During his meteoric rise to fame in the early 1990s, Vanilla Ice became the first white rapper to top the pop singles chart with his hit "Ice Ice Baby." After his fame began to fade, the rapper switched gears and became a professional jet-skier and later began appearing in TV reality shows. While he has never recaptured the success of his early days, Vanilla Ice continues to record new material.
Rapper, singer, songwriter, athlete, and actor. Born Robert Van Winkle on October 31, 1967 (some sources say 1968), in Miami, Florida. During his meteoric rise to fame in the early 1990s, Vanilla Ice became the first white rapper to top the pop singles chart with his hit, "Ice Ice Baby." He quickly fell from favor, however, and has spent years reinventing himself and his sound.
The son of a music teacher, Vanilla Ice grew up in South Florida and Texas. Music, however, was not his first passion. Around the age of 8, Vanilla Ice began participating in motocross races. He also became interested in break-dancing in his early teens. He attended R. L. Turner High School in Carrollton, Texas, but he left before graduation.
At first, Vanilla Ice was better known for his dance moves. "Everybody knew him for his feet. He would demolish other dancers," Earthquake (Floyd Brown), one of the songwriters that worked with Vanilla Ice, explained to The New York Times. He frequented a Dallas nightclub called City Lights, which had a largely African-American clientele. There Vanilla Ice caught the attention of the club's owner, Tommy Quon, who became his manager.
In 1989, Vanilla Ice released his first album, Hooked, which featured a song called "Ice Ice Baby." This catchy rap used the bass line from David Bowie and Queen's hit single, "Under Pressure." After a Georgia radio station started playing the song, interest in Vanilla Ice grew, and he landed a deal with SBK Records. "Ice Ice Baby" then appeared on his first record for SBK, 1990's To the Extreme, and both the single and the album reached the top of charts later that year. He toured with another popular rap performer, M. C. Hammer, around this time.
Before long, Vanilla Ice became a pop idol, with his likeness on a variety of products. He made a cameo appearance in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (1991). That same year his second single, "Play that Funky Music," reached the number four spot on the pop charts. The song borrowed its title and some of its content from Wild Cherry's 1976 hit. After spending 16 weeks at the top of the album charts, To the Extreme sold more than seven million copies.
During interviews and in his official biography, Ice by Ice (1991), Vanilla Ice discussed his difficult youth and his time on streets. He also indicated that he had won numerous motocross events as well. As the press investigated these stories, it turned out that many of these claims were exaggerations of the facts, or completely false. Vanilla Ice later tried to blame his manager for these errors, and also said that he changed some of the information about himself to protect his family. Whatever the case, Vanilla Ice's credibility and career took a serious hit over the controversy.
Vanilla Ice also received a lot of negative comments from critics. Many found Vanilla Ice's lyrics to be "inane," and lacking in creativity and originality. Some called him the "Elvis of rap" because he was capitalizing on a predominantly African-American music style. At the time, more socially and politically challenging rap acts such as Public Enemy were having a hard time getting played on the radio, while pop-oriented rap like Vanilla Ice and M. C. Hammer dominated the charts.
Taking on his first lead acting role, Vanilla Ice starred in Cool as Ice (1991). The film was a commercial and critical failure, taking in less than $1 million at the box office. In another sign of his fading appeal, Vanilla Ice scored only a minor hit with the film's soundtrack and its title song.
At the height of his fame, the rapper had a brief relationship with pop star Madonna, and even posed for her 1992 controversial book Sex. But as his career declined, Vanilla Ice began using hard drugs, and experienced bouts of depression.
He tried to revamp his image with 1994's Mind Blowin, taking on a funk-influenced rap style. Fans and critics were not impressed, and the album failed to make the music charts. In July 1994, after receiving a flurry of negative reviews, he tried to commit suicide by taking a drug overdose. He was shaken by this near-death experience, and stepped away from his Vanilla Ice persona for a time. Returning to extreme sports, the rapper started jet skiing competitively using his real name. In 1996, he even opened a sporting goods store called "2 The Xtreme" in Miami Beach.
In 1998, Vanilla Ice ended his self-imposed exile from the music scene with Hard to Swallow. He called the album "my much-needed therapy session" and even included a song about his troubled childhood called "Scars." Working with producer Ross Robinson of Limp Bizkit and Korn fame, Vanilla Ice moved toward a more hardcore rock style. "The new sound is . . . much harder and darker because of the issues I am writing about," Vanilla Ice wrote on his Web site.
Despite lukewarm reviews, Vanilla Ice persevered with his music career. His next two efforts, 2001's Bipolar and 2003's Hot Sex, came and went with little notice or fanfare. He did, however, find an audience on television, appearing in several reality shows. In March 2002, Vanilla Ice took on Todd Bridges from the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes on Celebrity Boxing. Bridges defeated Vanilla Ice in three rounds. Vanilla Ice moved in with a group of other B-List stars for the second season of The Surreal Life in 2004. For roughly two weeks, he had his every move filmed as he lived with the likes of adult-film star Ron Jeremy and former televangelist Tammy Faye Messner.
Around this time, Vanilla Ice also returned to the world of motocross. He auditioned for the 2002 X Games in the freestyle division and placed seventh at the 2003 Suzuki Crossover challenge, according to Sports Illustrated. He told the magazine that the track "is where I'm happiest."
Vanilla Ice, once described as "one of the most ridiculed performers of all time," did not abandon his music. In 2005, reality television helped boost his next album, Platinum Underground. He appeared on an episode of Hit Me Baby One More Time, which had former pop stars competing against each other. For the program, he sang "Ice Ice Baby" as well as his own take on Destiny's Child's big hit "Survivor."
More recently, Vanilla Ice has been revisiting some great songs of the past, including his own "Ice Ice Baby." His latest record, 2008's Ice Is Back: Hip Hop Classics, features cover songs by such artists as Bob Marley, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. In 2009, Vanilla Ice gave a concert with fellow 90s rap-pop star M. C. Hammer in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the two plan to appear together again.
While he has never recaptured the stellar success of his early career, Vanilla Ice continues to record new material and to tour. Today he says that "the music is for myself, not to be rich or famous."
In August 2016 Vanilla Ice announced he would be part of Season 23's cast of Dancing With the Stars.
Vanilla Ice now lives in Florida with his wife Laura and their two daughters.
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