The Rapper’s Public Unraveling Stemmed From A Denial Of His Dallas Roots. But Proof Of His Area Ties Could Be Found In His “Ice Ice Baby” Video All Along.
Alright, stop, collaborate and join us, if you will, in remembering that brief period of time some 30 years ago when Vanilla Ice wasn’t known solely as a punchline.
When it was released in September 3, 1990, Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme became the fastest-selling hip-hop album of all time. Meanwhile, its lead single “Ice Ice Baby” was the first rap song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and is largely credited for helping further mainstream the genre’s popularity. In all, To The Extreme would go on to sell over 12 million copies, with the man behind it appearing in 1991’s widely anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel and a movie of his own called Cool as Ice that would be released that same year.
Yes, the Ice Man was everywhere at that time, unavoidable in the pop culture zeitgeist. Then, in the blink of an eye, the would-be Elvis of Rap suddenly became the biggest heel in the music industry, the butt of every joke.
It was largely a bed of his own making.
In the wake of a November 1990 piece in the Dallas Morning News uncovering all of the inconsistencies in Ice’s official bio, the fraudster became the target of every music journalist in the country. The backlash was so strong, in fact, that Ice’s follow-up album to his record-breaking debut failed to even chart at all.
At the center of the furor was Ice’s alleged fudging of his background to make himself sound more “street.” While Ice frequently brought up his rough-and-tumble upbringing on the mean Miami streets, where he says he learned to both rap and break dance, the public quickly caught wind of the fact that he was also the bearer of the not-very-hard-at-all-sounding birth name of Robert Van Winkle. What’s more, it turned out he attended the very suburban R.L. Turner High School in the mostly white Dallas suburb of Carrollton, and not the school of hard knocks he claimed to have emerged out of in South Florida.
You can see it all start unraveling in his notoriously contentious 1990 Arsenio Hall interview, where he admits to being from both Miami and Dallas, then brings out Flavor Flav — who he had only met the night before — as proof that he had mad street cred.
But if he was really trying to hide his Dallas roots, Ice did a horrible job of that from the start.
Take his video for “Ice Ice Baby,” for instance. Released in June of 1990, predating his debut album’s re-release on Universal Music Group subsidiary SBK by a few months, the clip shows Van Winkle decked out in a University of Miami sweat shirt and ball cap, rapping about the “town that created all that bass sound.” But, thing is, the whole thing was shot in Dallas.
While he’s spitting lines like “Miami’s on the scene just in case you didn’t know it,” the video mostly just shows him hanging around Deep Ellum. Take, for instance, the scene where’s he’s riding around in his 5.0 past all those kids dancing and loitering on Crowdus Street near the current home of the Curtain Club. Or how, when he’s lauding the girlies on South Beach’s famed “A1A Beachfront Avenue,” you can clearly see him and the dancers he recruited from Dallas’ City Lights club breaking on a Dallas rooftop with the Bank of America building clearly lit up in neon green behind them. (Those rooftop bits were shot in a Downtown building currently occupied by Tractorbeam, the branding team behind the Smoked barbecue fest, The Belmont Hotel and the new, East Quarter building development seeking to renovate a bunch of old buildings in the hopes to connect Downtown and Deep Ellum.)
It’s kind of crazy to think that Ice thought he could slide on by unscathed with a completely fabricated origin story, especially when images like the ones in his video so readily revealed him to be a fraud. But, hey, in those pre-internet times, it did still take reporters several months to connect all the dots.
It just makes us wonder why acts such as Dripping Springs’ overnight country sensations Midland haven’t learned from what we now know is the biggest crash-and-burn story in music history.
The takeaway here, we suppose, is the same as ever: Don’t believe the hype.
Word to your mother.