"I want nothing fake. Nothing posed. Nothing made up. No more image. I'm sick of all that shit," declares Vanilla Ice, whose long, strange, creative trip has had more spectacular highs and lows than just about anyone's, and who is astoundingly candid about the journey.
But it's his new music that does the real talking. His Republic/Universal debut, Hard to Swallow, is a sonic shotgun blast to the face, an avalanche of complex beats and dark stories, a pummeling skateboard rock vibe. In short, a total surprise for anyone who has any preconceptions of what a Vanilla Ice record sounds like.
"It's a new musical adventure for me," says Ice enthusiastically. "I just got bored with drum machines and wanted something more exciting and challenging." Now, armed with a live band, Ice and noted producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Sepultura, Limp Bizkit) spent hours in the studio, discovering and evolving a stunning "hardcore hip hop" blend of street sounds.
"I was looking for a really hard edge," Ice explains. "Something completely different, off key, something that's not been done. It took a while to find it, but the good news is, we finally did. It's not rock n' roll. It's not heavy metal. It's not hip hop. It's called 'skate rock' and only a handful of people are doing it. There's only a few musicians who even know what you're talking about – 'what? I don't know anything about tuning my guitar like THAT.' And Ross is like a mad scientist, coming up with creativity and sounds."
Ice, a.k.a. Rob Van Winkle, and band then proceeded to do a round of small clubs, getting back to the real-life sweat-and-smoke atmosphere where he began his career. "I love performing, it's what I do," says Ice, adding with a laugh, "I don't have another job, really. And I've been doing it for so long, since back in the days when I used to breakdance, and performed for all-black clubs around Dallas, City Lights. I never thought I'd play a white club.
"And then all of a sudden I signed a record contract," he continues, "and pretty much everyone knows the story. Everything started crossing over, all of a sudden they were playing my song on pop stations. And that's when I started being a puppet, having all these record executives make decisions without asking me: 'We want you to wear these baggy pants and all this glitter stuff, because we're going to cross you over. We're going to clean your image up.' They rewrote my bio without my consent, because where I came from, it wasn't the image they wanted to portray. 'We want you to do a slow song, because MC Hammer has a slow song and it's doing really well.' I'd say, 'Man, I don't do no slow songs, that's not me,' and they'd say 'Well, would you do it for a million dollars?' and I'd say, 'Yup!' I did 'Ice Ice Baby' when I was 16 years old and broke, so you could definitely name my number. So in a way I sold out for the money, but I think anyone in my shoes would have done the same thing. But I don't blame anyone but myself, because I made the decision and it sold me short, because that's not what I intended to be, or do."
However, the approach worked. Vanilla Ice's debut, To the Extreme, sold over 13 million copies worldwide, and "Ice Ice Baby" was a #1 chart hit. "When I realized what was going on, it was way too late," Ice continues his welcome-to-the-music-biz tale. "The whole image had set in. I looked back on it and thought, 'God, what a huge mistake that was,' and I ended up paying for it. Nobody wanted to hear any more Vanilla Ice, ever. It was very stressful to me so I turned to drugs as an escape. I just didn't want to face reality." He released a record, Mind Blowin', in 1994 ("cause that's exactly what I was doing, blowing my mind," he quips).
His life changed overnight when he overdosed. "I had friends dumping buckets of cold water on me, I thought I was going to die, I was puking everywhere, having convulsions," Ice recalls. "It was really bad. I woke up the next day and I was still alive and that was the point where I thought, 'This isn't me. I have more self-discipline than this. I'm a better person than this. I'm becoming a big-time loser and letting everyone get to me.' I thought, 'Thank you, Lord, for giving me a second chance.' From that moment on I tattooed a leaf on my stomach, and turned over a new leaf. Completely started all over in one day."
Ice got married and now has a gorgeous baby girl, Dusti Rain. "It definitely, definitely made me a better person all around, more responsible," he says about parenthood. "It's just great, I'm a sucker for her, I can't even explain how much love I've got for this kid. I've got something to live for now, and I want to spend all my time with them."
On Hard to Swallow, Ice tells the truth. All of it, including the horrible parts, like the drug experiences he relates on the furious "Zig Zag Stories." On "Too Cold," he injects a neutron bomb reprise of "Ice Ice Baby." "Just to let people know I'm not running from anything," he explains.
But the song with the most meaning for Ice is "Scars," which hearkens even further back in his past, to the abusive secrets of his family. "I've had this trapped up in me for a long time," he muses. "I never talked to anyone about it, and now I feel free. It was like therapy. It was strange for me to write that song," he admits, "But I did it, and now I'm on the other side of it. I'm totally relieved, I feel free now."
"F**k Me" had a similar effect for a different part of his life. "I'm letting people know, I know how I was perceived, and I take the blame for it," says Ice. "When the media and everyone gets a hold of you, it's like you're a product on a shelf."
Ghosts exorcised, Vanilla Ice is ready to go forward now. "Enough with all that," he declares. "Sit back and listen to the music. Stay real and stay true to your family. That's what life is really about. F**k Vanilla Ice. Just enjoy the music."