited opinions is a step too dark. Even South Park spaces out preschool casualties, like a spice. Except in the hockey episode, which is art. In fact, scratch that advice, go for it.
We get McGruff’s catchphrase, from the jump, twenty seconds in. Fair for children’s media or state propaganda, but I smell something. That’s a branding reflex.
Years of clients asking for bigger logos inflict psychic damage. Three-peating slogans before the skip button loads becomes instinct. If most people sound like NPCs, agency slaves sound like the game box.
Let’s go behind the music. Who retired off of McGruff? It’s grim stuff, so there should be a glowing Times profile.
Cool, a children’s mascot and McGruff. Ronald fought drugs the Jay-Z way: selling instead of using.
McGruff’s voiced by Don Draper’s benchwarmer. I love it. It’s even educational: an article about McGruff is comedy, but franchising a dog that eats and licks boots is satire. That takes focus, which is why ad writers don’t do drugs.
I wrote ads for a year or five, so I know a bit about the death of the Nephelim. The black lord will rise, and drink this world’s tears. I am his blade. Clutch your powerless bibles as blood chokes the sea. Man will not live to finish despoiling the Earth.
Design by an elder daemon isn’t a surprise. McGruff’s off-model look doesn’t reek of auteur passion or a junior daemon’s fear. But the same executive voiced him. Every McGruff project had upper management in the room. I’ve watched my leg bend the wrong way and still can’t imagine that pain. Jack Keil stood behind the producer until he mixed McGruff’s plague rasp above human tolerance.
McGruff’s roots change the game. I’m not here for a strawman. This is a peer. And I have no idea what he’s doing.
Comedy Premise #6 would make Jack some kind of stoner double agent, or at least neutral. But interviews point toward genuine belief in McGruff, this project, and giving children nightmares about LSD. Nightmares that returned after they tried LSD.
The devil’s work continues on “Crack & Cocaine.”
Who is this for? Walk down the checklist. Is this how you tell a sober child about crack? Or a crack-using child? A sober adult? Tyrone Biggums? A Toronto mayor? The mockery escalates the further you go. “Mockery” is crime-code for “beating.”
Jack’s responsible for day-drinking and targeting messages. He got halfway there. “Crack & Cocaine” aims for Martian children with Atlantic City problems. The courts didn’t enslave enough subalterns to keep the drug trade on Earth. The first Venusian D.A.R.E contracts are just launching now.
Someone backstage agreed with me. The 1986 rerelease adds a garbled intro to the effect of “crack exists.” It still leads to this verse:
A 1980’s ad guru should know about cocaine from market research. And something about children from being alive. A Cylon’s take would be more relatable, empathetic, and on-key.
Sadly, “Cocaine & Crack” rules. The synth has Yo Gabba Gabba crossover power, with all the stimulating joy snow promises. McGruff hides behind production like DaBaby mixed with DaBaby. That’s a creative miracle on the producer’s part, and proof that disc jockeys don’t do drugs.
While coke has to share, other drugs get their own diss tracks. McGruff takes on alcohol, inhalants, and ma—inhalants? With a New Order knockoff? Is this a fakeout?
Sarge. We don’t naturally get along. You’re a cop, and I’m a comedian. We’re the shittiest table at an alphabetized career fair. We both welcome police brutality ending that round of small talk.
But I’m rooting for you this time. Inhalants are just simple enough for this stupid, stupid method. Jack Keil’s vanity spinoff of a vanity project can save a second soul.
Try to deliver.
You know what? D+, pass. McGruff sounds like he’s talking about a wandering gorilla or Lesnar. But he forgets to blame users for being born, so this is lyrical growth. I’d prefer no children’s chorus call-response about overdoses, but I’m a picky grader.
I could go on. McGruff raps on “Gangs.” “Vandalism” goes full James Brown to declare war on street art. McGruff runs out of lines on Side 1, and keeps rolling for six more tracks. But Gmail is 200 words away from telling me to fuck off. It’s time for the main event.
I’ve hoarded the good shit. Lesser propaganda kneels to “Marijuana.” I get to type “Sgt. McGruff’s magnum opus.” Look: we both know this is a comedy site. I’ve puffed up earlier tunes for a laugh, and to style on a coworker’s ghost. I need gags like that for endorphins, because comedians don’t do drugs.
Based on my inbox, I’m divisive. Here’s an olive branch. If you support a drug arrest made since Prohibition, meet the best art on your side. We can sing it at bipartisan karaoke, as long as you don’t arrest me for hogging a microphone. You get this gold and Killer Mike in the same summer. Be reasonable.
You might question that simile. Try jamming instead. We’ve covered propaganda rhymes from half the SPLC. Animated cryptofascists are the first ones to bring a bassline. Enjoy that moment. If you have trouble unwinding on your own, light up some abstinence, or slug a shot of self-control. Today, we are all brothers.
I’m not the only one to recognize the magic. “Marijuana” has a hardcore remix, a Scientology-adjacent skate part, and a bright future as a rap sample. And, naturally, a following among everyone that can remember Pineapple Express quotes. I bet a child’s even heard it.
Hell, McGruff steps up his death threats:
“If you gamble with life, you could lose it,” is a leftover “Many Men” lyric. It’s the last thing you hear after stealing a rapper’s Crystal Skull. It’s a Power character’s line before shooting their spouse. A blocked number texts it to Ja Rule every Monday, at midnight, on the dot. My point is that Fat Joe would love this song, since rappers don’t do drugs.
My response to McGruff’s closing rant? The stock rationale behind a generation of broken lives? Nothing. I’m busy doing windmills. There’s room on the cardboard. All the sober breakdancers stayed home.
To think, some uncredited rockstar dragged this across the finish line. I hope he gets his roses. Or at least an edible.
Modern life is beautiful. Hopefully it continues.
I have a proposal for Mike. Only Mike. No comedy fans or confused aunts can read it.
Mike, we can be clean again. You have videos in church, so I’ll be direct. As things stand, we’re going to burn with the Taco Bell Chihuahua and Geico Everything. And I mean we. My portfolio has names from the evening news. LexCorps in a world without Superman. I need this at least as badly as a Reagan collaborator.
It’s simple: we make a sane, honest, McGruff album. I’ve got lyrics, a full children’s chorus, and enough rusty nails to imitate McGruff. But this reunion’s doomed without the real star. As a show of good faith, here’s a preview:
Consider it. If it helps, I don’t even drink. Prohibition’s just the dick cancer of public policy.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Brandon Garlock, who took a bite out of crime and found it delicious.