I was only nine years old when Ice Ice Baby was released but I vividly remember when Vanilla Ice rapped “Go ninja go” to my favorite movie at the time; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. I then learned that Mr. Ice was a fake rapper, with a fake biography who ultimately went off the radar throughout the 90s. It wasn’t until 2004 that he managed to climb back into mainstream pop culture, when he entered a fake reality show and declared he hated his past. Now its 2014 and the guy seems more calm, regrets having been so hard on himself and embrace his 90’s persona. He currently host a TV-show, where he’s helping the Amish community with real estate. He seems like a sympathetic dude, and definitely more happy.
But what happened with Vanilla Ice throughout the 90s? How do you follow-up Ice Ice Baby and how do you actually side with your haters, dissing your own work? Throughout interviews he’s stated that “he wouldn’t wish his life on his worst enemy”. So, instead of making fun of the guy – I thought I would go through his discography, and give the guy an honest shot.
I’m starting off, with the album To The Extreme. It’s 1990, and Vanilla Ice has signed a major record deal. Ice Ice Baby, originally intended as a b-side, had taken off like no other rap song at the time. His debut album, To The Extreme, starts off pretty good. The first half of the record is filled with Ice rapping about fresh ladies, clubs and pumping fists. My girlfriend listens in, declaring that “he’s very polite”. And he is, his lyrics seems almost family friendly. But Ice is also rapping about not liking wild sex. At one point it seems like Vanilla is literally being raped, with the lyrics “It started from a kiss, now I’m ready to resist. The room was destroyed, not to mention my body”. The track is called, Stop That Train, the train being the woman, and it’s an awkward moment, but the beat is pretty nice.
I’m unsure if his flow was bad back then, or if it hasn’t aged that well. I feel the urge to browse for Beastie boys 90’s stuff to compare, but I don’t want to cop out. But for what it is – The beats are somewhat cool, often slow and centered around one sample at a time.
However, the second half of the record gets tedious. You get tired of Vanilla’s politeness, almost wishing he was mentioning at least one bitch, maybe some drugs and a drive-by or two. Instead I get more saxophones, slap base and Vanilla ice “working it”. It culminates on Vanilla’s final tracks. Rosta Man, which has to be straight up racist or at least offensive to everyone involved, and the super slow, seductive track I Love You. There’s a video for the latter track, which summarizes the icky feeling you get while listening. Presumably its the labels fault, trying to push Ice into even more mainstream genres. And like Ice says, you don’t say no to a million dollars when you’ve got payments left on your first car.
Now we get to the interesting part, how do you follow-up a hit like Ice, Ice, Baby? I am skipping ahead though, there was a live album, a full length movie and a doll released in between. But since the label called it a cheap cash grab, and Entertainment Weekly reviewer writing the live album was “one of the most ridiculous albums ever released”, I’m skipping it. Making a sophomore album is known to be difficult, and Vanilla was certainly having problems. With constant touring, overexposure, his new found love of cannabis and a huge pile of scrapped material – It ultimately took four years to compile the follow-up. Before listening, I knew this was the darkest time line of Ice’s career. Vanilla began using ecstasy, cocaine and heroine, as well as trying to commit suicide right after the release of the album. Let’s just say that the commercial success wasn’t there, and Vanilla Ice had quickly hit rock bottom.
Finding Ice 1994 album Mind Blowin’ wasn’t easy. It’s not on iTunes, Spotify or Amazon. On What CD, the famous music torrent site, I found that my own album had more downloads. And I didn’t release a record which sold 15 million copies. It’s on Youtube, in full, with the uploader claiming its the most underrated album ever. It has 81 views. But I finally got a hold of a used CD on eBay.
The first single, Roll ‘Em Up, has stripped all of the pop esthetics of the first album, with the video having Ice in dreadlocks, and aims to tell the world one thing – Vanilla Ice now likes to smoke weed. The sound? It’s a lot like Cyprus Hill. And I mean a lot.
The rest of the album is Ice getting back at his critics, interludes with gun sound effects and “See you can make the Ice cream. Come here girl, and take a lick of this ice cream”. But it’s not a complete turnaround, the rhymes are still as bad and the songs often center around a single sample. He happily reference his previous album, even sampling a radio station mentioning Ice Ice Baby sell figures. It’s tiresome and not as fun as the previous record.
Musically he has a hard time fitting into 94’s music scene. There’s a lot of funk, but where Warren G made it big with Regulate the same year, this is half-assed and doesn’t fit very well with Ice’s static flow. I Go Down is the one stand-out track, with a Tribe Called Quest-type beat, and could actually have been good – Musically. Maybe if the chorus wasn’t Ice declaring he “goes down” twelve times. Ice, I got you the first three times, you like to eat out.
A few years passed, with Ice taking a break from music, studying real estate and started working renovating and selling houses. But in 1998 he was once again ready to release a new album. Hard To Swallow was produced by Ross Robinson, most famous for his work with Korn, At the Drive-In, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. Apparently, SonyBMG were predicting that the album would do better than To The Extreme – The album which sold 15 million copies. Seems stupid. But nu-metal was big in 1998, so let’s give this a spin.
