April 1, 2008

Vanilla Ice - To The Extreme (October 16, 1990)


Robert Van Winkle's eternal struggle against his perception in the media is truly a cautionary tale for the ages. His career simultaneously exploded and imploded, and his story should be used by all up and coming white rappers as a blueprint on how not to survive in the music industry, a business that can eat you alive, especially in our chosen genre.

Robert Van Winkle (a great rap name if I've ever heard one) grew up in a middle class background, and befriended the local urban hoods in an effort to sully up the Van Winkle name a bit. They specialized in graffiti and break dancing, and after witnessing some of Robert's attempts at being cool, they stuck him with the moniker "Vanilla Ice", which, looking back, was probably their way of making fun of him every time they called out his name. Taken by itself, this isn't bad at all: indeed, there are many white rappers in the industry now that grew up and became exposed to hip hop culture in very much the same way. Unfortunately, Robert (and, it must be noted, his manager) decided to, how should I say, embellish a bit on his resume, faking enrollment in a Florida high school (one that also featured 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell among its students: really, that's the best you could come up with?) and a violent, gang related lifestyle, which totally explains his musical output. My two readers, before you start off down that path, just know that faking a gang related childhood never fucking works. Just ask Margaret B. Jones (Seltzer), whose memoir about her rough childhood in South Central Los Angeles was outed as fraudulent, especially considering the chick went to fucking private school with the Olsen Twins. Thugged out, indeed.

The lying didn't stop there, though. Several years after his major label debut, To The Extreme, was released, Robert appeared on ABC's 20/20, charming us all with a tale involving Suge Knight, a balcony, and the royalties to his biggest hit "Ice Ice Baby" (royalties that actually should have gone to Queen and David Bowie, but I digress). Everyone remembers that story, right? Shit, Hollywood remembered, having Cedric the Entertainer pull a Suge Knight in the travesty that was Be Cool. The problem is, Suge Knight never actually did that shit, and I suspect he didn't sue Robert for slander only because that story made him a force to be reckoned with. Robert retracted his story a couple of years after the appearance, but no news outlet ran that part; they were having too much fun. And the lie about his schooling? Debunked by two students who just so happened to attend the school in question, who just so happened to search through the rosters, and just so happened to call bullshit on the whole shindig. (This is actually among the dumber lies I've ever read about in hip hop, right up there next to "Lil Wayne is a good rapper".)

Robert never actually apologized for any of these lies (admitting you have a problem is the first step, you see), but based on his early success, he may have felt no need to do so. His underground debut, Hooked, garnered major label attention after club deejays ignored the A-side of his single "Play That Funky Music" and jumped straight to the flip, "Ice Ice Baby". However, he still signed with SBK, a fledgling label whose claims to fame included Technotronic, Wilson Phillips, and Selena. Within moments of the signing, Robert repackaged Hooked as To The Extreme, including a couple of hastily-written rhymes regarding girls, and shipped it to stores in CD and cassette format only (from what I understand, no vinyl was pressed at the time, in an effort to force people to buy the more-expensive-at-the-time CD format), topping the Billboard charts for several weeks running, selling several million copies (although nobody will admit to owning it today), and almost single-handedly running the white rapper image into the fucking ground. Follow-up albums were filled with retreads of "Ice Ice Baby" done in multiple musical styles, including Korn-style nu-metal, and these days you can find Robert appearing on the many reality shows on VH1, unless he's too busy beating his wife, as police records have led me to believe.

I wonder why nobody will admit to owning To The Extreme?

1. ICE ICE BABY
I don't actually have to describe this song, do I? Very smart move in sequencing the big single as the very first song. In high school I knew people (white guys, usually, trying to be ironic) that would blast this in the parking lot, although, sadly, my life is not actually a movie, so there was nobody decked out in counterfeit Adidas tracksuits popping and locking next to the cars. I can't believe this was a radio hit, since the second verse is violent as shit.



2. YO VANILLA
Skit...

3. STOP THAT TRAIN
I can't tell if Robert is admitting on the track that the chick he hooked up with is a nymphomaniac, violently abusive, or a transsexual. Listen to the lyrics, as there is evidence of all three possibilities mentioned in random intervals. I wish I could make this stuff up.

4. HOOKED
I remember coming across Hooked in a Smash Hits! Music when I was younger, and now that I think about it, this was probably my first brush with an "underground" rap album. I remember the album cover clearly, as I was a horny adolescent and there's a naked chick taking a shower in the background, and I'm pretty sure you can see some nipple. Growing up is such an odd thing sometimes, my two readers.

5. ICE IS WORKIN' IT
The lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but the beat isn't terrible; it sounds like something that would be used as incidental music on Miami Vice. There's even an attempt made at scratching. What more could you ask for? Well, for starters, I could use a sandwich.

6. LIFE IS A FANTASY
Race issue aside, Robert fit right in to the hip hop genre, what with his constant objectification of women. There seems to be a running theme of him telling chicks to "pump it, hottie", and then sending words to their respective mothers, presumably so that he can pump them, hottie, as well.

7. PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC
I remember, when I was younger, being upset that the album version of this track, released as the second single from To The Extreme, was completely different from the radio edit. (I've since gotten over it.) I had forgotten that he kind of disses Kid 'N Play at the end of the first verse, although he would later find that everyone prefers House Party to Cool As Ice. The beat isn't as good as I remember, but I guess there's only so much you can do when utilizing the Wild Cherry sample. Also, kudos go to Robert for tackling the race issue straightaway: chanting "Go white boy, go white boy, go!" took a considerable amount of courage. In 1990. In fucking America.

8. DANCIN'
The beat sounds a bit too awkward to dance to it properly. I should know: I tried to just before writing this sentence.

9. GO ILL
AT least David Deberry and Kim Sharp, who are both credited with producing this track, seem to have affection for old-school hip hop. I can picture Robert doing the Ed Lover Dance in the nonexistent video (that should tell you exactly how this song sounds). Also, big shout out to Robert for utilizing the word "ill" as a verb; Robert could set a trend faster than you could set the table for dinner.

10. IT'S A PARTY
Robert tries to get his Ultramagnetic on, with mixed results. Lyrically, you should look elsewhere, but when it comes to the beat, you should also look elsewhere.

11. JUICE TO GET LOOSE BOY
A questionably titled skit.

12. ICE COLD
Ostensibly the song from which Andre 3000 borrowed his The Love Below moniker. There's even a sample of Dino's "I Like It" thrown in for measure, neither good nor bad.

13. RASTA MAN
Meh.

14. I LOVE YOU
The song for the ladies, although it could be argued that every song on To The Extreme is for the ladies. (You'd be dead wrong, though.) Sadly, unlike LL Cool James, Robert's sentiments ring hollow, possibly because his song sounds like bad high school poetry, or maybe it's because he keeps picking up chicks and pumping their hotties or whatever it is he does with them. The phone call near the end of the track cracked me up, however.

15. HAVIN' A RONI
The most aggravating part of this beatboxing outro is that the title is never explained to the listener. Closure, Robert! Ever heard of it, fucker?

FINAL THOUGHTS: To The Extreme is entertaining enough for a rap album by a white rapper with considerably less skill than every other white rapper in existence (including the chicks in Northern State, and also Peaches), but still has a better flow than the drunken frat boys that crowd your pub on Friday nights. That said, with his considerable fanbase, I'm confused and befuddled by the fact that he felt the need to switch genres mid-career (although he stayed true to his hip hop roots by rhyming alongside Chuck D of Public Enemy (!) and Wu-Tang's La the Darkman). To The Extreme sounds better as a complete body of work than U-God's debut album, but I have to admit that U-God's "Rumble" is better than every single song on this disc.

BUY OR BURN? Given the number of great songs on here, I would be remiss if I didn't encourage a purchase, especially since you can probably find it for a quarter. You should pick this one up just for the close-up photo of Robert's high-top in the liner notes alone, and you can see a sneak preview of that bad boy by clicking here.

BEST TRACKS: "Ice Ice Baby"; "Go Ill"; "Ice Is Workin' It"

B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: "Ninja Rap", from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze soundtrack, is an excellent example of the harmonious synergy between Hollywood and hip hop.

-Max

15 comments:

  1. Great pick for April Fools, Max. So conclusively, we can say: Vanilla Ice, in some circumstances, is preferable to U God.

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  2. I never liked the shaved lines in his hair... That should've been the first clue that his career would crash.

    -jenni

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  3. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessApril 01, 2008

    I bought this on cassette from BMG Music. I paid 1/8 of a penny (taped to the reply card) for it. I threw away the tape and the liner notes within a week and used the case for other tapes I had lost the case to. What a bargain!

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  4. You're a genius.

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  5. I laughed. Well played.

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  6. Funny, I didn't see Vanilla on the Search By Artist list

    April Fools'jokes - less funny on April 2nd ?

    (U-V-W)

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  7. What's next, Max? MC Hammer, Bone Thugs....?

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  8. Yo, this is tiiight! Stop trying to mock the Ice! Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go have a roni.

    -Wifey

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  9. Omg Vanilla Ice is the shit!! I think Mind Blowing is his best album. That's the one in 1994 where he reveals his true gangta roots.

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  10. Rest in peace Frosty Freeze!

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  11. On the real, the original version called "Hooked" that was released the previous year on Wrap/Ichiban did move a few units around the Southwest. His video for "Play That Funky Music" used to get regular burn on BET's Rap City...this was WAY before "Ice Ice Baby" was even made.

    Why no one EVER mentions that fact is a mystery to me.

    One.

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  12. Yo Max, why is this review not on the sidebar thing? You should def. put it up as this review's pretty damn funny

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  13. Buy this but not Stillmatic??? That's crazy, you lost me with this one

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    Replies
    1. Someone missed the date this post originally ran. Or skipped past all of the comments. Thanks for reading!

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