Vanilla Ice (real name Robert Matthew Van Winklenote , born October 31, 1967), is a rapper born in Dallas, Texas and raised in Texas and South Florida, who is best known for his 1989 hit "Ice Ice Baby", which samples the main riff from Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure".
Between the ages of 13 and 14, Van Winkle practiced breakdancing, which led to his black friends calling him "Vanilla"; the combination of that nickname and the name of one of his breakdance moves, "the Ice", formed his stage name. Van Winkle wrote "Ice Ice Baby" at the age of 16, basing its lyrics upon his experiences in South Florida.
In 1987, Van Winkle met Tommy Quon at his Dallas night club City Lights. Upon seeing Van Winkle's performance, Quon saw commercial potential in his rapping and dancing skills, and offered him a contract with his management company, Ultrax. Van Winkle signed a contract with Ichiban Records in 1989, and released his debut album, Hooked. "Play That Funky Music" was released as the album's first single, with "Ice Ice Baby" appearing as the B-side. When a disc jockey played "Ice Ice Baby" instead of the single's A-side, the song was more popular than "Play That Funky Music". Quon financed $8,000 for the production of a music video for "Ice Ice Baby", which received heavy airplay by The Box, increasing public interest in the song. Van Winkle later opened for EPMD, Ice-T, Stetsasonic and Sir Mix-A-Lot on the Stop the Violence Tour.
However, Van Winkle's success did not go without drama, which primarily started after he signed with a larger label, SBK, in 1990 (reportedly after Public Enemy tried convincing their producer Hank Stocklee to sign him to Def Jam). Although the label's remixing and re-recording of Hooked under the title To the Extreme led to it becoming the fastest-selling rap album of all time upon release and spending 16 weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200, they also paid Van Winkle to adopt a more commercial appearance, which was the subject of frequent mockery among his peers. Quon attempted to expand Van Winkle's success into film, with mixed results. He had a cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, which was a success (but not really because of him). He also starred in the vehicle Cool as Ice, which bombed at the box office and earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor, though today it's earned something of a So Bad, It's Good status. SBK and Quon also pretty much ruined his reputation by publishing a fake autobiography without his knowledge which claimed a violent gang life that he didn't participate in. Van Winkle soon found himself having to answer questions about claims he never made, and the inconsistency between the label's biography and Van Winkle's actual statements led to further criticism.
Van Winkle attempted to take control of his career by releasing the more gangsta-influenced album Mind Blowin in 1994, with harder lyrics, a live, funk-oriented sound, and without any "image". The album turned out to be a disaster for him — the label went bankrupt during the album's release, it was poorly received by both critics and the general public, and it did not even chart on the Billboard 200. Van Winkle began using harder drugs than previously, and attempted suicide through a drug overdose. When he survived, he was inspired to not only clean up his act (he now only smokes marijuana), but to remove himself from the public spotlight completely.
After playing in a couple of Miami grunge bands, and trying to move toward a more rock-oriented sound, he teamed up with producer Ross Robinson to release the album Hard to Swallow in 1998, which earned him a new fanbase that enjoyed his new sound. Since then, he has had some success on the independent music scene, with less mainstream albums featuring a style that he refers to as "metal molten hip hop". He's even had quite a few appearances in film and TV, including The Surreal Life (which included a hilarious scene where he antagonized Gary Coleman), The New Guy and Big Money Rustlas.
Most recently, Van Winkle starred in the DIY Network series The Vanilla Ice Project (2010-2019), which is... a home improvement show. As it turns out, another pastime of his apart from rapping is home improvement and real estate (and he's pretty good at it; it's his other job when he isn't touring). His other other pastime is extreme sports, specifically Motocross - he even won a few championships. The Vanilla Ice Project was successful enough to run for nine seasons, with Van Winkle launching a real estate investing training course in the wake of the show's success. As far what to expect from the show, expect odd occurrences of a hardcore rapper saying things like "Mmm. They smell great. I love flowers. They're great."
Van Winkle has been called "the Jackie Robinson of Hip-Hop" by Public Enemy leader Chuck D, and was one of the earliest examples of a white rapper achieving a large level of success, after the groups Beastie Boys, 3rd Bass and House of Pain, but preceding successful solo acts like Kid Rock and Eminem. Having been raised in both Dallas and Miami, Van Winkle is the most successful rapper from both of these cities.
