Feb 11

VANILLA ICE – “Ice Ice Baby”

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#654, 1st December 1990

It seems to me that in America there’s been a teensy bit of media revisionism around “Ice Ice Baby”. Unlike most revisionism though, the idea isn’t that the track was a lost classic. No, the point is to suggest it was extreme in its badness, superhumanly awful, one of the worst records ever – it shows up on lists of same and at the culmination of one Vanilla Ice himself arrived and staged a burning of the master tape. “Ice Ice Baby” was so terrible it had to be put beyond use – wiped out like smallpox, to use a simile you can imagine the man himself rapping, in that jabby monotone of his.

The effect is to suggest that Vanilla Ice’s career was a collective moment of madness, a huge “What were we thinking?”, and to cover over the fact that Occam’s Razor had it right the first time. Vanilla wasn’t promoted as a novelty, wasn’t sold as one, wasn’t really bought as one. The thing that made him different to most of the lame MCs around at the time – and pretty much all the good ones – was the thing he helpfully pointed out in his name.

And as everyone said at the time, 25 years after Elvis the biz still needed a white guy to sell a black sound. This was a little unfair, and not just to Elvis: rap was mainstream with or without Vanilla Ice, and his album replaced MC Hammer at the top of the US charts. More telling, though, was that “Ice Ice Baby” was the first hip-hop Billboard #1 single – a position determined by airplay as well as sales, so one more reflective of tastemaker conservatism. The wider industry was comfortable with the notion of a white rap superstar, and never mind that he was no good.

There were elements of that attitude in his UK success too. But over here, more credible hip-hop tracks never had much chance of reaching #1 – from the mid-80s you’d find rap singles bouncing around the lower 20s, but it was always the gimmicky stuff that sold, and in a UK context Vanilla Ice really was just another novelty. In fact “Ice Ice Baby” seems like a kind of culmination of all the Euro-rap, pseudo-rap, gimmick movie tie-in rap – some good, some not – we’ve seen feature in Popular through 1990.

That doesn’t make it anything other than a feeble record. But it’s not an all-time stinker. It rests on a very strong idea – nicking the “Under Pressure” bassline and placing it under dessicated beats creates a mesh of malevolence a good storyteller could make a lot of. It’s such a strong idea that with half an ear – heard in snatches on the radio or on the Chart Show – you might think Vanilla Ice is that storyteller. And then you listen a bit closer.

The Iceman ruins the record in three different ways. There’s his flow – all those big end of line stresses are fine when he hits on the occasional decent image (“like a pound of BACON”) but they gum up his storytelling and make it hard to follow. So the track is rhythmically monotonous, and then his tone is unvarying too: he has a constant undertone of weaselly aggression. “Ice Ice Baby” is mostly brag with a side order of narrative, but even the bragging needs some kind of charm and variety to work – and the tone makes his party and gun talk rote and unengaging too. And then there’s the most serious issue – Ice just doesn’t seem in control of his words. He’s careless with metaphors – “flow like a harpoon daily and nightly”; “my style’s like a chemical spill” – wait, how is that good? By the third verse he’s rhyming poet and know it, drawing attention to it with those bloody line-ends, and any goodwill created by his sample choice is long, long gone. Though to be honest you could have given up at the very start – what on earth is “collaborate” doing aside from fill up syllable space?

So what were we thinking? Vanilla Ice sounds like a man who likes hip-hop but can’t do it very well, and the track’s success here isn’t just down to his race. “Ice Ice Baby”‘s very clumsiness is what makes it accessible – a big friendly sample, an easy to imitate flow, no great technical skill. It comes at the start of a period that’s the pop equivalent of the public’s switch from beer to wine in the 70s. Some oenophiles knew what they were doing and bought accordingly, but the mass market for wine was built on the likes of Blue Nun and Black Tower – Dubonnet at a pinch – and from there began a gradual climb to relative sophistication. Similarly, there would come a time when hip-hop – or at least, records that would have been impossible without hip-hop – would dominate the UK charts. But not at once, and not without a lot of education. Vanilla Ice is part of that – his unpleasant white whine is pop’s Liebfraumilch.



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  1. 121
    lonepilgrim on 16 Feb 2011 #

    ‘Times Arrow’ was the last MA book that I read – a laborious exercise that, over the length of a (thankfully short) novel, repeated an idea that took a paragraph in ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.
    I agree with Pink Champale at 118. He really doesn’t have anything interesting to say as a fiction writer. His essays on other writers like Saul Bellow are/were OK.
    Is ‘the second plane’ the one where he says something like ‘this was worse than terrorism, this was horrorism’? Dreadful.

  2. 122
    Kit on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #57 (hi Tim!) and #69:

    I remember U Can’t Touch This being a playground turning point for the lumpenyouth of Australia in re sampling – specifically one c-level jock type (in the corridor before a Latin class!) shockedly revealing to another “they played this other song by some guy on the radio last night, and he’s completely stolen it!” Years deep in Run DMC, Public Enemy, De La, Beasties and UK house myself, I quietly rolleyed to avoid that day’s “shutupfaggot”-punching, but by the time IIB hit a few months later, the tone of the discussion was much more a knowing “well, it’s taken from Queen there, isn’t it…”

    Although this may have had a lot to do with the pre-familiarity of Under Pressure vs Rick James!

