By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
"Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know.
Turn off the lights, and I'll glow."
It's just before 8 a.m. on a recent Friday at Mom's Kitchen, a country-style breakfast joint in Wellington, a wealthy suburb west of Palm Beach. In walks a six-foot-tall, 42-year-old man in cargo shorts, a navy-blue hoodie, and a black ball cap with the flat brim nudged ever so carefully to the side. Tattoos cover his body and hands, and his hair — once a tall, creamy-blond pompadour — is now dark, cropped short. He takes a seat next to a bearded man at the counter, his back to most of the restaurant. Regulars barely notice him. Strangers stare for a moment before recognizing him, their eyes tracing the familiar broad shoulders, the staunch jaw, the glowing white teeth. To the staff here, he's "Rob." But to most of the world, he will forever be known by one moniker: Vanilla Ice.
"'Morning, Rob," a smiling waitress says. "Know what you want today?"
He does: orange juice, coffee, eggs with extra hot sauce, and hash browns. "No meat," he reminds her. These days, Rob is a vegetarian.
Soon, three of his buddies arrive. Over breakfast, Rob tells them about getting stopped by a police officer the previous day.
"I was only going maybe ten over when he got me," he says. "He's asking me why I'm in such a rush. 'What's the emergency?' That kind of stuff. And he asks me for my license and registration. I pull it out, and he takes one look at it. He goes, 'You're Vanilla Ice!' I'm like, 'Yes, sir.' He's like, 'All right, well you drive carefully, and have a good day.'" His buddies chuckle.
On this typical busy day, Rob will star in a photo shoot, go to his mechanic's shop to check on his vintage '67 Cadillac, feed his pet wallaroo, and take his wife and daughters up to a weekly car show. But before all of that, he must jump a motorcycle over a monster truck full of people — part of a morning-radio stunt.
The group pays for breakfast (Rob pulls out a wad of cash with hundred-dollar bills poking out, but one of his friends is a second quicker and gives the waitress a credit card) and then caravans down Okeechobee Boulevard to a small, private dirt-bike track. Rob is standing in the mud behind his black Escalade, changing into his motocross suit when his wife, Laura, arrives in her Mercedes carrying their miniature poodle, Teddy.
As Rob takes a few practice jumps on the bike, a swarm of people from a local Top 40 radio station (WiLD 95.5) arrives at the track. A morning-show DJ and eight other loud young men hop up into the bed of a jacked-up truck. Most are carrying cans of Bud Light. One man is dressed as Abraham Lincoln ("Drinkin' Lincoln," he says. "Great to meet ya!")
Rob gives a thumbs-up and revs the engine until it sounds like crackling thunder. Then he guns it. He rockets up a ten-foot dirt hill and into the air. He clears the cab of the truck, sprinkling bits of mud over the screaming drunks. He twists the handlebars midair for the cameras. Then he lands hard on the top of the next hill. The impact rattles his entire body, though he plays it off. Everyone cheers.
Afterward, taking off his pads and helmet, Rob admits the last landing stung like a bitch. In many ways, the jump is a metaphor for his life: the meteoric rise, the brief time on top of the world, and the hard, awkward landing. Now, though, he's grinning.
"I'm definitely going to feel that tomorrow," he says. "But when you feel the pain, that's how you remember you had a good time."
Remember what the world was like in 1990. Before Vanilla Ice, radio airwaves were dominated by Phil Collins, Wilson Phillips, Sinéad O'Connor, New Kids on the Block, and a spattering of hair bands whose sole existence seemed to be aerosol distribution. Maybe it was the daring shiny suits, the fascinating balloon pants. Maybe it was the novelty of a white rapper. Maybe it was the hard-to-ignore swagger. Or maybe it all came down to that irresistible, unshakable, deviously catchy sound:
If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it
Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it
Ding-ding-ding ding-a ding-ding
Ding-ding-ding ding-a ding-ding dink.
Whatever the reason, within days of its release, "Ice Ice Baby" gripped America tightly, unleashing a wave of consumption like no song before or since. The single was spun hourly on radio stations from coast to coast. The video played at least that often. Cars with neon-lit underbellies and hydraulics blasted the tune in high school parking lots. Teenage boys danced across pep rallies, one hand behind the head, elbow out, the other hand grabbing a foot. A generation of suburbanites was captivated.
Of course, the phenomenon was short-lived. In just over a year, Ice was out of the spotlight, replaced by darker, ultraserious acts such as Nirvana. The feel-good dance-along sounds soon gave way to Tupac Shakur and gangsta rap. Vanilla Ice became America's favorite joke, mocked as a symbol of the silly extravagance and neon sensibilities of the late '80s and early '90s.