After surviving his initial success on the pop charts, Vanilla Ice now is rising from the underground and remains a force to be reckoned with. With his past behind him and growing support from an underground fanbase, Vanilla Ice continues to breakdown barriers and live life “Wide Open.” Jason Price of Live-Metal.Net caught up with him at a recent stop at the Bottle N’ Cork in Dewey Beach, Delaware. Rob Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice opened up about his past, the status of his next album, his relationship with Dimebag Darrell, his hardcore fans and more.
Live-Metal: What is the biggest misconception about Vanilla Ice?
Vanilla Ice: The biggest misconception was that I was a novelty act because I never was. I write my own music. I produce my own music. When I first came out, the impact was so huge that they crossed it over to the pop market. I didn’t even know what pop music was, man. I was a little 14-year-old breakdancer that made 40 bucks a day spinning on my head. I don’t know anything about it and I just saw money, and they paid me millions of dollars.
I was on tour with The Stop the Violence Tour with Ice-T, Stetsasonic, EPMD and Sir-Mix-A-Lot and I didn’t know anything about pop music because at that time, hip-hop was not pop. So if you could bring it back to those days, radios just did not play hip-hop! So here I am like the guinea pig white boy thrown out there. And at the time, I think there was “New Kids With Snot” was on the charts, or some shit, right? LL Cool J had that slow rap song and Hammer, so we where all hitting that pop thing at the same time. You can see today how artificial it is from the stuff that they have done on American Idol and everything. It is basically karaoke to me. It’s good for TV but is a slap in the face of musicians. So there was a consequence to pay for that. That is when a lot of people figured out how Vanilla Ice was, when it went pop.
But there was a Vanilla Ice for three years before that on a small label out of Atlanta, Ichiban Records, that sold 38.000 copies in three years. So the bigest misconception would be that I was a pop artist when I really never was. I was just used, basically for an image. They changed my image, the record company. The publicists writing stories on you and all that shit and changed the whole entire story, image and look to fit the format. So I went from playing with Ice-T, playing to big all-black audiences to playing huge stadiums to 14-year-old kids with braces! So I was like “Whooooooooooaaa! What the fuck just happened!” But I accepted it and it’s cool. The crowd was bigger and the money was a lot bigger.
Anybody in my shoes at the time would have done the same thing. Eminem can pretty much use that as a guideline on what to do and what not to do. So I was the guinea pig that went through that and took all the hits and punches for everybody for doing that. Puff Daddy can now go sample his songs and he can be OK with it, but when Vanilla Ice did it was “Ohhhh my gooood, he stole that song!” And that was because I was introducing hip-hop to people for the first time to people’s ears who had never considered listening to it. Yeah, it had been done way before I had done it, but no one had had success. No one had sold 20 million records. I would have licked my mother’s butt back then for a million dollars, anybody would have, so it is hard to speculate if it was the right move or the wrong move because it has ups and it has downs. People now, after the VH1 special, are starting to understand it. Now it is more acceptable. Now you see it more across the board from Rage Against the Machine to everything else, so it is more acceptable. But at the time when I was doing it, it was like there was some unwritten rule that really doesn’t exist but it does in people’s minds that you aren’t allowed to do that. Just like a rapper isn’t allowed to go make rock-rap or rock-country, you’re not allowed to fuse these together, just back then it wasn’t allowed. Now you got everything across the board and it is totally fine and if it sounds good, it’s good and that is basically the way it should be. It shouldn’t be about gimmicks. It shouldn’t be about image. And that is what took over with me, the image and the gimmicks and shit. I got caught up in it and it was like a wave that I was riding and I couldn’t get off of it. The thing had to hit the shore and basically for the past few years, I had a weekend that lasted a few years and during that time I swam out and caught another wave. Now I am doing it my way and enjoying it. It is a learning experience and whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s a true fact!
Your latest release is still pretty fresh. What was the biggest challenge in making Platinum Underground?