    Amusing that we touched on Big Daddy Kane earlier and are now deep in SEX, where Ice and Kane made one of the most awkward-looking threesomes ever avec Madge.

  3. 123
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Yeah having only read Amis in non-fiction he doesn’t strike me as a particularly great stylist. But I never really know what “great stylist” means, even.

  4. 124
    punctum on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Someone who gives you a really nice haircut?

  5. 125
    Tom on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I wouldn’t know :(

  6. 126
    Kit on 16 Feb 2011 #

    BTW Dr Dre is an excellent and compelling vocal presence on many wonderful records – his flow may not be any cop in and of itself, but he’s never actually shamed himself, and has largely been very very canny about using his own performance as a counterpart to other voices who immediately contrast him tonally, far before you start considering technical ability. cf No Diggity, Guilty Conscience, Next Episode, G Thang, 100 Miles (the only good post-Cube NWA track that he does a verse on)…

  7. 127
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    To me it means someone who draws attention to the surface of the writing, the use of linguistic sleight of hand and playfulness (perhaps even what some might term pretentiousness – although a little bit of that is not always a bad thing, otherwise we’d just be grunting all the time and speaking in Sun headlines), ideally to make a serious point.

    Isaak Babel (above all in his “Red Cavalry” cycle of short stories, about a melancholy Jewish intellectual from the notably un-pious city of Odessa fighting alongside some fairly vicious Cossack thugs in the Russian-Polish war of 1919/20) does it a lot more proficiently than Amis, though. (The Penguin Classics translation into English generally reflects this, too)

  8. 128
    MBI on 16 Feb 2011 #

    If I can add to the sub-conversation that I started way upthread, yes, America certainly has a lot of shit — in fact, 1990 is possibly the worst year ever for the American pop charts — but it’s easy to label Vanilla Ice as the worst thing ever because with few exceptions don’t have things like Jive Bunny and Bombalurina, novelty acts that no one seems to actually evaluate on the same level as actual “artists,” study their discography and contextualize.

    If Jive Bunny did briefly make it onto this side of the Atlantic, he made close to no impact, and certainly no one over here remembers him now.

  9. 129
    Andrew F on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #121 – and an idea that took 3 pages in one of Alan Moore’s 80s Future Shocks!

    #127 – Ahh, I get what you’re saying. So, like Carter USM, then?

    (Unsurprisingly I also have a tin eye for writing style. But then I’m fairly suspicious of all “this song/book is much better than it sounds/reads”, and as a result am about as bothered by my twin failings as by my inability to tell a good guitar solo)

  10. 130
    Izzy on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #118 and 119 are dead on about Amis and correct to draw in Barnes (and you could include any of their pals too) is right because they all suffer from exactly the same problem – wonderful at doing writing, but nothing to say when they get there. No-one will read these guys in a couple of decades’ time beyond the odd time they got lucky despite themselves – Atonement and Money spring to mind, which I suspect might be down to their having written about their own (or close others’) real experiences, and thereby tapping into real feeling, as opposed to theoretical. The rest of the time it feels like they’re writing about things they know other people find interesting and that’s it – why Amis thinks he’s the man to write about the holocaust I do not know, and I can only imagine the tedium of McEwan tackling climate change, say.

    That said, I have sometimes enjoyed Amis being a snotty provocateur to the dinner-party consensus over the last few years – asking an ICA symposium if they felt morally superior to the taliban, and only a third of them daring to say they did, is pretty funny. Again, though, there’s something frivolous there, as if he’s chosen his topic knowing it’ll get a reaction, but being incapable of developing any useful thoughts beyond that.

  11. 131
    Chelovek na lune on 16 Feb 2011 #

    #127 Ish.

    I was a MASSIVE fan of Carter at the time (well, I was 15 in 1990 – so that would be “Christmas Shoppers’ Paradise” I guess), saw them in concert several times in 91/92. Anyway, I’d say they (or their lyrics) are mostly more about bad puns incorporating the names of run-down Sarf London suburbs into other popular culture references than artistry, sleight of hand or beauty of style, to which Amis and Barnes, at least, aspire.

    But broadly speaking, I suppose I more or less give a slightly grundging nod of near-agreement. But maybe not in as much as whereas Amis wants to appear well-read (or Babel to demonstrate his “cultivation”/being kulturnyi), Carter want you to know that they are extremely familiar, above all, with a selected subset of the contents of the London A-Z. Stylists of the gritty pavement, perhaps.

    #121 I think Le Monde’s coining (13 Sept 2001) of “hyperterrorisme” (and its English equivalent) far superior to all this “horrorism” nonsense.

  12. 132
    pink champale on 16 Feb 2011 #

    @123 “great stylist” –i.e. amis has (had) good flow, obv.
    @126 – yeah, that’s a fair point about dre knowing and working round his limitations – certainly all those are great records.
    @121 – the ‘second plane’ is also where amis reveals that one of the characteristics of radial muslims is that they don’t obey traffic lights. this has always reminded me of the chris morris ‘gays can’t swim’ sketch.

  13. 133
    koganbot on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Those interested in the Madonna book need to listen to verse one of this song (Gary Allan’s cover of Todd Snider’s “Alright Guy”).

