Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice
Background information
Birth name Robert Matthew Van Winkle
Born October 31, 1967
Dallas, Texas, U.S.
Genre(s) Hip hop, rock
Occupation(s) Rapper
Instrument(s) Bass, drums, guitar, keyboard
Years active 1988—present
Label(s) Ichiban, SBK, Cleopatra
Vanilla Ice
DJ Dirty Chopstix
Clint Barlow
Former members
Rod J

Robert Matthew Van Winkle (b. October 31, 1967), best known by his stage name Vanilla Ice, is an American rapper. Born in Dallas, Texas and raised in South Florida, Van Winkle released his debut album, Hooked, in 1989 on Ichiban Records, before signing to SBK Records, who released a reformatted version of the album under the title To the Extreme.

SBK promoted Van Winkle with a pop music-based image and published false biographical information in promotional materials and a biography attributed to Van Winkle. Van Winkle's single, "Ice Ice Baby" was the first hip hop single to top the Billboard charts, and has been credited for helping diversify hip hop by introducing it to a mainstream, white audience.

Further albums by Van Winkle, including Hard to Swallow, Bi-Polar and Platinum Underground, featured a less mainstream, rock-oriented sound, and did not chart. He performed at the Gathering in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2009. According to Van Winkle, "Insane Clown Posse is one of my favorites. I’m a Juggalo for life!"[1]


Early life and careerEdit

Robert Matthew Van Winkle was born on October 31, 1967 in Dallas, Texas, and raised in South Florida.[2][3] Van Winkle's stepfather was a car salesman.[4] Between the ages of 13 and 14, Van Winkle practiced breakdancing, which led to Van Winkle's African American friends calling him "Vanilla Ice". Although Van Winkle disliked the nickname, they continued to refer to him by the name, and Van Winkle began to rap as Vanilla Ice.[5][6] Van Winkle wrote "Ice Ice Baby" at the age of 16, basing its lyrics upon the South Florida area in which he was raised.[3] The lyrics describe a drive-by shooting and Van Winkle's rhyming skills.[7]

While still in high school, Van Winkle, with various DJs, including D-Shay, Earthquake, and Rod J,[4] performed for entirely African American audiences, and attempted to gain a recording contract between 1985 and 1986.[4] Earthquake became Van Winkle's DJ after Earthquake beat up D-Shay.[4] In 1989, Van Winkle signed to Ichiban Records, and released his debut album, Hooked.[8] "Play That Funky Music" was released as the album's first single, with "Ice Ice Baby" appearing as the B-side.[9][10] When a disc jockey played "Ice Ice Baby" instead of the single's A-side, the song gained more success than "Play That Funky Music".[9] Van Winkle's manager, Tommy Quon, contributed to the production of a music video for "Ice Ice Baby",[11][12] which received heavy airplay by The Box, increasing public interest in the song.[13] Van Winkle later opened for EPMD, Ice-T, Stetsasonic and Sir Mix-A-Lot on the Stop the Violence Tour.[14][15]

Mainstream success (1990-1991)Edit

In 1990, Van Winkle signed to SBK Records, who reissued Hooked under the title To the Extreme. The reissue contained new artwork and music.[16] According to Van Winkle, SBK paid Van Winkle to adopt a more commercial appearance.[17][14] Van Winkle is quoted as saying that "They told me, we want you to wear these baggy pants because the young kids like it because the young kids like it and it's all glittery and polished and everything, and I said, 'Fuck no, I'm not wearin' this gay-ass shit,' and they said, 'Well here's a million dollars, man, will you do it?' And I said, 'Fuck yes.' And anybody would have done the same thing if they were given the same chance."[5] Van Winkle later regretted his business agreements with SBK.[4]

To the Extreme became the fastest selling hip hop album of all time,[18] peaking at #1 on the Billboard 200.[19] The album spent 16 weeks on the charts, and sold eleven million copies.[20] To the Extreme was the best selling hip hop album up until that time.[21] "Ice Ice Baby" has been credited for helping diversify hip hop by introducing it to a mainstream, white audience.[22] While on tour, Van Winkle found out that the label had instigated the publication of a book, Ice by Ice: The Vanilla Ice Story in His Own Words, written by Quon and attributed to Van Winkle, which detailed false biographical information, including claims that he had attended school with Luther Campbell, and that Van Winkle had grown up in the ghettos of Miami.[4] According to Van Winkle, "I was paid to have this label on it, 'authorized,' because there was like 6 or 7 books out before that says unauthorized right on the cover, meaning that it's bullshit right away. And so they paid me, I believe it was like $850,000 just to have that label and they printed the book. And it's full of shit. I read the book myself and I'm like 'God, how could you fucking do that to me?'"[4] After hiring investigators to find out who was involved in the book's publication, he found out that Quon and promoter Elaine Shock had been involved in publishing and promoting the fabricated biographical elements.[4]