His greatest legacy is perhaps that all new white rappers inevitably get asked, "Who do you think you are, Vanilla Ice?"
- To the Extreme (1990)
- Extremely Live (1991)
- Mind Blowin (1994)
- Hard to Swallow (1998)
- Bi-Polar (2001)
- Platinum Underground (2005)
- W.T.F. (Wisdom, Tenacity and Focus) (2011)
Vanilla Ice demonstrates the following tropes:
- Boastful Rap: Frequently, although it could be argued that many rappers do this.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Once you get past the Totally Radical catch-phrases, tattoos, and the fact that it's Vanilla Ice, he's actually a very competent real estate investor and contractor, judging by the fact his show has run for four seasons and he's been doing it off camera since the 90's.
- Darker and Edgier: Hard to Swallow is much darker than any album Vanilla Ice has made before or since.
- Genre Roulette: WTF, and how. The first track is "Turn It Up," a blatant dabbling in the kind of dance-pop commonly found on pop radio circa-2011. From there, the album bounces between straight Hip-Hop, Country Music, Horrorcore (with help from running buddies Insane Clown Posse) Reggae, a ballad version of To The Extreme's "Hooked," and whatever the hell "Nightmare Disco" is. Not exactly the most cohesive musical experience.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: On The Surreal Life, he lost a game and proceeded to trash his room (including throwing a drum kit and nearly clobbering Ron Jeremy in the process), trash the set, cut his own hand open after punching a light, and sent the cast running for their lives.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: Suge Knight of Death Row Records implied to Van Winkle that Knight would have his thugs throw him over a balcony unless Van Winkle signed over the rights to "Ice, Ice Baby." Tabloid rumors suggested that Knight actually held Ice over the balcony and threatened to drop him.
- Hypocritical Humor: An unintentional example happened on the Reality TV show The Surreal Life, which featured several former stars living together, including Vanilla Ice. Rob would often get very upset if anyone brought up Ice Ice Baby or simply talked about his former celebrity status, even going so far as to refuse to be called Vanilla Ice. Gary Coleman appeared on one episode for a charity event (he was running for the governor of California at the time). Vanilla Ice demanded that Coleman say his old Catchphrase from Diff'rent Strokes, "Whatchoo talkn' `bout Willis?". Coleman refused and Vanilla Ice went so far as to pick him up and carry him around in order to force Coleman to say something that he hadn't said since he was twelve. Vanilla Ice eventually claimed Coleman was being too serious about his former celebrity status and did not see the hypocrisy of the situation. The audience did, however.
- Identical Stranger: Rob and Fred Durst.
- They're fans of each other.
- Informed Ability: "Ice Ice Baby" has an entire verse about how awesome his DJ is. The song features no scratching whatsoever.
- Metal Scream
- New Sound Album:
- Mind Blowin (1994) featured largely live instrumentation and funk elements, compared to his debut album, To the Extreme, which was largely synthesized and Hip-Hop-oriented.
- Hard to Swallow (1998) was largely Nu Metal, with the exception of "Freestyle", which was hip hop.
- From Bi-Polar (2001) on, his albums have been pretty consistent sound-wise, mixing hard rock/rap-metal/nu-metal and hip hop tracks...
- Except for WTF (2011), which has a lot of electro-based fusions, and even a couple of Country Rap songs with Cowboy Troy.
- Non-Actor Vehicle: Cool as Ice, effectively a remake of Rebel Without a Cause.
- The Rival: There was some mild friction with Eminem in the mid-2000's, but neither Vanilla Ice nor Eminem were offended by the barbs they threw each other. By 2009, the duo were friendly, with Ice appearing in Eminem's video for "We Made You".
- Shrouded in Myth: Rob was very secretive about his personal life, with the intention of protecting his family. In an attempt to rectify this, his former label wrote a fake biography in his name and tried to pass it off as his official life story without his knowledge, and ended up creating even more myths. Van Winkle's own account of his life is not as exciting as his label tried to make it out to be, the only truth to it being that he did grow up in a poor neighborhood.
- Token White: More or less considered this for the whole rap genre, at the turn of the 80s and 90s, even though he was far from the only white rapper. Simply adopting the name "Vanilla Ice" was his way of owning this status.