There is not much you can ask Vanilla Ice about his recording industry reputation that would rile him up. Anything stemming from when he was younger, it is quite possible at this stage in his life and career the Grammy-nominated entertainer born Robert Van Winkle has heard it all. One can assume with maturity comes calm. Mention motocross bike racing or parenting, though, and the “Ice, Ice Baby” rapper gets as enthusiastic as a kid discussing a hot new toy.
When the Texas native is not touring the world doing concerts, flipping real estate on his DIY Network television series The Vanilla Ice Project, in a studio recording or on a movie set acting, he’s home raising his children or taking a few relaxing laps around the dirt track.
SoulTrain.com: With your motocross background, do you like hearing songs from artists like Lupe Fiasco and The Roots that become anthems for X-Games athletes?
Vanilla Ice: I love it! That shows you passion is still alive in the music! If people who are doing extreme sports vibe off that, that to me means they’re fueling off that! Music is moods. I listen to some country music, I listen to Marvin Gaye, I listen to Al Green and Bob Marley; everything is a mood. I like metal, but of course I’m not going to listen to something like Slip Knot when I’m trying to get romantic. Everything has a purpose with music.
SoulTrain.com: Some people experience their first sense of purpose after becoming a parent. Being a father, how do you feel about some of the more adult and sometimes openly sexual content in music reaching children?
Vanilla Ice: Before I was a father I made my music. And I don’t make my music for kids, and I tell my kids what songs they shouldn’t listen to. Some of mine advocate the use of marijuana, besides the sexual stuff. Look at it like it’s movies: Music has the same ratings. You have “G” music; you can go listen to your pop stuff like Britney Spears that’s not offensive. Well, I guess some of the new Britney stuff is (laughs)! You’ve got your Disney channel music that’s “G”. Then you have “PG,” which is borderline stuff they play on the radio. Then there’s “R”. Daddy’s stuff is “R” and sometimes worse! But I cater to the people who buy my music, not my kids. I listen to Wu-Tang, Public Enemy, Slip Knot; my kids, though, they’re headbangers! I love my kids, man!
SoulTrain.com: A few years ago there was a lot of fusion happening between hip-hop and rock, and people acted as though it was something new. You’d been doing it for years. So did that sit right with you?
Vanilla Ice: I don’t know man…I just do my music the way I do it. It doesn’t have label to it. You take away 10 to 15 years, if you listened to hip-hop you didn’t listen to rock. If you listened to rock you didn’t listen to hip-hop. Those people who were younger then are running the world right now. The people who listened to PE were the same people who listened to Anthrax. Then Run-DMC came along and fused some stuff together. It ain’t new! It was just far and few between because the crowds never came together. But then you saw people coming up on Snoop who also listened to Korn because they had a lot of hip-hop flavor in how they did things. And, of course, Rage Against the Machine.
SoulTrain.com: You re-engineered your machine, so to speak, by adding several different elements. Were you trying to separate yourself from the sound of your earlier days?
Vanilla Ice: Artists evolve, and when you do that you add your own different spices into what you do. I like punk, hip-hop and metal. Combining them created something a little different. I don’t sound like anyone else. To be honest, you just have to get in where you fit in and don’t think about all that other stuff too much.
SoulTrain.com: It’s no secret you’ve dealt with an ample share of criticism and scrutiny, yet while so many others have fallen off you’re still finding ways to fit in – be it your music and touring, movies like That’s My Boy, or your real estate television series The Vanilla Ice Project. So why don’t you get more respect?
Vanilla Ice: I’m not necessarily looking for the respect. I cater to those who appreciate what I’m doing – and there’s a whole lot of them! Most of my fans are 16 to 25 years old. If you do the math they were like 1 or 2 or not born at all when “Ice, Ice Baby” was out. It don’t make sense, right? But here’s the deal: It’s evolution. They’re aware of “Ice, Ice Baby”; but everybody is, and it’s hard not to be. But more of them are into my new stuff and what I’m doing now. None of my new music is radio-friendly, and it’s purposely made that way. I don’t want to go radio! I don’t want to go mainstream because I can sell a platinum record without doing all that!
SoulTrain.com: Are you turned off by what is currently being portrayed as popular culture?
Vanilla Ice: Today with American Idol and everything like that, I feel music has gotten to be artificial. You’ve got one person writing it, someone else arranging, then another person comes in just to teach you the lyrics, then another teaching you how to dance. Then you’ve got somebody else teaching you how to look, act, behave, and then they’re dressing you up. In the end, who are you?!
SoulTrain.com: So would say you feel a line needs to be drawn between being an artist and becoming one?
Vanilla Ice: I think music shouldn’t be about gimmicks, music shouldn’t be about image. It should just be about the music! That’s it.
SoulTrain.com: You take that feeling into the studio with you each time?
Vanilla Ice: When I go in I don’t have a mindset like, “Oh, I better not do this. Radio won’t play it.” Radio won’t play a song that’s over 3 and half minutes long. If you make one that’s 4 or 5 minutes you’ve cut your throat! They’ll never play it, no matter how good it is! You have to format your song to fit radio if that’s what you’re wanting to do.
SoulTrain.com: I’ve talked with a number of recording artists who told me they’ll do whatever they can to sell records. Nothing else matters.
Vanilla Ice: You can’t blame people because most people make music to make money. The good thing with me is, I make good investments. With all my money it allows me to do whatever I want. I ain’t here for the money. When I do make music it’s strictly for the music and the thrill of making music! I don’t have to walk another path to make money. Respect me or not, I already made it.
SoulTrain.com: True. People still refuse to let go the image of you wearing glittery baggy pants with your hair gelled up. They see you now and act as though it was wrong or fake of you to change.
Vanilla Ice: We are who we are because of who we were. I’m older. I’ve matured. I’ve evolved from what I was. I hated on myself. I still hate the name “Vanilla”. Like I’ve said before, my Black and Latino homeboys called me that when I used to breakdance. I’d say, “Stop calling me that! That’s racist!” The more they saw it got to me the more they called me Vanilla (laughs)! But that’s how your friends are! And it stuck! But it ain’t about the name, the gimmicks, or the image. People spend too much time trying to dissect what “it” is. It’s about enjoying the music. That’s all it’s about. Be yourself and make a dope song. If people like it, they like it. If they like you, they like you.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of both XPOZ Magazine and The Underwire Interactive Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, MLive.com, and AllHipHop.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit TheGrooveSpt.com and ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.