By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
"I was so young. I didn't know anything about the record industry. I just trusted these people knew what they were doing. For a while, it seemed like it was working. I made billions of dollars for these people."
The catapult into celebrity was surreal. He was on hundreds of magazine covers and talk shows. He went on the Arsenio Hall Show donning shaved eyebrows and a shimmering silver and green space suit with extra-wide shoulder pads. He had a celebrated cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, which he considers one of the coolest experiences of his career.
Next thing he knew, Rob had attracted the most famous woman in music. "I had Madonna stalking me," he says. "She's flying me up to Indiana to the set of her movie [A League of Their Own]. She's taking my shirt off, putting me in her book. [He's featured in her coffee-table picture book, Sex.] This is Madonna. I was just some kid. It really fucks with your head." They dated for eight months. "We would go out to the movies in these wigs," he says. "We'd go to restaurants in crazy, stupid disguises, and seriously nobody would know it was us." Out of respect for his wife, he doesn't like to talk about the superstar at length.
Despite the perks, Rob felt trapped, he says. "You hate it. You feel like a puppet. But you can't just quit. You look around you and there are 400 people who are supporting their families because of you. If you quit, they can't pay for their kids' college."
Every time he refused a proposal, someone would throw money at him, he says. "They'd say, 'Look, the big new thing in rap is slow songs. LL Cool J has a slow song. We want you to write a slow song.' I'd be like, 'I'm not gonna write a fucking slow song — are you kidding me?' And they'd be like, 'Here's a check for a million dollars.' So I sat down and wrote a slow song. It was a million dollars. I'd lick my mother's asshole for a million dollars."
Quon says that, at the time, the industry didn't use words like overexposure. "All publicity was considered good publicity," he recalls.
All told, "Ice Ice Baby" sold 40 million records. It remains the highest-selling rap song of all time. For a span of about 18 months, Rob was one of the most famous people in the country.
Then, the awkward landing.
News spread that the majority of Rob's bio — and Ice by Ice, the autobiography released by his label — was fictional. He did not grow up in a gang on the streets of Miami, for instance, or have more than 1,000 motocross trophies. Rob says he was paid $850,000 to allow an "authorized" label to be slapped on the cover and that Quon wrote the book.
Then came the lawsuits. He was sued by Queen and David Bowie for using their song without permission. He defended his beat in an infamous video clip — "Theirs goes ding-ding-ding dada ding-ding, and mine goes ding-ding-ding dada ding-ding dink" — but eventually paid them $4 million.
And there was the movie. Cool as Ice was written as a modern retelling of Rebel Without a Cause. The film starred Rob riding a motorcycle, courting a woman on a horse, and using the notorious line "Drop the zero and get with the hero." The week the movie came out, October 18, 1991, it was a pathetic 14th place at the box office. (A comedy troupe in Chicago now performs Cool as Ice as a stage show, using a tricycle as the motorcycle.)
There were other legendary tales of fame's shackles, including one that might have changed the course of music history. An associate of hip-hop mogul and felon Suge Knight claimed he was shorted a producing credit on "Ice Ice Baby." For weeks, Rob says, Knight and his bodyguards would eerily show up wherever Rob went. "They wouldn't say anything. They'd just stand there staring. This happened again and again at restaurants and clubs all over L.A." He says the whole thing culminated one day when Knight and his bodyguards confronted Rob in a hotel room in Hollywood, California. Knight asked Rob to step out on the balcony.
"There wasn't anybody dangling over the side, but they were definitely strong-arming me," he says. "But I signed it over, and that's how Suge Knight got the money to start Death Row records. In a way, there might not have been a Snoop or a Dr. Dre or a Tupac if not for that, so the whole thing is weird."
The entire rise and fall was over in no time. After To the Extreme sold 13 million copies in 1991, the follow-up album, Mind Blowin', released in 1994, sold fewer than 45,000 copies. America had turned the lights off on Vanilla Ice.
"I had a lot of anger at that time, resentment that this had been done to me," he says. "I made a lot of mistakes, but I was young. Honestly, there's no way I could have foreseen these things. Nobody could have."