Challenge, there was no challenge really. I don’t look at challenges. I just look at adventure. I look at it like an adventure. Making a record is an ultimate thing and you enjoy it. I don’t have any pressure over my shoulder saying, “You better make a song that is three and a half minutes long or they won’t play it on the radio.” [laughs] I don’t make radio-friendly music anymore. I totally make music not to be played on radio anymore basically because I don’t need radio. I sell millions of records without radio and without video. I have a clientele built which not many people can do. Not many people can survive without the industry, the network and the radio and the videos. Basically they would be shooting themselves in the foot. I can do it because I play 100 shows per year and I basically create a clientele, a very loyal following that is not a pop following. These kids are like 16 to 25 and they are aware of “Ice Ice Baby,” but they are more in tune with what I have been doing lately. They have it all on there iPods. The stuff I did with Korn, the stuff I did with Slipknot and everything like that. They know every word, man. It’s amazing! We can’t pick our crowd, they pick us. They are body pierced, they’re tattooed and they are extremely loyal. There are guys who come out, and they will be here tonight, with Vanilla Ice tattoos all over. There are a bunch of them that will drive 600 to 700 miles just to come see me around the country. I am starting to know them on a first name basis! It is weird at first, but then you meet them and it’s like, “Wow!”
So what I was telling you about the studio. You go in and make this music, you write these words and you do this whole thing, and my stuff is real personal. I got a message through all my shit. I take you on a journey on what has been going on in my life. People find that interesting to the point where it effects their life. There use me as some kind of, not a role model because I am never a role model. That is one thing about back in the day, I never liked being put in that position. I mean, don’t do what I did! [laughs] I am rockstar full blast! and that is not the message you need to send to the kids! But I never intended to be a role model. I am just a musician. I was put in that position, it was uncomfortable for me and I felt guilty. So the good thing is that it has all been lifted off my shoulders now and I can do whatever the hell I want and it is an adventure.
Going in the studio is an ultimate thing but when people accept it to the point that it effects their life, that is the ultimate high. I am just in the studio doing my thing, making music and it is great and it sounds good to me. But when it crosses over into people’s lives and it effects them to the point where they come out and they tellyou that they owe you their life, this is why they are so loyal. They will be here today and they will be here tomorrow, not like a pop crowd. A pop crowd is like you are in the ninth grade and you like this music, but when you are in the 11th grade you are like, “Your gay! You still listen to that shit, dude! I used to that shit in the ninth grade, dude! You’re not cool no more! Your old school!” [laughs] You know, that is pop music, that’s pop culture. Two years later, you’re done!
Limp Bizkit is the perfect example. Nobody is showing up at Limp Bizkit shows no more. When they were hardcore they had a very loyal following that wasn’t as big and wouldn’t have made them as much money, but they would have been there a lot longer. The ultimate high of music is when it translates. You put it on wax, it comes out and they put it in their ears and you are communicating through the music in a way that effects them and changes their life. It’s amazing!
In your song “Survivor,” you make mention of Dimebag Darrell. I take it you are a fan of his work?
Well we are both from Dallas, Texas, first of all. I knew him very well. Bobzilla the bass player that was on stage with him was my bass player for the whole Hard To Swallow project. The guy took some shots at him, one to the right and one to the left. The guy aimed right at him and missed him. He says he doesn’t know how, but it was like slow motion, one bullet went on the right and one bullet went on the left and he dropped his bass and jumped off the stage. He jumped back on stage, went up and saw Darrell and vomited. It was crazy.
So they are all from Dallas and Dallas doesn’t have a lot of famous people coming from there, so we all know each other. We all know and respect each other. If you have success coming from Dallas, Dallas is very loyal. It is a very big city with six million people, a huge, huge city because Dallas and Fort Worth grew together, but it’s got a small town mentality where everybody knows everybody. It’s not like Florida. I lived in Florida 20 years, I am a Miami kid. In Texas, it is like, “Oh yeah, I grew up right down the street! I know your grandmother and your mother!” Everybody knows everybody. So it was a heartfelt moment when that guy did that. That is a freak accident. I still get goosebumps over that and I don’t even understand why. It was a fluke and hopefully an isolated incident. But fuck, what a loss man. What a fucking loss. There are psychopaths out their man.
