Yup… it’s a Vanilla Ice piece. We’re actually doing this thing. More specifically, we’re posting a review of an album that was released way back in the year 1990. For those of you who don’t remember, or weren’t around for it, Vanilla Ice (birthname: Rob Van Winkle) was a huge fucking deal when he came out. Back when I was in 6th grade it was all about this fool, MC Hammer, and New Kids on the Block. Everyone seemed to know the lyrics to his hit song “Ice Ice Baby” and I would wager that a large majority of those that did, can still recite a fairly hefty chunk of it, to this day. And, if you think about it, that’s both kind of fucked-up and revealing, because, while there’s nothing else that I went home and studied to that degree which was even remotely related to my actual schoolwork assignments, there might be some sort of secret hidden within that reality which could reveal exactly how to motivate elementary students to put an equal level of effort into their education. [Side note: I once had a friend who was so high on MDMA that he couldn’t remember anything at all–phone number or where he was at, included–other than the code to reach Mike Tyson in Punchout].
The Vanilla Ice hype continued with him making an appearance in the motion picture Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze, during which he performed his song, “Ninja Rap” from the soundtrack (MC Hammer had a cut on the OST for the first film). Later that year, Van Winkle starred in his own film, Cool As Ice; not to be confused with the Brian “The Boz” Bosworth vehicle, Stone Cold, released the same year. Cool As Ice co-starred Michael Gross (Family Ties) and featured Vanilla riding around on a sporty yellow crotch-rocket, while rocking a backwards Stussy 8-Ball T-shirt, a backward snap-back, spray-painted graffiti pants in the color scheme of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and lines shaved into his hair to match the ones shaved into his eyebrows. He also donned a baggy leather jacket–standard issue for hip hop in the early 90s–which was black with a gang of white text printed all over it to spell out bad-boy, Valentine heart candy-style phrases like “Yep yep,” “Roll DEEP,” “Sex Me Up,” “Hype,” ‘DANGER,” “LUST,” “oh yeah,” “Down by Law,” “Dope,” and, of course, “Ice” and “Freeze,” to go along with the tatlines from both the trailer (“Vanilla Ice is going to take an uncool world and chill it to the bone“) and the one on the official movie poster (“When a girl has a heart of stone, there’s only one way to melt it. Just add ice.”) Imagine that.
Somewhere in the mix was the story about future Death Row records head Suge Knight extorting money from Van Winkle by hanging him by his ankles over a balcony and forcing him to sign some publishing rights over, but, for the most part, the Ice Man was “Livin’ Large,” just like the words on the front right leg of his Cool As Ice pants pants would indicate.. Eventually, he would find himself a casualty of a finicky public who was over the novelty, making it more difficult than ever before for anyone to take a Caucasian rapper seriously. Van Winkle would later find himself on reality shows (including Dancing on Ice) and he even attempted to revive his career by performing hardcore rap-rock version of his old tracks, as if they were written by KORN. These days he’s less averse to his past and the Vanilla Ice moniker, even appearing on the Zumba remix video for his old hit. Plus, he’s loaded again, doing real estate infomercials, which air at about 3am in the morning and are all about how to stack duckets by flipping houses.
Now that everyone is caught up, let me get back to the review…
This review was originally written on August 27th, which, coincidentally and unbeknownst to me until a few moments and a wikipedia check ago, was actually the eve of the anniversary of To The Extreme‘s original release, 23 years ago. It all started when I posted a Facebook status update about how my 2 year-old son was screaming ‘Rasta‘ over and over again, unprovoked. In response, the actual writer of this review, Gabriel Greiser, posted a video for the following Vanilla Ice track “Rosta Man” on my page.
From there, the conversation unfolded as follows:
ME: I forgot about this disaster. It’s about as authentic as Wyclef.
Gabe: “Rasta Man” is far from the worst song on the album though. His disastrous answer to LL’s “I Need Love” is something else.
Me: Well, if you ever feel like giving that album a thorough track by track review, I’d love to read it.
Gabe: I’ll do that.