Van Winkle's second major release was the live album Extremely Live. It peaked at #30 on the Billboard 200.[19] Van Winkle made an appearance in the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, and began filming Cool as Ice in April 1991.[23] The film opened in 393 theaters in the United States, grossing $638,000, ranking at #14 among the week's new releases.[24]

During this period, Van Winkle received criticism from other hip hop musicians. In 1991, 3rd Bass released a single called "Pop Goes the Weasel", comparing Van Winkle unfavorably to Elvis Presley. The song's music video featured Henry Rollins as Van Winkle, who is depicted as being assaulted by 3rd Bass.[25] Del tha Funkee Homosapien referred to Van Winkle as mocking hip hop in the lyrics of "Pissin' on Your Steps", which appeared on his 1991 debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here.[26] California rapper Mario "Chocolate" Johnson, an associate of record producer Suge Knight, claimed that he had written and produced "Ice Ice Baby", and had not received credit or royalties for the song.[27] Knight and two bodyguards arrived at The Palm in West Hollywood, where Van Winkle was eating. After shoving Van Winkle's bodyguards aside, Knight and his own bodyguards sat down in front of Van Winkle, staring at him before finally asking "How you doin'?"[27] Similar incidents were repeated on several occasions before Knight showed up at Van Winkle's hotel suite on the fifteenth floor of the Bel Age Hotel, accompanied by Johnson and a member of the Oakland Raiders.[27] According to Van Winkle, Knight took him out on the balcony by himself, and implied that he would throw Van Winkle off unless he signed the rights to the song over to Knight.[28]

Stylistic changes (1994—1999)Edit

By 1994, Van Winkle became isolated from the public spotlight, and had grown dreadlocks and began smoking cannabis, releasing his second studio album, Mind Blowin on March 22, 1994. Van Winkle later began using ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.[4] During periods of heavy drug use, Van Winkle received many tattoos from artist acquaintances. According to Van Winkle, "That was in my binge days. I didn't even realize how many I was getting".[29] Van Winkle attempted suicide with a heroin overdose.[30] After being revived, Van Winkle decided that it was time to change his lifestyle. As a symbol of his attempt to begin anew, he got a tattoo of a leaf on his stomach.[29]

In 1995, Van Winkle set up a recording studio in Miami, and joined a grunge band, Picking Scabs.[15] Van Winkle expressed an interest in performing hip hop-influenced rock music, but found that the band was unable to produce the sound he was looking for.[15] Van Winkle later developed a friendship with producer Ross Robinson, who had become known for producing albums by Deftones, Korn, Limp Bizkit and Sepultura. Robinson and Van Winkle shared an interest in motorcross racing.[15] According to Robinson, others had attempted to persuade him not to work with Van Winkle, because it was felt that it might hurt his reputation. Based on this advice, Robinson was encouraged to work with Van Winkle. In an interview, Robinson stated "It's the most punk-rock thing you could do."[31] Van Winkle's third studio album, Hard to Swallow, featured a darker sound and lyrics than Van Winkle's previous work.[32]

In 1999, the music video for "Ice Ice Baby" was "retired" on the MTV special 25 Lame, in which Van Winkle himself appeared to destroy the video's master tape. Given a baseball bat, Van Winkle ended up destroying the show's set.[33][34]

Independent releases (2000 onward)Edit


Vanilla Ice appearing at the Tex-Mex Grill in Baltimore, Maryland.