  14. 134
    koganbot on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Always thought “Under Pressure” was a stone cold bore, but then I don’t think I heard it until after I’d heard “Ice Ice Baby,” which I love (or strongly like). I think it helped that I originally heard “Ice Ice Baby” when it was first appearing in hip-hop strongholds (major urban markets) but before it hit nationally or the video showed up. So I was hearing this utterly ominous bassline across the chill San Francisco night, and an uninflected voice going “Ice ice baby” in a cold synthesized whisper. It didn’t feel cute or energized or pop at all, and was better for this. I paired it in my mind with another Bay Area hit that summer, Paris’s “Break The Grip Of Shame,” with similar menace from the bass and barren delivery, the same dark atmosphere. Interestingly, “Break The Grip Of Shame” is a “conscious” black militant rap, a fact that I noticed but wasn’t key one way or another to why I liked “Shame” (and I didn’t for several umpteen listens even know that Vanilla Ice was white, though I suppose I should have figured it out from his name).

    I’m guessing that “Ice Ice Baby” entered my life in a sonically different manner from how it entered most of yours. And getting it through the radio I was hearing it fit the nightscape rather than concentrating on words or dexterity or anything. But also, for me, still, it works overall as a track, not as a vehicle for a rap. And maybe I tend to listen to music differently from some of you – not that I listen to everything the same, and I can, you know, decide to follow a Charlie Parker solo or hear Louis Armstrong re-order space in a single breath, and be totally taken by a master like Spoonie Gee ruffling across some syllables and digging into others. But I generally am taken by an overall sound, not this or that particular element, which is why the first forty or so times I heard “Ice Ice Baby” I didn’t even notice Ice’s clumsiness and his falling behind the beat, and these don’t strike me as debilitating flaws now, even though I’ve since been made hyper conscious of them.

    Mark, I think Chuck came across the song the way I did (was picking it up on Detroit radio, unless he’d already moved to Philly), though without the benefit of “Break The Grip Of Shame” as an atmospheric buddy.

  15. 135
    koganbot on 16 Feb 2011 #

    You know the controversy ratings that Dave does over on the Singles Jukebox? I invented them in 1991 in Phil Dellio’s Radio On to register that, though 3rd Bass’s “Pop Goes The Weasel” garnered all sorts of vehement commentary, almost everybody acknowledged its uninspired competence and gave it a 6.0 or thereabouts, whereas Boyz II Men’s “MotownPhilly” got a smattering of subdued and mostly respectful commentary but scores veering wildly (0.0 from my ex-wife Leslie to 10.0 from my one-time crush Patty). Unlike at the Jukebox, people were allowed to rate tracks even when they didn’t write them up. Anyhow, I decided to see just what the difference was, so did an average deviation on all the tracks that issue, hence the controversy ratings. “MotownPhilly” was highest with 2.88, beating out “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”‘s 2.56. “Pop Goes The Weasel” was way down at 1.11, but the least controversial was the KLF’s well-received “3 A.M. Eternal,” with a piddling, unflappable controversy rating of only 0.89.

    This is all intro to my quoting from some of the Radio On reviews of “Pop Goes The Weasel” (this was summer 1991); these are mostly excerpts, not the full reviews:

    GREIL MARCUS – These guys are creeps, making a whole career out of being holier than thou. I’ll take Vanilla Ice any day (he has a much better name, no one can argue with that). Seeing some joker sneer doesn’t make my day, and that’s all they’re selling.

    CHUCK EDDY – Well, they’re obviously morons. Vanilla Ice is obviously a greater artist. Anti-sellout rock has been a sham since the days of “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (anti-Monkees, that one). But I have to admit they have a passable way with a radio hook (I kinda like “Steppin’ To The A.M.” too), and in a year when rap hooks are extinct, I can’t *hate* this no matter how hard I try. [Later in the blurb he says he’d give “Ice Ice Baby” a 10.0.]

    PATTY STIRLING – Music’s great, but I get sick of the nonsense talk of these guys – I’m no reader of Finnegans Wake. Pete Nice is quite sexy. [When Patty said “nonsense talk” she wasn’t referring to the Ice bashing, which she didn’t even notice!]

    SCOTT WOODS – So righteous are they, they oughta move in with Michael Stipe and open up a T-shirt shop. And sure, “Ice Ice Baby” is a great single, and Vanilla Ice is (was?) more interesting than they’ll ever be (to listen to, to read about). But as far as dissing goes, this isn’t terrible. And the “Sledgehammer” sample is kinda funny too.

    FRANK KOGAN – Vanilla Ice could make the best single of 1990, which he damn near did, and stodgy journeymen like Rob “Overview” Tannenbaum would write generic Village Voice quasipolitical tedium condemning the guy for whatever it is that is considered quasipolitically wrong with him (having white skin and an ordinary voice, I guess). [I went on to say Mickey Dolenz had an ordinary voice and then listed a whole slew of great Monkees’ tracks, winding up by conceding that “Pop Goes The Weasel” has some energy. My “Vanilla Ice could make the best single of 1990” thing was a response to a Greil Marcus line that Phil had quoted in the previous issue, “Pia Zadora could make the best record of 1987, and we’d all (those of us honest enough to admit it) be scurrying to figure out what that meant.” My response, in ’91, was that if Pia Zadora were to make the best record of 1992 rock critics would ignore her only slightly less than they ignored Company B for making the best single of 1987 and Stacey Q for making the best album of 1988.][Might have been unfair to Tannenbaum: some other of his stuff I might have liked, though I can’t really remember.]