That last message was sent at 6:07pm, and at 7:42pm, the following message was already posted.
Gabe: Alright, I listened to the whole thing on the boat and wrote up a track by track.
I responded with, “woah… that was quick,” to which he explained, “The Bremerton ferry ride is the perfect length to listen to the 58 minute record.,” which prompted me to ask, “is that part of the review?”
After that I received the review pasted below through my Facebook chat in full. I read over it and then made sure that we were on the same page about posting it on the site, before adding that “I like the idea of a review of that album being written in 2013.” Gabe agreed, adding one more final impression: “Yeah, and it’s a pretty surreal record to listen to from start to finish. It aged faster than about any record I can think of. I remember by 1992 it sounded like it couldn’t have possibly been popular a year ago.”
So… below is Gabriel Grieser‘s track by track analysis of Vanilla Ice‘s breakout 1990 debut on SBK records, To The Extreme. I’d like to thank Gabe for writing and letting us post it, and you, for reading it. Enjoy.
– Dead C
Ice Ice Baby
No song better exemplifies “death of the new school” like the first rap song ever to top the Hot 100. Along with MC Hammer’s hits of the day, “Ice Ice Baby” helped rap music regress from the “new school era” of Def Jam/Rick Rubin/LL Cool J/Run DMC/Public Enemy back to the old school “rap-atop-samples” aesthetic of Sugar Hill Gang and the like. There is indeed something brilliant and infectious in the song’s mix of the “Under Pressure” sample with sort of a Miami Bass rap track, and Ice’s heavily LL Cool J-influenced flow is decent, but his voice has an odd and unpleasant timbre (in addition to a sort of a nonsensical invented accent), and the lyrics, which begin with typical late-80s hip hop boasts, and ends with a ridiculous story of some sort of drive-by shooting, are pretty awful. Ice promises to “wax a chump like a candle.” The chanted backing vocals, straight out of the “Hammer school of rap,” help contribute to the song’s anthemicness. Years before the famous “Houston sound,” “Ice Ice Baby” also features some slowed down vocals (!). Interestingly, this track is terribly recorded – even more so than the rest of the album. This is analogue. That’s for sure. There’s tape hiss, 60 cycle hum, and what appears to be top-end-killing noise reduction. It’s as if, thanks to this hit single, the budget for the rest of the album was a bit higher.
This is four seconds of a sped-up Chipmunk-style voice saying, “Yo, Vanilla, kick it one time, boyee!”
Stop That Train
To understand the context of this song, which samples Scotty’s “Draw Yer Breaks” (from The Harder They Come soundtrack), you have to understand that at the time there was a popular Caribbean music form known as “Go Go.” E.U., known for their hit single “Da Butt,” are a prime example of this genre. Hurby “Luv Bug” Azar also worked the style into several Salt ‘N’ Pepa hits, notably “Shake Your Thang (It’s Your Thing).” It’s basically a form of dance music with prominent tuned cowbells. Atop the Go-Go beat is one of Ice’s carefully-studied LL imitations, a tale of a cutie getting the best of the protagonist. It’s arguably the best song on the album.
This song is sort of the flip side to “Stop That Train” as the leading man is not Ice himself, but his homeboy “Randy,” who it just so happens got “hooked” on a girl named “Candy.” The guy has it bad for this Candy girl. Poor Randy. Rather than delve into too much detail about the song’s lyrics, I’ll describe it as the scenario of a song’s subject on Get The Knack described in the “much more detail” that the wordier verses of rap allow. The backing track is a mix of horrendous synthetic saxophone, funk rhythm guitar, and a sampled wood block.
Ice Is Workin’ It
While Ice brought old school rap into the mainstream, this one is firmly rooted in the new school, with a more minimal backing track, nice drum sounds, and interesting reverb. It’s basically an LL boast with weaker rhymes and Ice’s unusual voice.