Having attracted a following outside of his former mainstream audience, Van Winkle began recording independently.[6] In May 2000, Van Winkle made an appearance at a wrestling match promoted by Juggalo Championship Wrestling, then known as Juggalo Championshit Wrestling, filling in for Insane Clown Posse member Joseph Utsler, who had been injured during a match.[35] It was reported that Insane Clown Posse would make an appearance on Van Winkle's next album, tentatively titled Bomb Tha System.[35] In October 2008, it was announced that Van Winkle's next album would be titled Skabz, and that Chuck D was confirmed to appear on the album.[36] According to Van Winkle, it was originally decided that Van Winkle would release a double album featuring a disc containing rock-oriented material and a disc of hip hop songs.[5]

In January 2001, Van Winkle was arrested by police in Davie, Florida for assaulting his wife. According to the criminal complaint, they got into an argument as they drove on Interstate 595, with Van Winkle allegedly pulling hair from her head. He pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct four months later, and was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend family therapy sessions.[37][38] In July 2001, Van Winkle performed at the second Gathering of the Juggalos.[39] On October 23, 2001, Skabz and Bomb Tha System were released as a single album, Bi-Polar.

From January to February 2004, Van Winkle appeared on the reality television series The Surreal Life.[6] In November 2004, Van Winkle's pet wallaroo, Bucky, and pet goat, Pancho, escaped from his Port St. Lucie, Florida home. After wandering around local streets for over a week, the animals were caught, and returned to Van Winkle. He had to pay a $220 fine for expired pet tags, and an undisclosed fine for the escape of the animals.[40] On August 2, 2005, Van Winkle released his fifth studio album, Platinum Underground. Van Winkle stated that the title of the album reflected the fact that he could maintain a fanbase without mainstream airplay.[6] Allmusic reviewer Rob Theakston panned the album, writing that it "has more bad spots in it than most".[41]

On April 10, 2008, Van Winkle was arrested in Palm Beach County on a battery charge for allegedly kicking and hitting Laura. He was released the following day after Laura declared that her husband had only pushed her. In court, the couple's neighbor, Frank Morales, stated that it was merely a verbal argument. According to the police report, Van Winkle had told police that his wife is bipolar and tends to get irrational and argumentative, despite being on medication. Van Winkle was ordered by a Florida court to stay away from his wife following his arrest, and to only communicate with his children only if Morales accompanied him. The judge told Van Winkle that he could only contact his wife via telephone.[42][43] On April 29, 2008, Van Winkle's lawyers, Bradford Cohen and Joseph LoRusso, were able to get the case dropped after providing the state attorney with evidence that conflicted with what was originally reported.[44]

In September 2008, Van Winkle signed to Cleopatra Records, recording the cover album Vanilla Ice Is Back! at the label's request.[45] The album was released on November 4, 2008, and contained covers of songs by Public Enemy, House of Pain, Bob Marley and Cypress Hill. On February 27, 2009, Van Winkle performed as part of a joint performance with MC Hammer in Orem, Utah.[46] Van Winkle will perform at the 2009 Gathering. In August 2009, Van Winkle announced on his official Twitter account that he had signed a contract with StandBy Records, who will release his sixth studio album, Yesterday Is History, Tomorrow Is A Mystery.[47]

Performance style and influencesEdit

Van Winkle's current live performances feature a mix of newer, rock-influenced material and old school hip hop.[6] Van Winkle performs with a live drummer and DJ,[48] and sometimes sprays his audience with bottled water.[49] Describing his performances, Van Winkle stated "It's high energy, stage diving, pyrotechnics, girls showing their breasts. It's crazy party atmosphere."[6] In promotion of Hard to Swallow, Van Winkle toured with a seven-piece live band which included bassist Scott Shriner.[50] The band opened with rock-oriented material from Hard to Swallow and concluded with older hip hop songs.[51]

Van Winkle stated that his musical style was influenced by underground music, rather than mainstream music, and that his influences included hip hop and funk artists such as Funkadelic, Rick James and Parliament.[6] Van Winkle also stated that he enjoys Rage Against the Machine, Slipknot and System of a Down.[6] Van Winkle sometimes plays bass, drums and keyboards on studio recordings.[5] Rapper G-Child, best known for her appearance on ego trip's The (White) Rapper Show, has credited Van Winkle as being a major influence on her work.[52] After meeting Van Winkle in 2000, G-Child performed freestyle raps at six of Van Winkle's performances, and opened for him four times.[52]

Band membersEdit

  • DJ Dirty Chopstix — turntables and background vocals
  • Clint Barlow — drums
  • DJ DP - turntables and background vocals



Year Film Role Other notes
1991 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze Himself
Cool as Ice John 'Johnny' Van Owen
2002 The New Guy Music Store Employee
2005 The Helix...Loaded Theo
2009 Big Money Rustlas


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External linksEdit

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