Somewhere in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Lake Worth, sledgehammering his way through dusty concrete, a pop-culture icon recognized the world over struggles with his friends to meet a renovation deadline.
“I did 'Ice Ice Baby' when I was 16 years old,” the rapper turned reality-TV renovator says. “If you would have asked me what I was going to be doing another 16 to 20 years down the line, I would have never guessed construction — but it goes to show you: Expect the unexpected; get in where you fit in. I found another passion, and I haven't stopped since.”
Such is the philosophy of Rob Van Wrinkle, better-known to fans and haters alike as Vanilla Ice. He found success as a kid in the hip-hop world when rap music wasn't supposed to sell more than a few thousand copies. He gained the admiration of his peers and heroes along with the ire of an industry, and his roller-coaster journey through life has been as hard as it's been fortunate. But four decades and a million self-reinventions have finally brought him to a joyous place: the sixth season of his show on the DIY Network, The Vanilla Ice Project.
“I believe that yesterday's history and tomorrow's a mystery,” he says. “You don't take life too serious, and you don't take yourself too serious. You can't go back and change anything negative that's happened to you, and you can't go worrying about tomorrow because it hasn't happened yet. Don't watch too much CNN, stretch out, and enjoy life. Just keep it simple.”
The self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” knows his past is the foundation of his present. He's lived more than a few average lifetimes, more than he ever could have dreamed back when he was just a teen reading Edgar Allan Poe.
“It's amazing how you make a song and it becomes a part of pop culture."
Photo by George Martinez
“Poetry is one of the greatest things ever, and I fell in love with it at a young age,” he remembers. “I've got a little library at home, and I sit down and read it at any time. I'm totally entertained by poetry, and music is poetry.”
His word obsession reached new heights when he saw the films The Breaks and Beat Street for the first time. Inspired by the moves on screen, he hauled a bunch of mirrors into his house and taught himself a new swag. As a teen, he spent weekends breakdancing in front of malls for pizza and movie money, chasing girls in the process. That hobby turned to battling and rapping and eventually landed him on the same stage as Ice T and Sir Mix-a-Lot.
“[My friends at school] didn't believe me. They were like, 'Yeah right.' I said, 'Get there early,” he laughs.
“They didn't pay me or nothing, but I was so happy. I'm busting off, I'm doing my thing, and I see Ice T and Chuck D from Public Enemy. They were both like, 'Damn, this white boy can dance.' I was so intimidated.”
His first taste of fame inspired him to get in the studio and rep A1A on “Ice Ice Baby.” The street would go on to become a world-famous tourist destination thanks to Ice's shoutout in the second verse of the hit single. The song and the album would sell 15 million copies worldwide.
“It's amazing how you make a song and it becomes a part of pop culture,” Ice says. “When the music comes on, it brings back all the memories of where you were at. If you play 'Ice Ice Baby' right now, you can probably think about who you were dating in high school or what you were doing, what kind of clothes you were wearing.”
The sudden success took him on a whirlwind ride famously publicized for all the good and bad it did him. On one hand, he was king of the world, but on the other, he was a target of lawsuits and ridicule. He made millions of dollars but lived recklessly. When the dust began to clear, it took him a few years more to finally come down.
“I had a weekend that lasted a few years,” he says. “I had to figure out that this is an artificial life. All this entertainment — the red carpets, the paparazzi, the fans — it's not real, [but] inside there's a real person here. I [had] to figure out, once this snow globe that was shaken up settled, what was my purpose in life and what's my meaning?”
Some of that struggle was broadcast to audiences across the country when he starred in VH1 reality series The Surreal Life, but friends and family have stuck by him, and today, he's a more fulfilled human being. He's a father of two and a three-time motocross racing champion. He brought his 23 years of experience as a house flipper to the forefront and has enjoyed six successful seasons of The Vanilla Ice Project on the DIY network.
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He still finds time for music when he can. He'll return to the Miami stage as part of the Legends of Hip Hop concert, featuring fellow classic '90s icons 2LiveCrew, Salt N Peppa, Rob Bass, and more.
“To get up on stage with all these legends is just amazeballs,” he says. “It's going to be an epic night to remember... We're going to bring it back to the old school.”
Legends of the Old School with Vanilla Ice, Salt N Peppa, Coolio, 2 Live Crew, and more. 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 20, at BankUnited Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-8686; bankunitedcenter.com. Tickets cost $15 to $100 plus fees via Ticketmaster.com.