Ice Ice Maybe

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

"Byron convinced me to have an open mind about working with Tommy again, because at first, he was like, 'What do you think about working with Tommy again?' and I laughed at him," Ice says. "I was like, 'God, you've got to be kidding me! No way!'" He turns to Quon, sitting on his left. "No offense, it's honest."

Quon, still boyish beneath a head of graying hair, smiles. "Hey," he says, "it's all right."

"'Cause I never expected it," Ice says. "We were apart for eight years; we hadn't even talked or seen each other. I mean, what do you expect, someone at that point, you know? So, Byron had a way of not persuading me, not convincing me, but showing me a different way to look at it--with an open mind instead of a bitter mind, you know? It was a let's-clean-the-slate type of thing. And so far, it's worked, man. It's worked out great. We're doing good, we're kicking ass, we're on the incline. We're doing damn good."

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

"I think we're making progress," Quon says.

It's clear now that Ice makes the choices, steers the tour bus. Quon's along for the ride--there, as Ice says, to put the hooks in the water to see what bites. Sometimes, you get the sense he hopes it won't be Ice snapping back.

At one point, the Dallas Observer's photographer gets the two to pose together. Quon and I had been in the back of the bus, conducting an interview. Ice wants to know what Quon said about him, what kinda smack Tommy was saying behind his back. Quon told Van Winkle he dished the dirt, unfurled all the soiled laundry. He was kidding. Ice didn't wanna hear it, even if he was joking.

"You better not'a said no shit about me," he says, his voice raising, his temperature rising. What had been, just seconds before, a friendly conversation between two old friends and a journalist suddenly crackles with tension. "I ain't even playin' now. I'm serious."

Quon smiles and shoots me that help-a-brother-out look. I tell Ice he was just screwing around--no big deal, dude. A few minutes later, they're cooled out, posing for a photographer. For the last shot, Ice wraps his hands around Quon's neck.

"You watch," he says to no one in particular. "That's the picture they're gonna use."

The Jean-Paul Gaultier shirt Van Winkle wore on the cover of To the Extreme currently resides in the storage facilities of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. It was part of the museum's hip-hop exhibition, accompanied by a placard announcing Ice as "the first commercially successful solo white rapper." If the industry is ashamed to claim him, at least the history books cannot ignore him. The fact is, he was more than just a solo white rapper: To the Extreme remains the best-selling rap album of all time.

It's just as well that shirt remains hidden, out of sight. If Van Winkle had his way, he'd burn that outfit. Pretend it never existed.

"I'd walk in there with a fucking flame and fucking lighter fluid and go..." Van Winkle pretends he's holding a can of lighter fluid. "And woooosh! 'Cause it's not about the image, you know? All the clothes and the hairdo and all that shit was made to cater to that younger image, and it was definitely contradicting the music. I never intended on that, man. You can understand it. I said earlier I was true to the music. That's why I can play 'Ice Ice Baby' right now. I made 'Ice Ice Baby' when it didn't have an image. It was about a studio with no image, about skills and studio, and that's it, you know?"

After spending hours with Ice, it becomes clear he's reasonably sincere when he says he doesn't want radio play, doesn't want to be on MTV. The latter he doesn't have to worry about. On April 30, 1999, Ice was invited to take part in an MTV special called 25 Lame, hosted by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan and Denis Leary. The show was designed to humiliate the very artists the network relied upon a decade earlier: MTV was going to retire the 10 worst videos ever, among them Don Johnson's "Heartbeat" and MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This."

Ice was invited to help destroy a videocassette of "Ice Ice Baby." He ended up taking a baseball bat to the entire set, smashing a table, a mannequin of Debbie Gibson and anything else lying around--including, Garofalo thought, the show's host. "I was genuinely afraid," she told Entertainment Weekly in May 1999. "I thought he was seriously going to get really angry on a channel that embraced him and then turned and mocked him."

But he never had the chance. Before he could turn his bat on the comedians, MTV's security guards hauled him out of the studio, into the lobby and tossed him into the streets. He scared the hell out of the network. Way he figured it, MTV had it coming.

"I did it for a reason, man," he says. "There was a purpose behind everything. My reason was basically to send a message to the industry, which was: Fuck the industry. Fuck y'all, motherfuckers. You made me, now you're going to destroy me. You treat me like I'm a product when I spill blood. I have blood, I'm real, I'm human, not a product. You almost killed me--the same people who embraced me, the same ones who built me up. And I understand the process. I know it better than you, because I lived it."

« Previous Page
Next Page »