Ice Ice Maybe

A decade after Vanilla Ice melted down, he's back with the man who made him.


Vanilla Ice and Tommy Quon's reconciliation was prompted by the most unlikely of circumstances and players--Tommy's son and Ice's stepfather. Ice was playing Arlington two years ago, and Matthew Quon asked his father if he could go to the show. His dad said sure but wanted to know why. Matthew told him the kids at his high school still listened to "Ice Ice Baby." Perhaps they did so because they were too young to know Ice as one-hit blunder. Maybe they actually liked it.

At the club, Matthew ran into Ice's stepfather, Byron Mino, who asked the kid if maybe his old man would be interested in working with Rob again. Matthew went home and relayed the message, which shocked and, yeah, even delighted Tommy. Two years ago, he was all but out of the music business--a pariah in exile, if that. His Plano-based label, Ultrax, was essentially litigated out of business, the victim of legal paperwork and court-ordered payoffs. Most of the sums were relatively small--$42,000, say, to a local tape manufacturer--but in 1993, Quon was ordered to fork over more than a million dollars to John Bush, who convinced a Dallas jury he helped Quon discover and manage Ice during the pair's heyday. (Mediation knocked down the sum to $300,000.) By the end of the '90s, he was working with Tejano artists and "enjoying time with my family"--another way of saying he had nothing to work on in the music business. A door was opening, just as it looked as though he had been padlocked out of the biz.

Call him Vanilla Ice, call him Robert Van Winkle, just make sure you call him.
Leanna Bates
Call him Vanilla Ice, call him Robert Van Winkle, just make sure you call him.
Mind-blowin' he's around at all: Vanilla Ice in repose in 1994, the year he attempted suicide
Mind-blowin' he's around at all: Vanilla Ice in repose in 1994, the year he attempted suicide

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"I was really looking for something, so it came at a good time," says Quon, whose wife, a schoolteacher, was bringing in the family money. "Basically, it was good timing for me: I was looking for something to sink my teeth into, and I think that he probably needed someone to help."

Shortly after Matthew broached the subject with his father, Mino and Quon were on the phone feeling each other out, wondering if old wounds had yet healed. Quon insisted he had no hard feelings, that he understood why he and Ice parted company just as To the Extreme was topping the pop charts. "He was a young man, you know," Quon says. "And young people, they get weird at times when they make money like that." Mino says the first time he talked to Quon, the manager told him he never thought a reconciliation with Ice was even possible.

But Mino wanted them together, and for simple, explicable reasons: "Their success," he says, as we stand outside the crowded tour bus. "The charisma, the chemistry that the two of them have is the mixture for success, is the ingredient that each one of them needed. Rob needed Tom, Tom needed Rob. Tommy created Rob to become Vanilla Ice, and Rob helped Tommy have a big name in the music business. So, I said, these guys, they got to get together."

After Quon and Mino decided that, yeah, a cease-fire made sound business sense, Mino called his son and told him he had spoken with Tommy and asked how he felt about getting back into business with his ex-manager. Mino was surprised by what Ice said: "I thought about it." Mino took Quon to one of Ice's shows, and it was, by all accounts, an emotional reunion. As Mino likes to say, it was as though a father were greeting an estranged son.

Ice recalls things a little differently. It's a few hours before the show, and he and Quon sit alongside each other in the bus, explaining this unlikely reunion. It becomes clear this is not the same relationship it was a decade ago. Ice is no longer a kid easily molded into someone else's image, and Quon is no longer the kingmaker swaggering up the golden ladder with the prince of pop by his side. They've been beaten up, betrayed and abandoned by an industry for whom they made a fortune a decade ago. They meet each other once more on the bottom rung, only this time with different priorities.

Ice insists he no longer needs to make music, that he's only doing it for grins and thrills. He talks about his lucrative business selling spec homes in South Florida for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He's in the real-estate biz and swears he isn't interested in making a comeback, though he is quick to mention his cameo as a Sam Goody's clerk in the film The New Guy, which opened in May, and his part in an upcoming PlayStation 2 motocross game. Quon, on the other hand, is still trying to get Ice on the radio. He's making deals with all comers, including Jillian's, a chain of restaurant-bars throughout the East Coast and Midwest. Ice will play some two dozen Jillian's locations through the beginning of September, and in return for the sponsorship deal, the eatery will use two rap songs from Bi-Polar, "Get Your Ass Up" and "Hot Sex," in its radio spots. Quon hopes people will hear those tracks in the ads and rush out to buy the album. Ice says he couldn't care less.

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