654. ‘Ice Ice Baby’, by Vanilla Ice

Alright stop. Collaborate and listen… It’s time for one of the most maligned number one singles of all time.

Ice Ice Baby, by Vanilla Ice (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 25th November – 23rd December 1990

And I get the hate. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it sounds very dated. Yes, Vanilla Ice comes across as a weapons-grade moron. But, let me play devil’s advocate. A) Being ridiculous isn’t necessarily a disadvantage for a record that wants to be a hit. This is far from the first ridiculous chart-topper. B) Early hip hop records do sound dated, very focused on rhyme and meter. And C) As for Vanilla Ice looking like a moron… Well, show me any rapper that you wouldn’t look at in the street and think seemed a bit eccentric.

Yet at the same time, Vanilla Ice is the worst thing about this record. Away from his look at me lyrics (If my rhyme was a drug, I’d sell it by the gram…) I’d say the moody synths and the riff that sounds suspiciously like a #1 from ten years earlier could easily form the basis of a hit single in 2023. And I say that it sounds ‘like’ ‘Under Pressure’, because Vanilla Ice claimed that it wasn’t a sample, and that he’d added an extra note. Queen and David Bowie weren’t terribly convinced – they settled out of court and were given co-writing credits.

Nowadays, for sure, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ is a punchline, bound to feature on a ‘Worst Moments of the ‘90s’ clipshow on Channel 5. But, at the time, was it taken seriously? It seems that it was, getting good reviews in Billboard, the NME, and Entertainment Weekly. When exactly the tide turned, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was a victim of its own success, or perhaps the controversy over the ‘sample’ took the gloss off it? Vanilla Ice – whose real name is the gloriously un-gangsta Robert Van Winkle – seems simultaneously annoyed by this albatross around his neck, and unwilling to let it die. He’s released live versions and anniversary remixes, as well as a nu-metal version (which is better than it has any right to be…)

Van Winkle never matched the heights of his debut single. The follow-up, a cover of ‘Play That Funky Music’, made #10 and since then he’s never bothered the Top 20. He’s had a troubled time of it, with firearms charges, burglary, domestic abuse and illegal drag-racing on his rap sheet. And yet, here he stands, with only the 2nd hip-hop #1 in British chart history (and certainly the most credible of the two so far, after ‘Turtle Power’.)

I’m still not sure how to finish and move on from ‘Ice Ice Baby’. On the one hand, it seems to have set hip-hop back by a good few years. At the same time, it’s a very modern rap track: the lyrics are all about how bad-ass, how dangerous, and how popular with the ladies Ice is. And there isn’t a rapper around who hasn’t recorded at least one self-aggrandising track. But I’m not sure it’s very good. It might even be terrible. Let’s leave the final word to Mr Van Winkle: Let’s get out of here, Word to yo’ mother… And speaking of bad-ass mofos; Cliff Richard’s up next!

14 thoughts on “654. ‘Ice Ice Baby’, by Vanilla Ice

  1. I was elated when Queen and Bowie sued for credits. They waited til it climbed the charts and then pounced. That was the highlight of the song for me lol. Even friends came ot me and asked me…did you hear that song that sampled Queen? This was before they sued…it was obvious.

    • I hated this when it came out because I loved Under Pressure. This was an abomination and too close (only nine years) to the original. That being said, now, I enjoy it. I am mellowing with age.

      I also used to hate U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer because it ripped on Super Freak, which came out in 1981, just like Under Pressure. I like Hammer’s song, now. Age…

      • I’d say I much prefer ‘U Can’t Touch This’ – it’s fun and goofy, whereas ‘Ice Ice Baby’ is just a dweeb trying to sound tough : )

        I’m not sure, but maybe sampling an old hit seemed much more shocking 30 years ago, whereas now its much more commonplace?

      • I was thinking more “white dude tries to rap & dance…looks retarded (no shade on Eminem).”

        Re-makes have always been common but, the sampling was a bit jarring. It came across as “half-assed.”

      • Vic…I could mellow out until I was 105 and I would never, ever like this song. U Can’t Touch This is a masterpiece compared to this one. He got Rick James approval for that one I believe…plus it’s much better.

      • You will get no argument out of me. It’s a cheesy, white-boy mess but, it is fun to listen to, every once in a while. I wouldn’t want to hear both of them every day. I hated them, both, when they first came out.

      • I grew to like U Can’t Touch This for one reason and one reason only…Family Guy….Peter does the song in his way….that one I like!

  2. Rating: 3.5/5

    This is a not a great song, but it’s a guilty pleasure. All down to that John Deacon bassline, which while better served in “Under Pressure”, it’s so listenable on it’s own that it makes even a song like this tolerable.

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