    PHIL DELLIO – As for this record, I’m sure I’d rate it lower if there *wasn’t* such a noxious idea behind it. Strictly on its own merits it strikes me as inept (as did “Steppin’ To The A.M.,” though the one time I heard “The Gas Face” it sounded good), making their bizarre crusade the one entertaining thing about them – I’m actually starting to believe they’re serious! But then I remember why I hate them anyway: they corner me into rooting for Vanilla Ice, and I know he’s not worth the effort. “Ice Ice Baby” is a 7.5 or an 8.0, I like it fine; “Satisfaction” and “Rollin’ In My 5.0” are even lamer than this. And Vanilla Ice is gutless, besides – not a “fraud,” whatever that means, but gutless. I’m thinking of the time I saw him on Arsenio Davidson last year, where Vanilla was getting the third degree something fierce. I kept waiting and waiting for him to shoot back with “Yeah, and what makes *you* such a hip-hop scholar, pal?”; of course, he didn’t, though, Vanilla was so needlessly defensive I could’ve sworn he begged Arsenio Griffin right then and there to clear his name with true rap fans everywhere. So if 3rd Bass wants to get vicious about Vanilla Ice the person, they’re being fatuous and naive and incredibly obvious, but my heart’s not into taking major offense, I think they’re probably right; if, however, they consider Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys interchangeable – if they object to Vanilla Ice as being emblematic of some “syndrome” they’re going to save us all from, which indeed seems to be the case – well, that’s not fatuous, it’s out-and-out stupid; and if this record is a fair example of how they plan to spend their lives saying *whatever* it is they want to say, they badly need another medium. [Phil then suggests they move to Toronto and become rock critics.]

    CHRIS COOK – I guess I’m going to be known here at Radio On as “The Guy Who Likes 3rd Bass,” since everyone else hates ’em. I know blasting people for “being commercial,” not being “authentic,” and “lacking street credibility” is pointless. And I would’ve figured any song sampling “Sledgehammer” would be dull. However, this song is loads of fun. Maybe Vanilla Ice and Hammer aren’t morally reprehensible or whatever, but they do lack an ability to rap, which I guess is what’s meant by “authenticity.” Pete Nice is funnier looking than anybody in Color Me Badd by a long shot.

    But after all that, no one gave “Pop Goes The Weasel” higher than an 8.5 or lower than a 4.0.

  16. 136
    koganbot on 16 Feb 2011 #

    Also, that issue had Rob Sheffield doing a terrific explanation of why he adores “Justify My Love,” including the immortal line: “Like Patti Smith says, beauty will be Kajagoogoo or not at all.” Don’t have time to type up the whole spiel, unfortunately.

  17. 137
    Chuck Eddy on 16 Feb 2011 #

    I think Chuck came across the song the way I did (was picking it up on Detroit radio, unless he’d already moved to Philly

    I was in Detroit; first heard it on a black/urban station, a rap show, and thought it was great — made me think of a catchier version of NWA, on first hearing. Had no idea the color of Ice’s skin, at the time. Just assumed he was a black guy, since he was on a black station. I’d still give the record a 10.0. (Have written about it here and there over the years, but sadly don’t have time to dig out those justifications now.)

  18. 138
    Chuck Eddy on 16 Feb 2011 #

    (“Under Pressure” and “U Can’t Touch This” would probably both be around 7.5 for me, fwiw. All three artists had much better songs — Hammer with for instance “Turn This Mutha Out” and “They Put Me In The Mix,” from his previous album.)

  19. 139

    […] latest Freaky Trigger post on “Ice Ice Baby” inspires the usual febrile responses. For the record: if you think […]

  20. 140
    the pinefox on 17 Feb 2011 #

    #130: are Amis, Barnes and McEwan actually similar as writers, in the texture of the large amounts they have written?

    Was Atonement really about McEwan’s or even ‘close others” own experience? Most of it is about a country house in the 1930s and Dunkirk. A great deal of imaginative reconstruction needed. And the novel is utterly unlike Amis in any case.

    These writers have nothing to say? Well, what creative writer does have something to say? What do Kafka or Beckett tell us? If you paraphrase it, it might not sound very interesting. That might be true of Amis & pals too. But whatever they all have to ‘say’ is presumably not a reducible statement, but the whole body and experience of one (or all) of their works. _Money_ for instance if reduced to a message might be banal (come to think of, Amis said this) – but if the 400pp of the book are the message, then it’s incredibly rich.

    It looks like I’m carrying a torch for these writers – I don’t really, far from it. I have most of the same problems with MA that everyone else does, though I do think _Money_ is a major work that does connect with real life (yes, partly cos MA was writing from experience – why not?). Barnes, I think had problems of voice – the English embarrassment kind of thing that James Wood complained about. Maybe the recent book about death is better. McEwan: well, Atonement seems a major work to me – not sure about the others. The Child in Time for instance is wildly ragbag as a construction.

  21. 141
    Izzy on 17 Feb 2011 #

    Barnes and McEwan have some similarities I think, Amis not really – they do get lumped together due to location and era I suppose, which is a bit lazy of me but then they do get touted as representatives of some sort of British thought so not abnormal to do so.

