Even his pseudonym sounded bland. His real name was Rob Van Winkle, but as rap and hip-hop began to attract crossover audiences, Van Winkle woke up to the fact that the time was right for a white rap superstar. So he dubbed himself Vanilla Ice, and on Oct. 20, 1990, his debut album, To the Extreme, cracked the Billboard top 10, jumping to No. 7 from No. 23 and yielding ”Ice Ice Baby,” whose accessible sound — aided heavily by a riff sampled from Queen’s ”Under Pressure” — made it the first rap single to hit No. 1 on the pop chart. Extreme eventually sold more than 7 million copies and stayed at the top for 16 weeks.
With his brand of soft-edged rap, Vanilla Ice aimed to bridge the worlds of the street and the burbs, where white and black teens alike were beginning to embrace urban music. Ironically, To the Extreme’s rise to No. 1 ended the reign of another innocuous rapper, M.C. Hammer, whose Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em had previously held the top spot.
While Vanilla Ice, then 21, enjoyed commercial success, he was critically derided as a rap poseur; his tales of a hardscrabble youth and Motocross racing background were exaggerated, The Miami Herald reported. He had described himself to The New York Times as ”a kid that grew up in the ghetto,” involved with ”gangs and stuff…I got stabbed five times.” On the Motocross circuit, he recounted, ”I broke my left ankle three times…and was told there was an 80 percent chance I would never walk again.” He claimed to have gone to the same Miami high school as 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell. In truth, Van Winkle had attended a suburban school in Texas.
In early 1991, his popularity led to the creation of a board game called the Vanilla Ice Electronic Rap Game (which came with its own electronic beat box). But by the fall 1991 premiere of his feature film, Cool as Ice — surely you remember his portrayal of a lovestruck rebel biker? — the heat on Ice had dissipated. His 1994 release, Mind Blowin’, was a mega-disaster, failing to break into the top 200.
It seemed that Ice had melted away, a fluky asterisk in rap history. Yet even Vanilla Ice might still have a second act: This month, the singer, now 29 and newly incarnated as a scruffy, goateed brunet, is releasing Hard to Swallow, an album of hardcore hip-hop, on Republic/Universal. Attention Hollywood: Anybody want to make Cool as Ice 2: The Goatee Years?
TIME CAPSULE / OCT. 20, 1990
AT THE MOVIES, Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death hits target, reaching No. 1 at the box office. Most of the former aikido instructor’s subsequent starring vehicles would be marked for failure: His latest, 1997’s Fire Down Below, flopped.
ON TV, two adaptations of Danielle Steel melodramas, Kaleidoscope and Fine Things, are No. 4 and No. 10 in the ratings, respectively.
IN BOOKSTORES, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time explains the scientific theories of the paralyzed Cambridge physics professor to lay readers. In 1992, documentarian Errol Morris would make an acclaimed film about Time and Hawking’s life.
AND IN THE NEWS, Kevin Costner spends his first day as an adopted Lakota Sioux after the Native American tribe honors him, actress Mary McDonnell, and producer Jim Wilson for Dances With Wolves.