Friday, June 1, 2001

Play This Funky Music, White Boys! Part 1: To The Extreme (by Shannon L. Grisso)

I know something about you.

It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter where you're from. It doesn't matter if you are out of touch with today's music scene. It doesn't even really matter if you are out of touch with reality, even. No matter your background; no matter your current situation; no matter whoever, whatever, whenever, wherever, whyever or however you are, I know for sure that you know who Vanilla Ice is.

I mean, let's face it - celebrities come and go, most just flickering in the public eye for their allotted fifteen minutes before they disappear. But every once in a while, a certain celeb comes along who so captivates all aspects of pop culture that they are instantly - and eternally - enshrined in our culture's collective unconscious. We as a society know such people, and that is how I know that you know Ice. We all know Vanilla Ice!

Or should I say, we all think we know Vanilla Ice? Because for all the people who know the man, a disappointing lack of people actually know anything about his art. So you may know Ice, but I'm guessing you don't know Ice, you know? And what better way to get to know a true artist, then by studying his art?

By taking a closer look at Vanilla Ice's music, I think you will be just as surprised as I was at some of the insights into his particularly singular personality. We'll start by studying his debut album, the appropriately titled "To the Extreme" (and I say appropriate because this album is quintessential, pure, 100%, extreme Ice!).

"To the Extreme" is actually Ice's 1990 major label 're-packaging' of "Hooked", an album he released earlier that same year on a minor label. We will study "Extreme" instead of "Hooked", though, because "Extreme" is basically cleaner, crisper remixes of all the songs on "Hooked". "Extreme" also features a few more tracks than "Hooked" had, and is therefore a more complete document. ("Hooked" does in fact have one song not on "Extreme", a pseudo-remake of the Stones' classic "Satisfaction", but it popped up later on Ice's live album, so don't you Ice completists fret!)

Ice, Ice, Baby

If you have never heard this song, I now know 2 more items about you: 1) you must be part of the generation after mine (I often forget I'm becoming an old bastard); and 2) you've apparently never heard the Queen/Bowie song, Under Pressure.

With a melody stolen directly from that classic, but with a liberal dose of Ice's own original 'tude (that's white boy gangsta talk for 'attitude', by the way), this song is pretty much the best way to start our study. It was a monstrous hit in its day, and is still rather fascinating listening today.

As for what it tells us about Ice, well, feast your eyes on these little tidbits:

Ice is radioactive
Yes, in this song he tells us that if you turn off the lights, he will give off a glow, and unless he's just got that beaming, pregnant shine, then I'm sticking with my first guess.

Ice prefers his fans to be brain dead
At one point, Ice informs the listener that he is "killing [our] brain like a poisonous mushroom." Although this sounds a bit frightening at first, I'm proof positive that it's an idle threat at best! I've been listening to Ice for years, but my brain's as good as ever (granted, my brain started as mush, but that's not the point here)!

Ice has psychic powers
In one verse he announces that he 'slices like a Ninja blade', a surprisingly prophetic glimpse at his future contribution to the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2" soundtrack. Impressive, to say the least; he's no phony like that Madame Cleo broad on TV.

Anyway, I could go on forever about this song. We'd better move on to track #2.

Yo Vanilla

This is not a song per se, just a chipmunk-sounding idiot saying "Yo Vanilla! Kick it one time, boy!"

That's it. It's a four second track, but it is noteworthy that this is Ice's first solo writing credit. Good job, Ice!

Stop That Train

There's a lot of weird stuff going on in this one. We do learn that Ice is a little afraid of kinky sex (he bemoans the fact that his 'crew' is not with him when a girl pulls out handcuffs and chains, a game Ice just don't play), but I feel this song raises more questions than it ultimately answers.

For instance, he tells us that the girl "moans and groans like she could take on the A-Team". I've heard lots of people groan (not too many women, unfortunately), and I think you really can sometimes interpret those groans to mean strange things, but I have never, EVER heard anyone groan like that! Perhaps the girl was imagining Ice was a member of the A-Team, which is to say she was fantasizing Ice was Mr. T.

