Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vanilla Ice -- "Ice Ice Baby" (1990)

If there was a problem
Yo, I'll solve it! 
Check out the hook
While DJ revolves it

When I watched the music video for "Ice Ice Baby" on YouTube recently, these were the top two comments:

1.  "don't f*cking kid your self, you know you love this song!!!"

2.  "Still better than lil wayne" 

Vanilla Ice was born Robert Matthew Van Winkle in Dallas in 1967.  He started breakdancing when he was 13, and got the name "Vanilla" because he was the only white member of his breakdancing crew.  ("Ice" was the name of one of his signature moves.)  Van Winkle wrote "Ice Ice Baby" when he was 16, but didn't record it until he was 22.

"Ice Ice Baby" was the first rap song to hit #1 on the Billboard "Hot 100."  (MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" only made it to #8 in the US.)  It went platinum in the US (which means over a million copies were sold).  The single also hit #1 in the UK and Australia, and was a top 10 hit in most European countries as well.  Given that success, there's no way the "Hip Hop 101" syllabus can ignore "Ice Ice Baby." 

"Ice Ice Baby" is constructed on a sample from the 1981 David Bowie-Queen hit, "Under Pressure."  It is believed that Ice paid Bowie and Queen a sizeable sum of money to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit.  

(A lot of people absolutely trashed Vanilla Ice for not giving Bowie and Queen credit for the "Under Pressure" sample.  I don't really get that.  A lot of hip hop artists sampled other musicians' records back in the day -- what Vanilla Ice did was no different than what dozens of other rappers did.  There's a perfectly reasonable intellectual argument to be made that "Ice Ice Baby"-style sampling should be freely allowed, but the courts have held otherwise.) 

Vanilla Ice's debut album, To the Extreme, was the fastest-selling hip hop album of all time.  It hit #1 on the US album charts and sold 11 million copies -- more than Hammer's Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em, which had been released the previous year.  His recording career went straight downhill after To the Extreme, but Vanilla Ice is still recording.  

Wikipedia has a long entry on Vanilla Ice, so I'll keep this post short.  But I can't resist sharing a few autobiographical highlights:

1.  Van Winkle was a very successful professional motocross racer.  He began to focus on rapping only after he broke an ankle and couldn't compete in motocross for some time.

2.  Following the success of "Ice Ice Baby," gangsta rap producer Suge Knight told Ice that he wanted a piece of the publishing rights for the hit.  The story goes that Knight and his bodyguards either threatened to throw Ice off the balcony of his 15th-story hotel room, or dangled him by his ankles off that balcony.  Knight used the money to get Death Row Records (whose best-known rappers were Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Doggy Dogg) up and running.

3.  After To the Extreme hit it big, Ice had an eight-month affair with Madonna.

Madonna with Vanilla Ice
4.  Ice starred in a 1991 movie about a motorcycle-riding rapper titled Cool as Ice.  The lead female role was offered to the 19-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow, but her producer/director father forbade her to take it.  The movie grossed only slightly over $1 million, and was nominated for seven Golden Raspberry ("Razzie") awards.  

5.  In 1993, Ice toured eastern Europe and performed in St. Petersburg for an audience that included Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

6.  Van Winkle became interested in the Rastafarian movement, and switched to a vegetarian diet, grew dreadlocks, and started smoking a lot of marijuana.  Ice's second studio album was a flop, and his record company went into bankruptcy, so he added ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin to the mix.  He attempted to commit suicide on July 4, 2004, by taking an overdose of heroin.

7.  After his failed suicide attempt, he took a break from music, went back to motocross, and also started racing jet skis.  Within a year, he was the sixth-ranked professional jet skier in the world.  

8.  In 1995, Ice joined a Miami grunge band called Pickin Scabz.  

9.  His third studio album mixed hip hop and metal, and was somewhat successful.  The reviews weren't great, but weren't that bad.

10.  In 2001, Ice released his fourth studio album -- a double album titled Bi-Polar -- and performed at the "Gathering of the Juggalos."  ("Juggalos" are fans of the Insane Clown Posse.)

11.  In the last decade, Ice has become quite the television personality.  He fought former Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges on a celebrity boxing television special, appeared in several episodes of Hollywood Squares, and was a regular on The Surreal Life

12.  A couple of years ago, Ice started filming a reality series about the renovation of a Palm Beach house for the DIY (do-it-yourself) Network.  He recently published a book on how to succeed in real estate.  (Don't be surprised if you see a Vanilla Ice how-to-make-money infomercial someday.)

13.  Last but not least, remember my recent post about the Adam Sandler movie that was being filmed on Cape Cod when I was there in August?  Believe it or not, Vanilla Ice portrays Sandler's best friend from high school in that movie. 

If you watched MTV in 1990, you saw the "Ice Ice Baby" video about a thousand times.  (That video cost only $8000 to make, by the way.)  It's a pretty good song by 1990 standards -- much better than "U Can't Touch This," if you ask me.  

Here's the music video for "Ice Ice Baby":

Here's the "Under Pressure" music video:

Here's a link you can use to buy the song on Amazon: