Yo VIP let’s kick it! It’s ice ice baby, Vanilla.
Had Robert Van Winkle attempted a chart hit, it probably would not have worked. The Dallas born artist (b.1967) got his stage name early on as part of a group of rappers and breakdancers in the mid-1980’s and as the only white boy of the group, where he was nicknamed ‘Vanilla’. By the age of 16, he was calling himself ‘Vanilla Ice’ and wrote a rap about himself called, “Ice Ice Baby”. By 1987 he was performing at gigs as a solo act and in 1989 he was signed to small independent record label, Ichiban Records. He recorded and released a cover of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music”, although it was far from being a hit and ‘Ice’ left the label.
In early 1990, he was signed by SBK Records, a division of EMI, who were interested in his earlier composition, “Ice Ice Baby”. A lover of covering and using other artists work, the production liberally used Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 smash “Under Pressure” for its hook and with plenty of marketing thrown at it, the song went to the top of the US singles chart in August. Global success followed later in 1990 as the song topped the chart in seven other countries, most notably a four week stay at the top in the UK in November-December. At this time, ‘Vanilla’ released his debut album, “To The Extreme”, which topped the US chart and sold over seven million copies and a further eight million internationally.
A re-released “Play That Funky Music” followed in early 1991, reaching No.4 in America and No.10 in the UK while a third single from the album, “I Love You”, just about scrapped in the lower depths on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘Vanilla’ released a live album later that year, “Extremely Live”, which featured the song “Rollin’ In My 5.0”. Once again this used a sample, this time “Fly Like An Eagle” by Stever Miller Band, although it didn’t chart at home, it made No.27 in the UK while a second single, “Satisfaction”, peaked at No.22 there. He recorded the “Ninja Rap” for the second ‘Turtle’ film, ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze’, the same year as he did with “Cool As Ice (Everybody Get Loose)”, which was recorded for his own ‘movie’, ‘Cool As Ice’, along with British model Naomi Campbell. The song made No.81 Stateside.
That is really where ‘Vanilla’s career comes to an end. Although he continued to release singles and albums throughout the 90’s and into the early 00’s, none of it saw commercial success. He left SBK in 1994 and has been signed to various independent labels ever since. He was photographed for Madonna’s ‘coffee table book’, Sex, in 1992. He popped up again in 2010 with Irish duo Jedward on their single “Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)”, which went to No.1 in Ireland and No.2 in the UK, his first hit there in twenty years. He appeared on Dancing With The Stars in 2016 while he took to the stage again in 2017 on the hit US roadshow I Love The 90’s. A biopic is currently in production about his life and career with actor Dave Franco cast in the title role. ‘Vanilla’ will also pop up in the 2020 film ‘The Wrong Missy’, a rom-com in which he plays himself and is even credited as Robert Van Winkle. Full circle!
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