“Ice Ice Baby” becomes historic No. 1 on this day in 1990

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Vanilla Ice entered the public consciousness in 1989, and by 1990, there seemed to be no teen or pre-teen who knew who the Florida rapper was. Despite some questions about his street credentials, and an unforgettable controversy about a bass line used as a repeating element in “Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice made hip-hop and music history when the single reached No. 1 in the US, the first rap song to do so. The song also reached the top of the charts in the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland.

The widespread popularity of the song is credited with making rap music accessible to a worldwide audience. The point seems arguable, as there were a number of mega popular rap groups with international audiences. The popularity of Vanilla Ice (real name Robert Van Winkle) for some makes the argument that certain audiences were more comfortable with a white rapper, than with the black rappers who came before him. Be that as it may, “Ice Ice Baby” regardless of the race of the performer, opened the door for rap in general to be accepted as a part of mainstream musical culture, and not merely relegated to underground status.

“Ice Ice Baby” and controversy

The song was the source of controversy when it was revealed that the bass line was borrowed from “Under Pressure.” “Under Pressure” is the 1981 single by Queen and David Bowie. Vanilla Ice did a series of interviews in 1991 trying to explain the process of sampling, his specific process for sampling, and how his version of the “Under Pressure” sample is different from the original and thus, not subject to any claims by the original artists. Queen and David Bowie threatened legal action and Queen and the two performers have since been given a songwriting credit on “Ice Ice Baby.” The hit rap song is now forever linked to the classic rock icons.

One of the more long-lasting after effects of the controversy has been Vanilla Ice’s oral replication of what the original “Under Pressure” sounds like versus what his version sounds like. The two versions sound almost identical, and few fans defend it. The slight change, which involves adding an extra beat, is extremely difficult to hear. Some people can’t. Later, Vanilla Ice claimed he wasn’t being serious about the differences, but again, people have a difficult time believing him.

The issue of credibility is one of the problems that seem to plague Vanilla Ice. Even though he is technically rapping, his image and approach to hip-hop didn’t set well with rap audiences. Instead, people began to see Vanilla Ice as a novelty act. Or, at least as a pop performer.

The problems surrounding Vanilla Ice and “Ice Ice Baby” overshadowed the other releases from the album on which the single appeared. Titled “Hook,” the album’s first single was “Play That Funky Music,” which preceded “Ice Ice Baby,” which was followed by another single “I Love You,” which is likely only remembered by those who bought the album.

“Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice

The song itself is arranged around the “Under Pressure” bassline, which plays during the chorus. The instrumentation also consists of slowed down bass notes that pick up into a triplet before giving way to the borrowed notes. The lyrics find Vanilla Ice bragging about his cool, and a dangerous situation he was able to escape from. In that sense, Vanilla Ice participated in what most people consider rap to be – – creating rhymes about various types of prowess and sometimes creating lyrics about menacing situations.

In relation to rap music popular at the time, “Ice Ice Baby” is fairly sanitized. While groups like 2Live Crew, NWA, the Geto Boys and others were making songs that were far more “mean” than “Ice Ice Baby.”

Despite the problems with the song, the legacy of “Ice Ice Baby” lives on. The video has been retired from MTV, with Vanilla Ice himself appearing on the show “25 Lame” on MTV, when the official retirement took place. The rapper was offered the chance to destroy the video with a baseball bat. To the surprise of home viewers, Vanilla Ice took the opportunity to destroy the master tape. He also took the liberty of attacking the show’s set.

The song was revived as a nu metal tune called “Too Cold” when Vanilla Ice switched genres in 1998.

Vanilla Ice can be found on HGTV on a show called “The Vanilla Ice Project.”

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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