    I understood that Atonement grew out of McEwan’s father being evacuated at Dunkirk, which is what I’ve put the ‘real feeling’ in that case down to. Really it’s the characters though, for once something was at stake that I cared about for most of it, whereas in his other books that was never the case for me (and I say that having enjoyed a number of them).

    I should clarify: by ‘something to say’, I’m not looking for a message or anything, I’m after creating real characters and stories and showing us something about their lives. If it’s reducible to anything, it should be something like: ‘this person is like this’ or maybe just ‘what a great story’. So I think I agree with you, but I’m not sure those authors do – I always get the impression they’re trying to capture ‘science’ or ‘England’ or ‘darts’, and forgetting about what creative writing is actually good at.

  22. 142
    Mark M on 17 Feb 2011 #

    Re 142: I think they lumped themselves together by hanging out at the Pillars of Hercules in the 1970s – they were all big chums. But being part of a social scene doesn’t mean you’re doing the same thing artistically (Televison/Blondie/Talking Heads/Ramones). I don’t think Barnes has much at all in common with Amis in either his style or areas of concern.

  23. 143
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 17 Feb 2011 #

    I read quite a lot of non-fiction Barnes in the late 80s bcz he wrote the New Yorker “Letter from London”. He came across as personable (ie not A.N 4rse H0le)– and utterly at sea when it came to politics or social or cultural matters not relating to his specific calling. Not sure if I’ve ever read anything by Ian McEwan, though I *have* read Julian Gloag’s book that The Cement Garden “borrows” its plot from: Our Mother’s House

  24. 144

    Haha I also read the SF novel where “Time’s Arrow” found ITS plot, come to think of it.

    Attempts hilarious joke about *Baudelaire’s Budgerigar*

  25. 145
    the pinefox on 17 Feb 2011 #

    Happily I find that I agree with much of the above.

    Yes they made themselves a scene which, as #142 says, doesn’t really have to mean aesthetic convergence, though is interesting in itself. The NYC new wave comparison is remarkably good cos you can see similarities between these acts, as well as big differences, and maybe you can do that with the writers too.

    I like and tend to agree with the idea that ‘this person is like this’ is potentially good as content for a work of fiction, and I can see that MA’s fiction is often bad in precisely this way. He doesn’t really have a traditional concept of literary character, or if he does he can’t execute it. Though I’d still come back to the differences between them, eg: the narrator of Flaubert’s Parrot is very far from an Amis character.

  26. 146
    DanielW on 18 Feb 2011 #

    Not much I can say about this record that Tom hasn’t already said in his brilliant opening review which basically covered all the problems I have with this record. Not that it’s awful though, for a truly awful Vanilla Ice record I would have to nominate his desecration of “Play That Funky Music”

  27. 147
    scottw on 19 Feb 2011 #

    I still think “Ice Baby” is a good record if for no other reason than that it’s a good home (a much better home) for a great bass line. It’s “dance music” to me, I always liked it without ever feeling much need to concentrate on V.I.’s words or flow or bacon bites (couldn’t have quoted you a couplet from the song then, still couldn’t now). In ’91 I was barely more invested in Ice himself than I was in the rappers from Snap, KLF, etc. World of difference, I know (Ice was the star of his song, those other guys just seemed to function as another instrument or sound effect on theirs), but for whatever reason all that stuff melded together in my pop-DJ brain and functioned in a very similar way. I haven’t heard “Ice Ice Baby” in its entirety for eons, I’ll probably actually pay more attention to the specifics that just flew by me at the time when I do listen again… Still pretty sure I’d stand by something close to my original judgment, though.

  28. 148

    Only semi-germane to the qualty of what’s in the groove, but DEARIE ME this is a shoddy LP cover! It’a a review copy so I’m assuming it’s not actually a crappily xeroxed pirate cut-out — it very much resembles one. The front cover photo is extremely out of focus, inc.artist name and album title. The dark thick-line frames round two of the four inset photos don’t join up cleanly. The cropped screen-grabs of Ice’s head in the insets seem more random than positioned. The large pic on the back is crisper, but the Benday Dots are pretty massive. All these could be deliberate choices — but the effect is “Sleeve that took 15 mins to throw together, bcz no one involved gave a fuck”

  29. 149

    As for the LP cut-per-cut, can’t tell if its severe tinny flimsiness is an artefact of i. hooky copy supplied for review purposes ii. very ancient vinyl or iii. miserably bad production or iv. really fvcked-up fifth-hand record player :(

    will have to find “other sources” i think

    My general impression rehearing it now is that the entire project was a misfired joke that the perpetrators didn’t have the chops to sustain — a sort of parody of rap memes as mimicked by an earnestly unself-aware white dude* with (at best) an intermittent ear; so intermittent you can’t tell when he can’t tell it’s not really right. Someone on the team does has an ear for sparseness of arrangement; some of the scratching is as clumsy as any you’ve heard.

    ie Ice as a sort of 2D cartoon character: the Poochie of hiphop

    I tend to agree with Scott that “Ice Ice Baby” uses the bassline better than the orginal, which is very saggy rhythmically.

