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Music

Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice rolls the dice

The Iceman resurfaces with new rap-metal album

Web posted on:
Friday, January 08, 1999 1:37:11 PM EST

From Donna Freydkin
Special to CNN Interactive

(CNN) -- Remember Vanilla Ice? The better question may be, who doesn't? The white rapper with shaved eyebrows, a bogus gangsta background, bleached flattop and parachute pants is still reviled by music snobs for bastardizing David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" on "Ice Ice Baby."

But after almost 10 years of being a walking punch line, Rob Van Winkle, a.k.a. the Iceman, is guardedly embracing his one-hit wonder past. And he's betting that there's enough of a leftover curiosity factor, enough "whatever happened to" musings, to propel fans into record stores and concert venues to buy his new album and check him out onstage.

"I'm not running from anything. People know who I am. I concentrate on the lovers, the people who appreciate what I'm doing," says Ice, whose 1990 debut "To the Extreme" sold more than 13 million copies while his subsequent album, "Mind Blowin'," bombed.

"Hard to Swallow," his first release in five years, is a fusion of trash-punk-metal-rap that will sound very familiar to Limp Bizkit and Korn fans. In fact, Korn producer Ross Robinson teamed up with Ice to produce the shrill confessional on which Ice flays his '80s persona, his fractured family and Attention Deficit Disorder, which he has.

"This record was like total therapy. I had to tap into these f----d up moments in my life," says Ice. "I'm free now. I feel much better. I rate the success by what I got out of it, no matter if it sells one record or a million."

His rage is actually pretty convincing, if not altogether friendly on the ears. Throughout the album, he confronts his past, trying to reconcile with his former self on "Too Cold" and bashing his troubled family on "Scars." This time, the Iceman is going for respect, with an album that's an extreme departure from the saccharine Vanilla Ice of old.

Clips from "Hard to Swallow"

"Scars"
[250k MPEG-3] or [350k WAV]

"Too Cold"
[230k MPEG-3] or [320k WAV]

(Sound courtesy Republic)

From fame to faith

Ice wholeheartedly blames the almighty dollar for all his lurid mistakes and his ensuing collapse.

"I played a puppet role and was persuaded by money to make decisions I wouldn't have made otherwise. I started out with hip-hop, opened for Ice-T, played for all-black crowds and never saw a white kid in the entire audience! Then my label crossed my record over to pop. I didn't want to do it, but then they gave me a check and I was like, yes!" he says today.

Along with '80s relic MC Hammer, now a preacher, Ice toppled from fame to faith.

He started out promisingly enough. "To the Extreme" became the first album to reach all five certification levels -- gold, platinum, double-platinum, triple-platinum and quadruple-platinum -- in just one month, and spawned the hit single "Ice Ice Baby." But to boost his authenticity as a street rapper, he announced a questionable, heretofore unmentioned violent gangster past, replete with contrived stabbings and gang wars.

Ruthless record company execs, he says, tempted him with the big bucks and led him to make bad decisions. Take his starring role in 1991's "Cool as Ice" -- no need for description; the title pretty much speaks for itself.

Afterwards, Ice nearly had a drug- and booze-induced meltdown. In his heyday, he had frolicked with Madonna, even gracing the pages of her book "Sex" -- something he now calls "an open door for Howard Stern." On his 1994 album, "Mind Blowin'," Ice tried to go hardcore, with tough raps and music sampled from James Brown and, predictably, George Clinton. It foundered and his star began to slowly melt away.

"I was like Jerry Maguire back then," he laughs somewhat ruefully, comparing himself to the greedy agent played by Tom Cruise. "I was like, show me the money. That's over now. A lot of the criticism led to very bad depression, but I learned that life is not about material things or how many records you sell."

But it took Ice some time to reach that plateau of understanding. He was embittered, burned out. So after his musical Waterloo, he retreated back to his hometown of Miami, opened up a sports store and dabbled in the local music scene. He says that he was playing with a local band called "Picking Scabs" when he heard that Korn's Robinson wanted to meet him. Ice was ecstatic.

"The vibe was totally so cool. We had the album finished in a month and a half because we kept the vibe. It wasn't intended to be so dark. I opened up to Ross and I told him a lot of things that happened to me in the past," recalls Ice. "It was like, really deep conversation, and he was like, you should write about that. And I was like, dude, I didn't want people to judge me for that. But he was right. It was like total therapy."

Hugs, not drugs

Today, the self-professed family man, who calls his wife and baby "the best thing that's ever happened to me," is more Kreamed Korn than hardened hip-hopper. He says he's high on God alone.

"I wanted to express myself and this is the way God wants me to do it," says Ice. "It wasn't about money. I played the puppet role in the '90s. Yes, it made me wealthy, but it almost killed me because of the stress and anxiety."

He doesn't miss a single opportunity to emphasize his newfound maturity, which he insists was brought about by his discovery of a higher power.

"I've been sober for four years. I had to quit all the drugs all in one move. I had to leave all my friends and I was all alone. It was really bad and really depressing," recalls Ice. "I turned to God. He's blessing me tremendously."

The Iceman declares that he's settled down. Before starting the interview, he breaks away from watching "Barney" on TV with his 1-year-old daughter. He's exceedingly friendly, outspoken even, and eager to clear the record on his blemished past. He says he's belting it out for the Lord now, and is betting the public will open hearts and wallets to his rebirth.

"Every show I've been doing has been sold out. Crowds are going mad," he says. "It blows me away, man. It's my crowd, my era, my generation, but a lot of them are younger than me."

And now back to those eyebrows, the ones with the stripes shaved into them. Ice chuckles at the memory, but relegates it to the absurd Ice persona of 10 years ago.

"I had clippers, used to get stoned and would start cutting my hair. I had fun," he says. "But I'm low-maintenance now, don't have time for that stuff."

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