But okay, I can chalk that one up to my lack of experience with groaning women, but later he says: "Back to the story of a one night stand/I thought I was strong, but she was He-Man."


"SHE was He-Man"? Did I hear that right?

There is one question I can answer, though. Towards the end of the song, Ice is in misery and regret about this crazy girl's bedroom antics, and he asks, "Why did I ever tell her to 'Pump it, hottie?'"

Simple, Ice. It's because you're such a gentleman.


This song basically reveals that Ice cannot respect any man who is pussy whipped. That very fact reveals to me that Ice did not have a significant other when he wrote this song, because we all know the only people who make fun of guys for being whipped are guys who don't have a girl at all.

On a more specific level, the one true highlight of this song comes when Vanilla takes his 'whipped' friend to the side to counsel him. His friend, whose voice reminds me of a slightly subdued Urkel, says he needs to buy a bunch of expensive stuff for his girl, and Ice gets so worried that he runs after his friend, from the middle of your stereo, to the right speaker, and then off in that direction. Cool!

I have two major problems with this track that I should address, however. First off, Ice's friend - you know, the weak 'whipped' boy - is named Randy, and his girl is named Candy.

Hell, Ice, relax! Randy's not 'hooked' on this girl, he's just pretending to be so that you'll have a convenient rhyme to open the song with!

And second, we all know that you're talking about Randy being pussy whipped, but when you explain it, you say Randy's "hooked on that S-S-S-Y."


Early in the song, Ice, you say, "You understand what I'm saying?" but aat this point in the song, I say, "Uh ... nope."

Life Is A Fantasy


Another wild tale of wildman Ice's wild night with a wild gal, and one that gives even more insight into what makes the Iceman tick. Granted, this one has its share of out and out nonsense that has me stumped ("... you know I flow as cold as an ice cube" - exactly what fluid are you referring to there, Ice?), but this answers many questions about what Ice must be like in bed.

We learn that Ice does not mind being objectified as a sex object ("Come on baby, and let me be your toy"); although we already know he's not kinky, this song reveals he's not only into that boring ol' missionary position exclusively ("Let's do it like a train, and I'll be the caboose" - a line which also reveals he's brushed up on his Freud, and makes me want to yell "All aboard!" for some strange reason); and he seems to have a good opinion of his sexual prowess ("... you know Vanilla is the best.")

Despite these enlightening glimpses of Ice, one aspect of this song really disappoints me. See, at one point Ice offers to tell us what it's like to make love on an inner tube, which is of course a question we've all pondered from time to time. Unfortunately, this is how he describes it: "Floatin' on water while splashin' waves on your body/Flowin' and goin'; now pump it, hottie."

Gee, thanks, Ice. Now I'm going to have to find out for myself what it's like! Dammit!

By the way, Ice, I think I can help you with something here. Towards the end of this song, when you're giving us a blow-by-blow account of your wild night, you tell us that the girl says "Ooh, ah, ooh, ah", and you go on to add that you're not sure what that means.

I don't know; kinda sounds like to me she could take on the whole A-Team, dontcha think?

Play That Funky Music

Go white boy, go white boy, go! Yes! This rather chipper track was also a hit single, and in addition to being fun listening, it is also very educational.

Ice really cops a 'tude in this one, and by doing so, we learn that he can make any fly girl wet (although I doubt he'd choose just any fly girl - she'd have to be a hottie, I'm thinking), he's not afraid of anyone (since he challenges everyone to battle him), and he apparently doesn't like Kid'n'Play too much (as he throws a dis' their way).