Have you started working on your next album?
I have actually. I have got two songs finished. I am doing an album with ICP [Insane Clown Posse]. It’s going to be a very underground, hip-hop, punk record. Something different! I always try to keep it interesting when I do something. I get bored with music quick, so I don’t want to do the same thing I did on the last record. I can do that all day long, but I don’t enjoy it. I want so if I can’t come up with something that sounds different, so that it is more interesting to me, so that I can enjoy the adventure. It has to please me first. If it doesn’t please me then I am gonna flip the script and scratch it off and go in with a fresh head and start over again and do something different.
Do you have a title for the album you are doing with ICP yet?
No, I don’t have a title for that yet. I do have two songs pretty much finished. One is called “Holy War.” It’s got a lot of messages in it about what is going on in the world today, so it is pretty worldly. I am a worldly person because I have been out there. I have played Iraq. I have played Afghanistan, dude! I have played everywhere from Koalalampour to Egypt, all the Muslim countries. They go crazy! They love me over there. It is an amazing thing that a musician, even though I am American, they don’t tie the American thing to me. I go over there and they love me, they freak out. There were 50,000 people at this United Arab Emirates concert and they were all full blown Muslims yellin’, “Iccccce… Vanilla Ice Ice Baby!!!!” And they are going off man! Why can’t we just translate that to our countries, ya know? Why can musicians have this unwritten law that they can go out and be loved from wherever they are from and their country doesn’t attach to them. It’s really weird, but the album has a message about all that shit in it.
Is there just one message that you want people to walk away with?
No, there is not just one message at all through all my music. It all just ties in together. Each time I go in and make a song I don’t have a plan. I don’t go in thinking, “OK, I am going to make this type of song.” A lot of people do, I don’t. I walk in there and if I am working with Wu Tang Clan or Slipknot, I just say. “Hey man, let’s just come up with something right now. Let’s just fuckin’ scratch.” When we are in The Dungeon like before and we are all hungry and we want to make some killer music. Let’s not think about influences like radio or influences like saying “fuck” or “shit” or advocating the use of marijuana. Let’s not worry about anything except making a killer song that we would all like! Then it is just like everything is released off your shoulders and all your creative shit flows and it’s fuckin’ awesome. It’s an awesome adventure and I live for that moment!
As far as your live show, for people who have seen that, how would you describe it?
Unpredictable! [laughs] Yeah, it is very unpredictable! We get chaotic, man! We enjoy it! That is why I am out here. I mean, financially, I have made great investments. I’ve got a mortgage company, real estate investments, I build homes all over Florida and have really done well with my investments, which is pretty rare in the music industry. People blow their wad and are left kinda like MC Hammer, ya know? I have made great investments and I am not a smart guy, so don’t get me confused with some genius Bill Gates guy, ’cause I am not! It’s a no-brainer, real estate works. I don’t know shit about the stock market and ya buy homes and ya sell them, it’s that simple and make money of it. It doesn’t take a real genius. I have done really well in that aspect and opened up several businesses and just cleaned house in Florida. It’s a goldmine. It’s free money the way that I look at it. So that enables me to do what ever the fuck I want. So when I come out here and I jam, it’s just wide open. I do whatever the fuck I feel and if the crowd is into it you will see the energy feed. I feed off them and they feed off me and we just get chaotic. I love gettin’ wild, I love doing the rock star thing, but I also have my responsibilities. When I go home, I handle my kids and handle my business, but when I am out here it is party time, bro! You gotta get a little bit of all of it in your life to make it complete.
What inspires you these days?