  30. 150

    I tracked down the original VI LP — “Hooked” — that was restructured and recut and reissued as “To The Extreme”: from the title on in, the earlier version seems a lot better, sound-wise and concept-wise, even though most of the songs are identical. Is it remixed? Is that what makes the difference? My LP and LP player are in too crappy a state for me to judge.

  31. 151
    koganbot on 20 Feb 2011 #

    What Scott says makes sense: the only other Vanilla Ice song I own is “It’s A Party,” which is like the more club-oriented hip-hop of the time, w/ interpolated diva hooks, “It Takes Two” type shouts, and so forth. So yes, dance music. (Not that most hip-hop isn’t dance music, but it doesn’t get classified in the broad genre “dance music”; of course, the south, where Ice grew up, wasn’t going along with that division to the extent that New York did. [According to Wikip, he spent time in both Dallas and Miami growing up, traveling between his step-dad and his mom, they being divorced.])

  32. 152
    Erithian on 21 Feb 2011 #

    Perhaps I was at my most rockist, but I thought the use of the “Under Pressure” bassline was total sacrilege at the time, even though it purloined something from one of the Queen tracks I’m least protective about. Listening to it again now, it’s surprisingly effective, and even when the verses get underway that menacing undertone works extremely well. Maybe the reason we still think of it as a joke is that Van Winkle just looked so stupid and the rap was one long boring big-up for someone whose hair made him look ripe for a take-down. So props for the sampled music and thumbs down for the original element.

    I guess, though it might not stand up to much scrutiny if you analysed the sample-based records I had time for as opposed to those I didn’t, that it’s a matter of how you use the sample – as the main element of the song or as a launch-pad for your own creativity. The example of the latter that springs to mind – and I’d be interested to know if other Populistas loved it as much as I did – was Soho’s witty and wonderful “Hippychick”, which took bits of Johnny Marr and Soul II Soul and created something fabulous in its own right.

    (I’m another who liked “U Can’t Touch This” and wasn’t aware it was a sample, btw…)

  33. 153
    Chuck Eddy on 21 Feb 2011 #

    Pretty sure he had a couple good, propulsive hip-house-style tracks — “It’s A Party” being one, the other being maybe “Cool As Ice (Everybody Get Loose)”? (From his 1991 movie — don’t quote me on that, I could be wrong and haven’t gone back and checked. It charted #81 Stateside; think that’s the one.)

    And yeah, I’ve always been under the impression that the mix on the original Ichiban 12-inch version of “Ice Ice Baby” sounded somehow sharper and more vicious than the one on SBK that eventually hit, too, though I was never sure whether the difference was just something I’d imagined. Never played them
    back-to-back, I don’t think, and I stupidly got rid of the Ichiban single somewhere along the line. May still have that mix on cassette somewhere though.

    Here’s something I wrote about one of his later singles on ILX a couple years ago; never made the connection between the B-side and his indie debut album:

    Vanilla Ice “Road To My Riches”/”Hooked” (SBK West Germany, 1991). Last one. Not sure if this was a single in the States or not; supposedly off his Extremely Live CD. Can’t believe I didn’t hear “Road To My Riches” before (or at least never noticed it) — AC/DC “Back In Black” riff all through, like the Beastie Boys’ “Rock Hard,” with a Bowie “Let’s Dance” hook or two mixed in like Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines.” He throws a wet towel and the girlies go wild, and he talks about his “thigh pole” I think I heard him say once. Kind of love his white urban wannabe street-tough voice introducing the song at the beginning — it’s a voice that goes back at least as far as the Belmonts (or even further, in movies), and really not that far from what House of Pain or even Ice’s nemeses 3rd Bass were doing a couple years later. (I think he also uses the word “nemesis” somewhere.) On the 45 sleeve, he’s sort of lurking in the shadows, flashing a fake gang sign and showing off his rings. Also, says he’s not like Milton Bradley (didn’t catch why) but is “like Charley, I like the good and plenty.” Song is suppposedly live, but doesn’t sound live at all except during Ice’s intro, and when some hypeman comes in a ways into the song to hype up the non-crowd. B-side, which actually sounds slightly more familiar, has a wobbly “Brass Monkey” sort of horn thing going on, and Ice scolding his buddy who is is hung up on some girl who treats him “like a dirty diaper/Use ya once and then tries to wipe you…out!” Recommends his friend visit a shrink — helpful advice, what friends are for!

  34. 154
    Chuck Eddy on 21 Feb 2011 #

    Just dug out from the file cabinet catacombs a review of Extremely Live I wrote for L.A. Weekly in 1991. I don’t know how great a case I make for “Ice Ice Baby” in it, except saying that it doesn’t sound de-energized and de-hookified and self-glorified like most other rap music was sounding to me in the early ’90s. (Not claiming I was right about that.) Some excerpts though:

    “I bought my copy as a 12-inch on Miami’s Ultrax label after hearing it on black radio in Detroit, before SBK picked it up. It was the only new rap record I bought in 1990. And for months, it never occurred to me that Ice might be white.”

    (Ultrax was an Ichiban subsidiary, I think? Something like that.)

    “When those gunshots ring out like a bell, the violence surprises you, mugs you from behind and steals your bubblegum, like in Trickeration’s ‘Western Gangster Town’ or Spoonie Gee. If gangsta life was the whole point, we’d take blood for granted. It’d be impotent.”

