Four years ago, he was a car-lot attendant in Carrollton, Texas, with a passion for rap and a knack for breakdancing. He won a talent show at a local club, got a manager and concocted a look. Pompadoured, dirty-blond brush cut, chiseled cheekbones, red, white and blue jumpsuit. Kind of an Aryan Evel Knievel.
Then he cut a single. On one side was a remake of "Play That Funky Music," on the flip was a number called "Ice Ice Baby." A deejay in Columbus, Georgia, decided he liked the B side better, and soon it was No. 1 at the station. After other cities picked up on it, Ice and his manager threw together a video to go with it.
In July of 90, Ice released a do-it-yourself album titled Hooked. A month later, a big shot at SBK Records picked up on the snowballing Ice Man and bought the whole package. He retitled the album To the Extreme, and by Halloween--Ice's 22nd birthday--he was at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.
Extreme sold 15 million copies.
Ice made a film, Cool As Ice, Ice toured the world and Ice got very rich. Very fast.
Ice Ice Baby.
He also got slagged by the press for being a talentless phony and encountered particular resentment from the hard-core hip-hop cognoscenti. He was mocked on TV's In Living Color, and The Source--an influential rap magazine--wrote, "Vanilla Ice? Our worst fucking nightmare."
@body:Reconsider Vanilla Ice.
That's what he wants you to do, anyway, for Ice wants a chance to prove he's not a sellout, that he isn't just a one-rap wonder, to show that his roots are authentic. Forget about the fame, forget about the money; like a certain fat, sweaty comedian, all Vanilla Ice wants is respect.
This month the Dallas native is releasing a harder-edged new album, Mind Blowin'--chock-full of sex and dope references--and he's traded in the jumpsuit and buzz cut for sleeveless tee shirts, tattoos and dreadlocks. Calculated, yes, but this time around, Ice is doing the thinking. Gone is his manager Tommy Quon, who Ice claims was the manipulative catalyst for virtually all of his problems.
"The manager that I fired put me in a place that I didn't want to be," says Ice from his home--one of his homes, this one in Miami. "Tommy Quon answered a lot of questions for me, stuff still shows up in print that I never said. He even wrote a book called Ice by Ice that was never written by me. That fuckin' book was written by Tommy Quon." From shady business deals to image pandering to downright theft, Ice accuses Quon of doing it all. "I didn't agree with any of it and that's part of the reason I got rid of him."
Evil or not, Quon did one thing for Vanilla Ice that many aspiring artists would die for: He made him famous. But guess what? Ice didn't even want that. "In terms of being a celebrity, I hate being a celebrity and all this star-type stuff," sniffs the Ice Man. "That all goes with selling 15 million records, and I never wanted to sell that many records."
Huh? You don't get into the ultrahip world of contemporary rap and work your ass off promoting yourself if you want to live a simple Mayberry existence.
But the fame and material wealth weren't that bad, and, according to Ice, "I spent all my money. Now I'm pretty much broke, but I think I'm happier because the more money I had, the more problems I had."
His real problem is where all that overnight success left him, credibility-wise. Which is nowhere.
"My music crossed over to the pop radio stations and in the hip-hop community if you cross over, you're considered a sellout," says Ice. "I never wanted to sell out, that was my record company and, more so, my manager."
He may have never wanted to sell out, but now Vanilla Ice absolutely wants to sell back in. "I don't want to match the success of my first album at all, I do not want that to happen," he says, a sentiment his record label may not share. "I don't want to be called a sellout, and one of the hurdles that I have to jump over is to be accepted in the hip-hop community. That's where I grew up, that's where my heart's at, that's what I listen to, that's where I came from."
Like the rest of us, Ice actually came from a mom and dad, only one of whom he knew. "Somebody came along and got my mother pregnant, she had me and I don't know his name and neither did she," Ice explains flatly. "I had to accept another name, an adoption name, of a person that didn't last with my mother very long, either, so I don't really feel like that name is very much mine." That name was Robbie Van Winkle. "I'm never Robbie Van Winkle. I don't even know who that name is."