As far as rapcore from 1998 goes, it starts off pretty solid. Lyrically its much more interesting, with Vanilla not solely concentrating on his former success, but actually getting personal beyond his hate for the media. He talks family issues and dealing with ADD. But half way in and the first single, Too Cold, hits and its hard not to draw a big sigh. The single uses the lyrics from Ice Ice Baby and we’re once back to Ice being stuck in 1990. You didn’t need to Vanilla, you were fine doing something new.
I can’t go through listening to the record in one sitting, so I check out the numetal acts from the period to compare. It quickly becomes obvious what the problem is with Hard to Swallow – There are no solid chorusses. Bands like Limp Bizkit had, for what its worth (yes, I know you hate them), a solid pop chorus which stuck and were for the time being, pretty cool. It doesn’t matter if Vanilla’s flow is slightly better on this record, or that the production is solid – Ice repeating one phrase over and over doesn’t make for a good chorous. To me, it doesn’t matter if you scream “Stomp” (from the track Stompin’ through the Bayou) eight times. It didn’t work when you “got down” 12 times, so neither does Stompin’ work. And I was dumb enough to think that a more x-rated Ice would help elevate his music. The 1998 Ice has stopped going down on girls, instead he repeats that “he’s coming” 16 times for each chorus on a track called The Horny Song. Also, he’s no longer the polite guy since he’s “gonna spray ya, rub it in like lotion, juices flowin everywhere, like water in the ocean”. Not super sexy.
2001’s Bi-polar has Ice’s name as “V Ice” on the cover – Which indicates this might be the one album that Vanilla isn’t referring to his 1990 hit or album. This might be the album where he finally lets his new style carry the album. However, the first thing that hits me is the intro, which declares that “This is the beginning of scabs”. Scabs? As in the skin disease? I quickly Google scabs and Vanilla Ice.
There’s a band called Pickin’ Scabs, which Ice worked with but fired on his last album. So that can’t be it. Oh, wait this is a double album and the first part is titled Skabs. Sorry, that’s “Skabz”. And Skabz is suppose to be metal hip hop, while the other part of the album, titled Bomb tha System, is straight up hip hop. I also note that this is an independent release, since the former record only sold Gold, and he was dropped from Sony.
The first thing that hits me is the low budget production, Ross Robinson’s involvement on the previous record was obviously taken for granted by me. Ice is really pissed, screaming and sort-of growling. The drums sounds terrible, the metal guitar thrashing is generic and leans more towards Limp Bizkit or a watered down version of Korn. And guess what, the chorusses suck.
I have no idea what Skabz is about to be honest. He’s referencing Eminem at one point, and talks about lies… Lies are apparently not a good thing. It’s a relief when the album finally enters the second part, the hip hop section. But the relief of not having to deal with Ice growling is cut short, when in the first track, Hip Hop Rules plays – He’s back referencing Ice Ice Baby. “Remember Ice Ice Baby, drove you crazy then I was big as Jay-Z”. It also includes samples from the old hit, for no reason. It’s also a return to his “I-was-famous-but-now-im-back”-ramblings with constant bragging about future endeavors like “it’s been a long time since you seen me on the TV. V-Ice is here for sheezy”. He also declares he payed the way for Eminem. It’s a tall order, and I’m only a couple of minutes into the hip-hop album.
The rest is a mix of horrible Dr. Dre production ripoffs and exotic oriental sounds (=flutes). Good news for the ladies though, as it is a return for Ice going down. He’s “in the mood to lick you” although you have to withstand phrases like “liquid treasures floatin in the loft” and “me and you baby, doin the sex”.
Chuck D’s guest appearance is a nice surprise, and lyrically profound compared to Ice. But yet again, the good news is cut short since the production is beyond bad. And the chorus is by far the worst thing I’ve heard so far, featuring a reggae MC and a one chord metal guitar being played on loop. The song that follows is described as Horrorcore hip hop on Wikipedia. I never heard of it, and it sounds horrible (no pun intended).
It’s obvious that Vanilla still has issues with his credibility as the album ends with not one voice message from his answering machine – But four. It’s his “narly” friend leaving a message about broken bones after hitting the tracks, another friend wanting to hear the new record and some dude called Vampiro calling in and wanting to talk. I bet Vampiro is a really rad dude, I just don’t care enough to Google his name.
At this point, I’ve stayed away from making fun of Vanilla Ice, mainly because I haven’t had to. But it’s difficult to take this guy serious after listening to Bi-Polar. Especially since the hip hop themed section was released as a separate album, titled Hot Sex (named after the track where Vanilla is “doin the sex”). The cover is below, and remember this is 2001 – Photoshop wasn’t new.
I’m also puzzled that Ice, re-recorded Ice Ice Baby that same year – Releasing a remixed version of the single titled Ice Ice Baby 2001. It’s weird, since he only a few years later he apologizes for his music, cloths and hair in a really awkward video. Add the fact that he in 1999 bashed the Ice Ice Baby on an MTV show titled 25 Lame, and smashed the original master with a baseball bat. It’s also very, very awkward. It’s starting to get difficult to keep up with Ice relationship to 1990.