Despite the abundant 'tude on display here, this track does show glimpses of self-awareness. When he says "I control the stage/There's no dissin' here - I'm in my own phase" I think what he is telling us is that the Ice we're hearing is just one of many phases he will ultimately go through (and thus far we've also seen the bluntcentric phase of Ice with 1994's 'Mind Blowin' and the hardcore Adidas rocker of '98's 'Hard to Swallow'). I think this then was Ice's subversive way of warning us what we could expect in the future. He also exclaims at one point that "'89 was my time; '90 is my year!" This is meant to signal that 1990 was the year of his arrival on the scene, but since he refers to 1990 and 1990 only, with absolutely no mention of the future, I think perhaps even Ice realized that his fifteen minutes of fame were rapidly counting down. Remember my earlier gripe about some of Ice's forced rhymes? Well, I can't accuse the man of being a bad sport about it. In this song he admits, "I like my rhymes atrocious" and then further proves that point by rhyming it to "Supercalifragilistigexpialidocious." Brilliant!

However, Ice really drops the ball at one point when he makes fun of some random homeboy by accusing him of eating spaghetti with a spoon. This is quite possibly the strangest (not to mention weakest) dis I've ever heard. For one thing, it's kinda hard to eat spaghetti with a spoon, so I figure that's more an accomplishment than an insult to have that talent! Still, that's my only real beef with this song, and I agree with Ice's other advice throughout, so yes - I will, in fact, play this funky music 'til I die.


Although it's about one of Ice's favorite subjects, this song is filler material all the way. It's obvious that even Ice can't get into this one. What a wasted opportunity, too; I mean, you'd think this song would be all about how Ice is a better dancer than all these other sucka MC's, but the only time Ice cops a 'tude in this one is when he disses non-dancers by sneering "Unless of course, you can't hang" in a taunting tone.

He also shows some age discrimination when he promised to come to all our home towns so that "People under 40 [can] get down." He then shows audience participation discrimination, when he invites the listeners to shout out the names of their home towns. However, before we can shout out a goddamned thing, Ice starts yelling out the names of big cities, and a dubbed in 'audience' shouts out "Catch the groove" after each city is announced. Sure, it is audience participation, but not quite the audience participation Ice promised us!

The most perplexing lyric in this one comes as Ice describes his dance style as "Kickin' like the chicken that you just ate." Now, unless you like them raw, the chicken that you just ate was probably dead and cooked, not live and kickin'. Thus the chicken was probably just sitting there on your plate, not even moving. This of course sounds like a very boring dance, but one which people over 40 could probably manage too. I mean, not moving is a dance pretty near everybody can do, no matter what their age group, and this just makes Ice's age discrimination sound even less fair.

Go Ill

Okay, this is more like it! None of that time wastin', disc fillin' crap about youngsters dancing like dead poultry here! This is pure, funky, white boy rap at its very best, and I ain't ashamed to admit I like it! But "Go Ill" is more than just some funky sound to get down to; this is essential listening for all you Ice students.

In this track, Ice reveals quite a lot about himself, including (but not limited to):

  1. Ice invented his very own alphabet: According to Ice, his name is spelled with "The V, the A, the N, and the ILLA". The ILLA? That was never in my A-B-C's (unfortunately).
  2. Ice does not like 'loose' women: He says "If you're a ho, get off my lap!" to which I say, "Bravo, Ice! Don't give in to her low morals! (By the way, where'd the ho go? I got a lap too, you know...)"
  3. Ice does not need to swear like most of those other, dirty rappers: According to Ice, his "Rhymes are clean/There's no need to be ill." I really respect that attitude, in this day and age; I mean, shit! It'd be fucking tough to express yourself without getting a little 'ill' here and there! Then again, the name of this song is "Go Ill", so why say "There's no need to be ill"? Is going ill different then being ill? Hmm ... this stuff's complex.
  4. Ice likes real coffee: Toward the end of the song, he says "I like my coffee, but I can't stand Sanka." There really isn't much I can add to that one.
  5. Ice is a doctor: "I'm the rhyme doctor, always on call!" says Ice. And they say health care is a problem in this country? (On an interesting sidenote, Deezer D. and Kristen Minter, two of Ice's co-star's from his film, "Cool As Ice"(which the AFI left off their list of the 100 best movies ever, so to hell with them!), are regulars on the show "E.R.". So I'm thinking, why not a Vanilla guest spot? He could show up at the hospital as a consulting expert, a rhyme doctor come to help Noah Wylie get ill. Then, when Noah's ill, the other doctors could cure him! Yeah! What's that I smell? I think it's Mr. Emmy...)
  6. Ice kicks ass: He doesn't really say anything in this song specifically about this subject; I just wanted to point it out.

