Whoever Robbie was, however, used to breakdance at malls for spare change and he "had this dance called The Ice where it looked like I'm on ice, sliding across some cardboard." Hence the second half of his moniker. "Vanilla came pretty much from my complexion."
He wasn't much of a student and attended a series of schools before dropping out in 11th grade. Ice says he was introduced to the music that would become his life by his African American chums, many of whom he is still tight with. Yet the black/white, authentic/poseur problem is one that has hounded him from the start.
"That's bullshit," says the man. "I grew up around blacks, my best friends in the world are pretty much all black. I hate racism, I hate the whole deal, but I can't make everybody happy. I am a white guy in an all-black market and I'm gonna cater to the ones who do lend me an ear and if they don't like it, they don't have to buy it. So I'm not really worried about what certain people may think."
And cater he does. Way back in the early days, the clean-image Ice told the New York Times that "in rap you have all these underground people talking about drugs and the street scene. They're not very good leaders for the younger generation." Now that he's enjoyed a few years of living off the younger generation's support, Ice is embracing the image he claimed to have disdained.
"A lot of people are not going to like my new album," Ice offers, "especially parents, because it's speaking about marijuana and a lot of harder stuff. I did that on purpose."
The album's first single (and video) is "Roll 'em Up," an ode to dope. "I Go Down" provides a forum for Ice to titillate the ladies with images from his sexual bag o' tricks, and in "Fame," he uses samplings from the Bowie-Lennon composition to tell everyone things like "I never changed even though I got fame."
So. Was Vanilla Ice just a mixed-up kid, a whore-puppet controlled by an evil, dollar-mad manager? Is the real Ice ready to emerge, the Ice of the streets, the Ice who raps the words of the common man?
Tough call. On the phone, he seems sincere, seems to believe his new image as much as he wants you to. Ice leads a quiet life these days. He's got new management, a few close friends, and a new steady girl who happens to be a professional jet-ski racer.
Hardly the same jet-setting rap deity who dated a status entity like Madonna. Yes, hold out your plate, Ice is more than happy to dish. "I went out with her for about eight months," he says with a snort. "She's nothing like her image portrays her to be at all, not even close. It's hard to believe, but she's this shy little girl, this real person."
That sounds like a familiar description. What could possibly have gone wrong? "The thing with her is she changes like a fucking chameleon. One day she could be real nice and sweet, a real digable girl. The next day she could be real mean for no reason, and the next day she'd act like a complete other person. You just don't know what to expect, and I know if I'm going to be serious with a girl, I gotta know what to expect. In your relationship, you gotta know what to expect from your chick, so I had to get rid of that."
Hard to argue with that kind of regular-guy logic, and Vanilla Ice appears to be just that, after all. Hip-hop is everything, says Ice, no more "pop rap, music made for the radio," and definitely no more acting.
"I never did like Hollywood. I didn't like shooting that movie [Cool As Ice]. I don't give a shit about it, actually; that was another manipulating moment for me." He proceeds with a parable that sums up the nature of his whole career, more or less.
"I was sitting in an office and they were telling me about this movie they wanted me to shoot. I was like, 'Man, I don't shoot movies. I'm not a fuckin' actor.' Tommy pulls me over and says, 'You sign your name on that line and they're going to give you a million dollars right now. In ten minutes, you'll have a million dollars in your pocket.'