    “I’m not saying Vanilla Ice is an especially talented person (and I really don’t see why it should make a difference whether he is — this is a democracy, right?), but I will say I got more of a kick out of watching him on talk shows and award shows last winter than I have out of watching Yo! MTV Raps these last two years. I mean, wow, here was an MC who didn’t drain his corpus of energy by trying so hard to be a cartoon (maybe because he already was a cartoon), what a revelation!”

    “The beats (on the live album) are thin, and Ice needs to learn to put more details in his stories, yup yup, but the nine-minute ‘Ice Ice Baby’ is as avant as 3rd Bass wanna be — Ice lets his audience (all white girls, sounds like) sing more of his words than any performer ever has in the history of the human race. So in some ways, this isn’t his live LP, its theirs. Word to their mothers — a hell of a concept indeed.”

    I’d also included “Ice Ice Baby” in a singles roundup column I wrote for Creem in 1990 (once the song had hit big), in conjunction with other new rap singles I was liking from Florida at the time by Young & Restless and 2 Live Crew: “The Vanilla Ice hit, top 10 as I write, is of course bubblegum NWA from a white boy, with samples of Queen/Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and a mood out of Grandmaster Flash’s ‘White Lines.'”

  35. 155
    Ed on 21 Feb 2011 #

    #152 I loved ‘Hippychick’, too. I seem to remember the album was great, although I lost the cassette a long time ago.

    I agree that it is a great example of taking something that is wonderful in its original context, and making it wonderful again in a completely different context. The life-force of the riff survives the transplant to a new host.

    ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and ‘Under Pressure’ have a similar relationship, although I agree that Mr Ice makes more of it.

    As Jay-Z says: “Yeah I sampled your voice; you was using it wrong.”

  36. 156
    Mark G on 22 Feb 2011 #

    The album was “alright” but nothing was as good as the hit single, which was unfollowuppable…

  37. 157
    Ed on 26 Feb 2011 #

    @152, 156 So I went and listened to ‘Goddess’, the Soho album, and you are right: it is rather “meh”, and a bit of a let-down after the brilliance of ‘Hippychick’.

    In fact, I am pretty sure that what I was thinking of was actually ‘Love and Life’ by Definition of Sound, which really is a great album.

    I remember we bought it solely on the strength of the big hit single:


    which totally rocks, and we ended up listening to the album non-stop.

    They were not very much like Soho, I suppose, except in a shared sensibility in the Daisy Age / Soul II Soul positivity zeitgeist. Some people found it a bit nauseatingly saccharine; I loved it.

    And like Soho, they had a sort of swirly nu-psychedelic album cover. And both bands’ big hits were based on a sample of a classic guitar riff.

    So in my defence, m’lud, I would suggest the confusion is understandable.

  38. 158

    Oo oo I just found my Dec 1990 review of VI! Will type it up when I have a moment.

  39. 159

    City Limitd Dec 13-20 1990

    Matter of taste: matter of cool. He may not quite be black (he looks like Bros cut in half), but Van the Wan went to school with 2 Live Crew’s Luke Skyywalker in Miamii Lakes, Fa., has shared rap-stages with Easy E, Ton Loc and lots lots more, and ‘Ice Ice Babv’ had the slinkiest techno-bassline of anything ever. He’s on it, right?

    No. Strong bright sound, cruising crisp and dry (go for ‘Rosta Man’, a truly neat RoboReggae rap), no filler songs,. better and better basslines, sure: but sonics aside, the Iceman Sucketh. Unlike — for example — one-woman frost-goddess Tairre B, whose attitude and aesthetic roll out unstoppably entwined, who interrupts NWA mid-rant, stands up to their strategically placed open mikes and detonates genuine argument (which is the political theatre they’ve always aimed for anyway), VI is no more than this many perfectly faked moves — brilliantly empty Xerox poses, phrases, rhythms and rhymes, hey, he sounds black! (Hey, didn’t Elvis?)

    So, the same deft theft game the White Man’s been playing for 30 years, by now a well-useless way of thrilling. At least Zeppelin bent the blues into weird shapes before they gave them back: there isn’t even the (classic) serendipity of rockhead misunderstanding here. White chart idols looking more like models than bikers is still daring stateside (it reads fag, a valuable corrective in a country where glam never hit). But sadly Billi Vanilli blows even this, by winning three national championships for Team Honda before he took up Rap. What kind of a rubbish macho role model’s that for youth, hey? Everything he says he is, isn’t so, is all. Good-bad but not evil? ‘Be on the lookout in your vicinity/I’m robbing virgins of their virginity‘ Oh, just fuck off.

  40. 160

    Tairre B!!! I wonder if I’d actually heard anything by her then. Doubt it, probably just read about her: later she went metal, forming Manhole (great name) and Tura Satana (re whom RIP, incidentally).

    ‘Rosta man’ now seems to be named ‘Rasta Man’ everywhere — I wonder f that was just a typo on the incredibly sloppily put-together sleeve?

  41. 161
    Ed on 26 Feb 2011 #

    @154, 159 etc Thanks for all of those. It is fascinating to see how important Vanilla Ice was in all sorts of arguments over race, class, sex, taste, authenticity etc etc.

    Those were the days….