In other words, you just can't go wrong when you "Go Ill".

It's a Party

This song is about how when Ice grabs a mic and he's in the mood to dance, the whole world's a party. He makes one unfortunate reference right off the top, though, when he says he's "Sparklin' like a towering inferno". Is he saying he's some kind of a disaster? I also get a little scared when he admits "I'm in the mood to dance/I'm in the mood to prance." Okay - I'm all cool with Ice dancing - his dance style is like some kind of epileptic kung fu, so it rules - but prancing, Ice? I hear that and all of a sudden I see Ice primping and preening in front of a stand-up mirror, with a gaudy red feathered boa ... I shudder.

Another notable aspect of this song is his repeated insistence that his music is his "dope", which means Ice is in effect a 'pusher' of sorts - a pusher of music, not drugs. This makes a lot of sense to me, as I'm all strung out on Ice, and will go berserk if I haven't had a fix.

There are 2 other real disturbing moments in this one, though. At one point, Ice announces he's "into a new phase." Already? Geez, Ice, we know you like to re-invent yourself, but damn, man, your last phase wasn't even 15 minutes ago (back in "Play That Funky Music", if you were wondering). Plus, Ice also says "shit" in this song, which pretty much blows his whole "Rhymes are clean" vow right out of the water. And to think, Ice, we trusted you....

The Juice to Get Loose, Boy

Another one of those nine second, chipmunk sounding gangsta talking tracks, which pretty much just serves as an intro to the next track. With that in mind, if your dirty mind was dreaming up sexually connotative meanings for the 'juice' he's referring to, you were absolutely correct!

Ice Cold

Short of reprinting the entire song here, there's really no way to catalogue this song's many greatnesses, so trust me on this one. You need to hear this for yourself, but I'll do what I can.

This song is all about the Iceman's sexual prowess, which automatically qualifies it as one of the greatest songs ever recorded. And as far as getting to know who Ice really is, well, this is a treasure trove! We learn that Ice likes his women to beg and plead, that he'll never put a woman above him (unless you're referring to "riding his saddle", of course), that he is apparently a rapist (I'm not being mean here; Ice himself admits he's "robbing virgins of their virginity" and I don't know about you, but the choice of the word 'robbing' tells me a lot), that you can't trust your girl around Ice (he admits that he "freaked" my girl in the back of my car! My girl! Damn! Well, to be honest, I should have seen it coming ... Brandy always did like Ice; it's one of the reasons I loved her....), and he reiterates that he is not satisfied with straightforward, missionary position sex (since he says "I made you work 'till your butt got sore!").

Plus, the most shocking, jaw-droppingly astonishing, soiling yourself moment on the entire album comes in this song, when he follows up the "Robbin' virgins of their virginity" with "Like Robin Hood gave to the poor." Uh ... I don't know; I guess Ice gives the virginity of his robbery victims to poor ho's who need virginity again? Maybe? Oh, well, at least it's for a charitable cause....

Rosta Man

This is kind of a weird song, but I give it points because it actually sounds like Ice is acknowledging an influence, and I think that's big of him (especially since he claimed the melody to "Ice, Ice, Baby" was totally original....).

Now, I think the Rosta Man of the title is a sort of mentor to Ice, some rhythmic dude who showed Ice the basics of reggae rhyming so Ice could adapt it to his own hip hop style. I see it as an old kung-fu scenario, with Ice the student and the reggae dude his old, stern master. It's a pleasant enough tune, I suppose, although ultimately it sounds more like it's trying to be Blondie's "The Tide Is High" than Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come."