Ice reemerges in 2005, naming is new album Platinum Underground, a title which refers to having a loyal fan base without getting any radio airplay. His fans are now largely composed of Juggalos having worked with Insane Clown Posse and being that his music now caters to the same fans. The album starts off with Ice declaring he’s a survivor since he survived fame, drugs and dating Madonna. The second track is titled Ninja Rap 2 and is a follow-up to his Ninja Turtles 2 soundtrack. It’s not horribly bad, not compared to the track that follows, where Ice goes full circle on Mecca And Ice, by doing a reggae rap. The number of genres mashed together doesn’t stop there, Ice happily brings back his metal rapping, his blatant Dr. Dre ripoff production and re-uses rhymes from previous albums. And then track ten hits you – It’s yet another re-recording of Ice Ice Baby. At this point, I’m having a hard time understanding if Ice embraces his past or hates it. It’s like a time machine movie, it’s enjoyable while you watch it – But as soon as you give it some thought, nothing really makes any sense.
To be honest, I’m getting really tired of Vanilla Ice at this point. I’ve now spent a weekend watching videos, interviews, documentaries and listening to his music. If you Youtube any video of Vanilla, he’s very likable. He was obviously dealt a bad hand, the labels faking his biography and dumping him as soon as his 15 minutes were up. Its difficult not feeling sorry for the guy when he woke up in 1994 with a failed suicide attempt, a major album flop and every legit rapper calling him a joke. But then you listen to his work, and you can’t help to wonder how he can rap “millions of dollars I been spendin’ em. I love rap, I paved the way for Eminem” and then do a follow up to a Ninja Turtles song.
Rant aside, I’m now onto his final two albums. In 2008, he recorded a cover album titled “Vanilla Ice is Back! Hip Hop Classics”. I’ve stopped being surprised, or let down, or caring at all when it turns out that the first track is yet another re-recording of Ice Ice Baby. When I get to the cover of Baby Got Back and find that the production staff didn’t even care enough to use reverb on Ice’s vocal track – I hit the stop button. This is insanely bad. In his defense – The album was requested by the label, so it’s not technically Ice’s idea. IGN calls it “an embarrassing endeavor that sounds like it should have stayed locked inside Ice’s studio (or at the very least leaked on YouTube and passed off as a piss take).”. I’m skipping this one, it shouldn’t count anyway.
2011 and the album is titled WTF (Wisdom, Tenacity And Focus). I’m hoping this is where Ice gets settled, stopped caring about his past and hopefully not include another Ice Ice Baby remix. He’s now signed to Psychopathic Records, which makes a lot of sense since it was started by Insane Clown Posse – The Juggalo masterminds who seems to share the same fanbase as Ice’s. It’s the perfect setting for Ice to release whatever he wants.
Sadly, the album cover is of Ice burning an image of himself from 1990. We’re therefor back to the Vanilla Ice time continuum paradox, I have no idea if he likes his ’90s self or not. At the end of 2010, only months before this album hit retail, he is featured in Jedward’s, an irish boyband, cover of Ice Ice Baby and its music video. I watched that video, Ice seems really happy to be involved in that video. He doesn’t seem to want to burn anything. Neither the track, a picture of himself or the incredibly annoying boy band members.
But going with the cover alone, he’s not happy with past-Ice. And judging by the track list – There’s no new Ice Ice Baby. So, I guess its so far so good. If he likes to hate himself on this album, it’s fine – Just don’t repeat it in a chorus 12 times.
I hit play, and it’s – Vanilla does EDM. And a lot of Juggalo whoop, whoop calls. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not half-bad. Third track in and he does a country-flavored track, with middle-‘merica style lyrics. It’s not too bad either. I feel like I’m almost happy for the guy at this point, it’s like I’m going “you go Vanilla, you deserve this moment”. He got his Juggalos, ninjas and drinks. Seems fine to me. If Ice wants to brag about being in Vegas, let him do that. It’s a lot better than a third Ninja Rap or the seventh Ice Ice Baby.
Production value is high, although he doesn’t do any of the genres particularly well. Most surprising is the track Oh Momma, where Mr Vanilla advice against raising a stripper daughter. It features the first track where he actually sings. And before you judge, it’s again – Not half bad. I respect the fact that I’ve listened to six Vanilla Ice throughout the weekend, and my perspective on what’s good and bad might be a bit off. But he even does a cover of one of the original tracks from his first album, again singing – And again, not half bad. I can’t help smiling, rooting for the guy and not bother that it’s yet again call back to his 1990 era.
After having spent the weekend listening to Ice’s complete discography I’m happy to announce that, while I won’t ever do it again – He does have some music qualities. Sure, you have to dig deep – Nothing is as good as Ice Ice Baby and it seems that Ice relationship with his former self changes on a day-to-day basis. He’s now with the Juggalos, on TV helping the Amish or making life decisions for Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. And even if I don’t leave you with any album to recommend or a hidden track gem, I do recommend checking out one or two of the Vanilla documentaries out there. You’ll find a guy who’s struggled with fame, released a number of flops, hated himself and been laughed at by everyone at some point – But still seems a lot happier and content than any of today’s rappers.