Life Is A Fantasy
Oh, dear. As soon as Ice slowly lets out an “aw, yeah” atop a sultry beat straight out of a straight-to-video film, it becomes clear that trouble is on the horizon. With some absurdly weak rhymes and lack of imagination, Ice describes a cliché fantasy that is . . . pretty vanilla. Ice is chillin’ by the ocean, and a cutie is about to rub him down with . . . you guessed it . . . lotion! Aw, yeah. What’s it’s like, that havin’ a roni? You tell ‘em, V.
- Play That Funky Music
There is a cliche in the music industry of a debut single flopping until some DJ decides to flip the record over and play the B-side, which becomes a smash hit. “Play That Funky Music” is the A-side in question. It’s hard to see why any clueless SBK records executive thought this would be a better single than “Ice Ice Baby.” Utilizing a sample of Wild Cherry’s terrible “Play That Funky Music,” Ice disses Kid ‘N’ Play and tells homeboy that he probably eats spaghetti with a spoon.
The music to this one, based on a James Brown sample, could have been a Kool Moe Dee backing track. It’s so full of late-80s/early-90s rap cliches that I expect to hear the “I know you’re gonna dig this” sample from Car Wash at any time.
It’s A Party
Another Go-Go number. Imagine 2 Live Crew with faster, whiter, and less dirty rapping. The weird tropical party atmosphere chorus, featuring an out-of-tune female singer, is strangely captivating. Then a terrible DX-7 sounding bass comes in. Whose bad idea was that? There are lots of “whoos” in this one, and, in spite of the weak rhymes, Ice does let out a few turbo-speed lines.
Juice To Get Loose Boy
Much like “Yo Vanilla,” the sped-up voice returns for eight seconds.
The backing track to this one sounds like it could have been from a motorcycle racing movie of the era (and it’s pentatonic “let’s play with the black keys” sound lends an Asian vibe). Then there’s another James Brown sample. One curious thing about this track is the panning of the vocal track. It isn’t dead center. It’s mostly in the right speaker with a bit of reverb in the left. Nice work, Deshay.
While it isn’t quite the “White Album of rap,” there is actually quite a bit of variety in To The Extreme. It’s debatable whether or not this Go-Go/dancehall hybrid is a rap track, as the lead line is sung in the “Posse On Broadway”-style two-note dancehall style. After To The Extreme, Vanilla Ice did indeed grow dreadlocks. At the time, he probably would have argued that “Rosta Man” was the “keepin’ it real” track of the album, but it may be the album’s most ridiculous track. The chorus is pretty catchy.
I Love You
If you’ve been searching for decades for a badly-recorded shameless rip off of LL Cool J’s “I Need Love,” your search is over. The lyrical Shakespeare delivers such poetry as “You’re so fine / let’s wine and dine / I’m so happy that you are mine” while the big FM synthesizer bass completely overwhelms the late-80s budget recording equipment’s ability to translate it to tape. A more fully-produced remix of this song featuring Riff (most famous for a song on one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtracks and the theme song from “White Men Can’t Jump”) was used for a music video.
Havin’ A Roni
If “Rosta Man” isn’t the most ridiculous track on the album, “Havin’ A Roni” is. After about a minute of “suggestive” beat boxing, a nightmarish pitch-shifted vocal effect that might be from Lucifer himself emerges. After the song’s dramatic crescendo, Ice peaces out, not to be heard from again until . . . a bad movie, a live album, a rasta reinvention, a Nu-metal reinvention . . . maybe a reality TV show or two. Juice 2 get loose, boyee. Word 2 tha mutha.
Let us know what you think. It might be an interesting idea to keep doing these. Maybe Gabe would be willing to take on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles motion picture soundtrack, or even pit it head to head against that of the sequel. Perhaps, we could venture a look into the East Coast family and do a review of Johnny Gill‘s self-titled debut, or something like Coolin’ at the Playground Ya Know! by Another Bad Creation. Hell, maybe we can even track down the album from Sudden Impact–the all-white boy band briefly featured in Boys II Men’s Motown Philly video–if it was ever even finished. Let us know if we should bag this, or suggest something else that you think deserves a thorough analysis 20-or-so years after the fact. If the response is positive enough, I’ll try to talk him into it. But, if the response is terrible enough, I’ll beg him to do it.