My inspirations stem from a long time ago, man! It started with a group called Parliament. I looked at them and just watched them do their thing. Funkadelic and Rick James, they influenced me and there is still something in me from a young age that still fuels me to this day. That’s what keeps me going. I just have to live on my influences’ legacy and so far, so good! Like I said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I am enjoying the shit out of myself. I don’t need to be out here for finances. I am out here for the thrill of it. The thrill of making the music. This is what I started it for. When I was on tour with Ice-T, I didn’t get paid. I was out there for the love of music. It is a shame that people actually come out expecting the money. I could care less. I get paid, sure, but who cares? The thing is that I don’t need to be out here for money. The great thing of it is that it is for the sake and for the love of the music. You will see tonight that I enjoy the shit out of myself!
Seeing how you straddle both worlds of rock and rap, how do you feel about the state of both genres??
It is cool that it is all fusing together. Even country, rap and classical. I don’t care what it is, there is no law, there are no rules. Hopefully, the message is getting out there. It’s not so deep as people try to make it out. If it sounds good, it’s good. If it doesn’t, it sucks. It’s that simple! If it sounds good, it doesn’t matter what you fuse it with. When I am going to the track, music is a mood. When I am going to ride my motorcross bike, I am listening to Slipknot. I am listening to Slayer. I am listening to Pantera. I am listening to the heavy stuff because it energizes me and it fuels me. When I am in a romantic mood, I am not listening to that. Music is all about mood! So I would be listening to Marvin Gaye or Sade or something. If I feel like dancing or bobbing my head, I am throwin’ on some hip-hop. It is all about hip-hop with me and the beat. When you fuse it all together, it is like you are fusing everybody’s moods together. It’s cool. It’s new. It is cool to see it all come together because music is one thing and there is no rule that says that you can or can’t do this. I am here to break down every barrier that there is! And if you say I can’t do it, I will do it just to show you that I can. That is my motto.
There are some rumors floating around about you and a new album being entitled 31 Flavors. Any truth to that?
Could be. It’s a toss up. Nothing is in stone right now. That is one of them. It’s funny that you say that. Ya know, we are gonna do the record with ICP and we don’t have all the details ironed out just yet but we are gonna get in the Dungeon with Mike Clark who produced our first couple of records, which is HUGE, man.? I don’t know if you know much about ICP, but their fans are very loyal. More loyal than any group in the entire universe! So people who don’t understand it, just don’t get it. They are like “Why do these people know all these songs? Why are they so loyal?” It’s beyond the music. It’s deeper than that. If you just show up you aren’t going to understand. It is a subculture following. It totally is and I have them doing me right now. It’s amazing and it is about who the people are behind it. A lot of them are my fans, their fans, tarot readers, sons of jugglers and Carny kids, pretty much, right? So it is hard from the outside listening to mainstream music, being a normal mainstream person, living a 9 to 5 life and then you stop and look at that and you are like, “I don’t get it. I don’t fucking get it.” It is because you are not going to get it like that. You aren’t going to get it overnight. You have to be a sponge and really absorb it. When you do get it, you are hooked forever! There is no backing off, you are a Juggalo. Until you reach that point, you won’t understand or have all the answers to the questions of why people are so loyal to this. It’s more of a complete subculture following. Take away the music for a minute, that ties us in together, but it is more of a relationship, a long-term one.
So on that note, is there anything you want to say to those people, your fans?
Oh, they aren’t fans, they’re family. They’re not fans. There is a big difference. My fans will be here tonight. There will be some family here, too. But I am going to convert some of these fans here tonight into family. There is a difference. I am super grateful for it, too. I love them and I treat them like family. I hang out with them after the shows. We go to the Gathering (juggalogathering.com) and shit, 7000 people are there and there is nothing but love around you. It’s like family, love, protection and we are a group and our own breed of people and it is a great thing. It’s cool thing!
Well, that is all I have for you. Thanks for you time!
You got it, brother!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.