  42. 162
    Mark M on 6 Mar 2011 #

    Re Amis and chums (from about 100 onwards): someone (Rose Tremain?) last night on BBC2 was talking about the famous Granta 1983 young British novelist list and saying that on the bus to the photo shoot (I think), Amis and McEwan were at the front of the bus giggling together and everyone else was sitting about five rows behind, knowing their place.

  43. 163
    wichita lineman on 5 Apr 2011 #

    Can I nominate the Halifax “ISA ISA Baby” commercial as the weakest ‘joke’ ever put forward by an ad agency? This is a major client! Who thought of it? Who accepted it? Who would find it funny? It makes Hale & Pace look like Galton & Simpson.

    I’d seriously thinking of changing banks just because of it… if only I didn’t owe my soul to the company store.

  44. 164
    Steve Mannion on 5 Apr 2011 #

    As bad as the Halifax ad is, the worst ever use of a #1 single in a commercial goes to Confused.com and their dreadful ‘Somebody To Love’ and especially ‘Chain Reaction efforts. Crudely drawn characters but with a ridiculous amount of time and effort spent on animating various dancing ladies bosoms. It’s a disgrace!

  45. 165
    Mark G on 5 Apr 2011 #

    I’d give their “Chain Reaction” one extra point for not being a song about being lonely as performed by the mass union of cartoon characters all coming together as one in a spirit of unity and fraternity.

  46. 166
    Tom on 5 Apr 2011 #

    I would rather hear a hundred Halifax or even Confused ads than endure that faux-folk “from me to you” cover again.

  47. 167
    vinylscot on 6 Apr 2011 #

    I wonder how the actress who does the “ISA ISA Baby” bit can show her face in public. Not only is it a terrible pun, but the nauseating look on her face when she sings the line…… god it’s bad…. is she meant to be “teasing” the guy? is it meant to be “sexy”?

    Absolutely horrific and many times worse than Vanilla Ice himself.

  48. 168

    The bit in the confuseddotcom ad that i always enjoy is when the stripey-jumpered logolady with her “confused” hair stops smiling and dancing with one and all, and returns to the logo in the closing moments: her cheer is once more wiped from her face, and she is alone again, bug-eyed and insane. This creates quite a poor impression of the effectiveness of the product.

  49. 169
    Mark G on 6 Apr 2011 #

    #167, I’m fairly sure these are not actors/actresses, but are actually ‘young employees’ picked for their resemblance to Sybil Ruscoe ability to scrub up alright.

  50. 170
    vinylscot on 6 Apr 2011 #

    The ads started out using real bank employees like Howard, but they are now using actors. The pretty blonde in the “Lucky You” ad is Sarah Applewood – if you Google her, you’ll find she’s been in loads of commercials etc.

    A quick Google shows that the actress in the excruciating Isa Isa Baby ad is one Fliss Walton, who I trust is suitably embarassed.

  51. 171
    Steve Mannion on 6 Apr 2011 #

    I say she’s doing the best she can with some pretty weak material.

    The blonde guy in it appeared in other ads, “notably” those stupid “Friend-chips” Doritos ones from a few years back.

  52. 172
    Cumbrian on 6 Apr 2011 #

    @168 My current favourite mixed message ad campaign is the First Direct one which starts out with the young girl getting bollocked in class for talking. The message appears to be “fuck around at school, wind up working in a call centre”.

  53. 174
    thefatgit on 6 Apr 2011 #

    #173, if I picture that image in my head every time I fancy a Whopper meal, I’ll be running* to the nearest Maccy D’s!

    *Ok, waddling.

  54. 175

    […] whether you prefer stunning virtuosity or blunter energy, song-specific ephemera and annoyances (at Popular, Tom Ewing criticizes Ice’s metaphor choices, among other things) — but you’ll […]

  55. 176
    Patrick Mexico on 9 Apr 2013 #

    Q. Why did this guy drown in his jacuzzi today?
    A. Because Thatcher wasn’t around to soft-scoop Vanilla Ice out of the tub.

    I thank you.

  56. 177
    Cumbrian on 26 Jul 2013 #

    Whilst we’re talking about rap:


  57. 178
    hollister co. on 26 Feb 2016 #

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  58. 179
    Erithian on 26 Feb 2016 #

    #178 There you go Vanilla, try rapping that…

  59. 180
    Vieuphoria on 12 Jan 2018 #

    I saw Vanilla Ice live last year. It was at a 90s festival with other such nostalgic favourites like, Colour Me Badd, Young Mc, Coolio, Tone Loc and Salt n Pepa. The latter of which where are still a genuinely capable and viable live act, the rest not to much. Vanilla had had more time than Salt n Pep, which was odd considering the the hit ratio between each act. Ice spent the entire set throwing full water bottles into the crowd, and asking if we all remembered fanny packs (and other innocuous inanimaties).
    REMEMBER?? REMEMBER?? REMEMBER THE 90s, REMRMEBRR ME? PLEASE REMEMBER?? He then broke into, what he described as a “freestyle” but most of the words were indeed “free” and “style”. The highlight was his invitation for the ladies to stage invade, and a group of dunk middle aged men stormed on, geography teacher types. Seeing his face drop was spectacular. He also accidentally threw a bottle of water in his drummers face, real hard. What a show!

    Also, this was number one on the day if my birth. Great stuff

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