“MIAMI!!! 1991 is MY year!”, a line from Extremely Live, one of the few bits of stage banter that is not “Awwwwww yeah”. If only he knew. The early days of hip-hop are filled with all sorts of one-offs and curiosities; guys that had steady gigs as an opening act and maybe a recording or two, but couldn’t write tunes (so much early hip-hop is just dudes rapping over existing tracks or very blatant sound-alikes), and were finished by the time they were 24. Vanilla Ice was destined to be one of ’em, but fate intervened. His first single, released in April of 1990, was “Play That Funky Music” (which hilariously did not credit the original songwriter) – but it was the flip side that interested DJs, a tune called “Ice Ice Baby” that repurposed a Queen sample so well it was as if they were meant to be together all along.
What’s next is history; “Ice Ice Baby” got passed around from radio station to radio station, and suddenly SBK records become interested (and before that, Suge Knight), and Ice briefly became a phenomenon. To the Extreme, released in August, sold a ridiculous amount of copies and “Ice Ice Baby” became hip-hop’s first bona fide #1, turning Vanilla Ice into a walking cash cow. Or so SBK thought. Then came the part of his career we know all too well – his completely fabricated biography, his awful feature film Cool as Ice, this critically panned live album, and his infamous “it’s not the same” interview. To be fair to Vanilla, I don’t think any of this was his idea, even the interview; you can imagine him being repeatedly told “Don’t admit a thing” by the label’s lawyers. But the dude became a walking punchline, as is generally the case when your fanbase’s average age is around 14 – the coolest thing this guy ever did was appear in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. His turnaround time between performing on SNL and being routinely mocked on SNL was remarkably short.
Some time ago I uncovered this CD at my local record shop. I couldn’t figure out what was most appealing about it – the fact that Ice was clad in the same colors and patterns as the American flag, that pose of him grabbing his crotch and pointing skyward (hell, this was 1991, big-time pop artists were expected to grab their crotch back then), or the $1.99 price sticker. But I wasn’t going to let this one go; not a CD that promises to be extremely live, as opposed to just the plain ol’ regular live CDs everyone else was putting out then. Released in June of 1991, when Vanilla Ice’s star was six feet underground, Extremely Live sold poorly, and none of the three new singles (!!) charted. That in itself is incredible – how many live albums even release singles at all? Which brings up another question: how extremely live is this, really? Clearly there are a lot of overdubs, and I suspect the audience noise has been enhanced in some spots, as though you’re listening to a Scooter album.
Still, this is a better disc than To the Extreme – having an actual live drummer will do that, and the new singles are surprisingly good, at least when put up against “welp I only have one album so here you go” songs like “I Love You” or “Havin’ a Roni”. Mostly because they use more samples – “Fly Like an Eagle” (“Rollin in my 5.0”) or “Satisfaction” (uhh…”Satisfaction”). But more than that, it’s notable for being such a confusing listen; why, for instance, does DJ Earthquake (who you don’t hear on the studio records) get more mic time than Vanilla does? Why include multiple dance routine segments on a set that’s strictly audio? And why, for the love of God, do you include a 9-minute track that’s nothing but this? (“V.I.P. Posse One By One”) What’s with Vanilla Ice’s accents, the lame scripted stage banter, or the sax player during “Havin’ a Roni” – such a nonsong that all he can do is go “toot-toot-toot”? (His name is Don Diego, and yes, he lists this in his resume).
No, there’s only one important question: when does he drop the bomb, and how good is it? The answer: surprisingly early (track 5), and it’s glorious. All Vanilla does is drop one line – “Now that the party is jumpin”, and the crowd raps the entire thing from memory; after that, there’s some more crowd participation, dividing up the ladies and the fellas, and surprise, there’s not a whole lot of fellas there. After like, seriously four minutes, they finally drop the Queen sample, and proceed with a pretty kick-ass version of the tune that’s not only a bit quicker, but switches the beats up from time to time. In nine minutes and twenty seconds, it’s all that is ridiculous, hilarious, and awesome about the Vanilla Ice experience rolled up into one track; truly everything I was hoping for when I paid the buck-ninety-nine.
If 1991 wasn’t his year, 1992 was even worse. A planned follow up album, Ice Capades, was scrapped, which is kind of crazy when you think about it. This guy sold 11 million copies of To the Extreme and had a #1 single, and the label wouldn’t finance a follow-up only a year later? Though the haters would harp on endlessly about this no-talent dude lucking into a big single and piles of cash, it’s hard to imagine him enjoying any of it, given how quickly it all went and how many royalties he would wind up paying. He re-invented his look and his sound, and even became a great Jetski racer, but could never shake his old image. Strange life the guy was living then, trying so hard to escape the albatross that was “Ice Ice Baby”, even destroying the video’s master tape on MTV’s 25 Lame (along with most of the set), but also acknowledging that he owed everything he had to it.
In that respect it’s hard not to root for him, especially now as he’s seemingly grown comfortable with his legacy; I don’t think anything else he’s done has been particularly good, but I like that he’s still around, still recording terrible albums (the last two of which have gotten below a 1.00 on RYM, which is some kind of feat) and still making random appearances. Two years ago, he was the halftime show at a Milwaukee Bucks game that I happened to be at – I had no idea they’d booked him – and it was a good bit of throwback fun, especially when he closed with “Ice Ice Baby”, with seemingly everyone in the crowd, including those who weren’t even alive in 1991, rapping along word-for-word with him. Other songs – “Ninja Rap” (“YO! I don’t know about you, but I still love the Ninja Turtles..”), “Play That Funky Music”, and…actually, that was it. Did I rap along with him? You bet your ass I did, at least “Ice Ice Baby” and “Ninja Rap”, which I still think is kind of awesome.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with some choice excerpts from his Wikipedia page:
“Eventually, Knight showed up at Ice’s hotel suite on the fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by a member of the Oakland Raiders. According to Ice, Knight took him out on the balcony by himself, and implied that he would throw him off the balcony unless he signed the publishing rights to the song over to Knight; Knight used Ice’s money to help fund Death Row Records.”
“Ice branched out into the film industry with an appearance in the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, which he later called “one of the coolest experiences” of his career.”
“In May 2000, Ice wrestled in a match promoted by Juggalo Championship Wrestling, then known as Juggalo Championshit Wrestling, filling in for Insane Clown Posse member Shaggy 2 Dope, who had been injured during a match. ”
“On September 15, 2013, Vanilla Ice performed at the halftime show of a Houston Texans game. Houston went on to lose the remaining fourteen games of the season, leading some players to blame Vanilla Ice for the losing streak.”
“Ice’s pet wallaroo, Bucky, and pet goat, Pancho, escaped from his Port St. Lucie, Florida home in November 2004. After wandering around local streets for over a week, the animals were caught and returned to Ice. He paid a $220 fine for expired pet tags and an undisclosed fine for the escape of the animals”
Choice non-“Ice Ice Baby” cut: “Road to my Riches”