I guess since he slipped up with the four letter word during "It's a Party", Ice felt he should be extra special careful here, because at one point he leaves a sentence open-ended, and the only word I can think of that would fit is 'tits'. (The line goes: "Shake your arms and move your hips/All you females out there let me shake your -"

Other than that, it's a pretty unremarkable tune. The most perplexing line is "And just get down like you're making love/All you people who believe in God above!" That sounds like to me he's saying "Hey all you decent, God fearing folk! Go out and sin for me!" Then again, he says "like you're making love" and not telling them to actually go out and rut, so I guess it's okay after all.

I Love You

After a whole album full of thinly veiled misogyny - dissin' gals for being ho's while at the same time not wanting a good girl who would just waste his time, not to mention his admission that he'd never put a woman ahead of himself - we are treated to this lovely song, a slow, gentle, innocent, simple and optimistic love song.

In fact, it's so one sided in its innocent viewpoint that it just has to be bullshit, no matter who sings it! Of course, with Ice singing, it becomes a different kind of bullshit altogether; an awful, phony, embarrassing track (which I plan to serenade every girl I'm ever interested in with, but that's beside the point).

Luckily, the next - and final - track sets things to right again, and also wraps up this amazing album in a fittingly amazing way.

Havin' a Roni

I admit, I'm even whiter a white boy than Vanilla himself, but as far as can tell, 'Roni' is 'ghetto-lingo' for a female. However, it's like bad slang for a girl, in the way that the word 'chick' is used for a cool girl, but 'broad' is used for a bad girl. 'Roni' is ghetto for 'broad', then (so I guess I should call my ex, who Ice freaked in my car, a 'Roni').

Anyways, I'm guessing even Ice himself was pissed at how sappy "I Love You" sounded, so he came back stronger than ever with this track, a barely over a minute long song with no music, just Ice's human beat-box making seriously strange sounds, pausing now and then to sing "What it's like; Havin' a Roni!" before continuing on to more strange sounds. Even though there is a bit of a cheat here - Ice never actually describes or explains what it's like to have a roni, and I never freaked Brandy, so I'd kinda like to know - this song is guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

By the way, back when I was in college I knew a guy who could mimic all the sounds and beats and everything in this song. You may laugh at that, but he got all the chicks (probably even that Roni Brandy), so go figure.

And there we have it: "To The Extreme", one of the most amazing debut albums of its time. Or any time. I hope that this in-depth, track by track study has helped you along your Ice path, no matter where you find yourself on that path.

To all you Ice Virgins out there, I hope this has made you want to get that Vanilla Ice virginity robbed like Robin Hood.

To all you ex-fans who are ashamed to admit you ever liked him, I hope it reminded you why you liked him in the first place, and showed you that it's okay to come out the VIC (Vanilla Ice Closet).

To all you old time, way-back-when fans, I just wanna say word up, my brothers! You are not alone!

And to all you people who wonder if I'm serious about all this, or just having a laugh and the Ice-Man's expense, I tell you what: On October 31st of any year, you come on over to my house, where precisely at midnight, I throw my annual VIP (Vanilla Ice Party). We spin all the discs, watch the videos, read from the biographies and autobiography, watch the movie "Cool as Ice", and we have an all-out blast doing it.

And you tell me if I'm joking or not.

I'll be playing this funky music till I die....

Shannon L. Grisso is a freelance television computer graphics artist who lives in Boise, Idaho. His favorite color is red, and he has numerous allergies and personality disorders. He purchased his CD copy of "To the Extreme" at a store in Bozeman, Montana, and still swears it was the best 49 cents he ever spent. He has not had a date in over four years, and most nights finds himself feeling a little lonely. If invited back for a follow-up, Shannon's next article will cover Vanilla Ice's contributions to the world of cinema. Stay tuned....