Brew at the Zoo

Vanilla Ice on Almost Dying, Joining the Juggalos, and "Living the American Dream"

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Born in 1967, Van Winkle grew up the son of divorced parents, shuttling from Dallas to Miami and back. He rode dirt bikes. He hung out at the shopping center. He studied break-dancing videos. He didn't listen to rock and pop. He preferred hip-hop and funk. But his mother scoffed, "White kids don't rap."

Like any teen, though, Rob ignored mom, practicing his "poetry-writing skills," he says, "and lyrical flow" between biking sessions and trips to the mall.

"I was only 16 when I wrote 'Ice, Ice Baby,'" Van Winkle points out. "And before that song, I was a motocrosser. So I partied, but I didn't party, meaning I didn't do drugs and I didn't even drink, because I was training.

"But I was really hyper and I liked to dance," he laughs. "And I would go break-dancing, make 40 bucks a day, chase the girls, see a movie, and still have some change left over. That's a lot of cash when you're 14 years old. And I was hustlin'."

By the time that he was halfway through high school, Rob went from busting moves for money to freestyling on the mic for fun. But "like always," he shrugs, "my only plan of attack was no plan." He wasn't working on a demo. He wasn't dreaming of a record deal. He was just rapping for the hell of it.

"I'd go and battle kids from other neighborhoods at these underage parties," Van Winkle recalls. "And I never thought that I'd go on to do anything with rap. It was just what I was doing at the time. But then I became good at it.

"So every day, I'd skip lunch at school to jump in my buddy's Volkswagen van and we'd crack on each other's mama," he cackles. "It was all about yo' mama jokes. And if I got demolished that day, I'd have to go home and think up something for the next day.

"Then we got into Egyptian Lover and picked up 2 Live Crew, wondering, How can they cuss like that on a record? But that was always the great thing about music -- there were no limits.

"And you know, I'm not some white guy that does hip-hop, because music doesn't recognize color. People who compare me and Eminem are just small-minded."

Even 25 years after he was derided as an albino MC Hammer and mocked for his parachute pants, Van Winkle's voice still crackles with anger when he thinks about the petty critics, the backbiters, the naysayers who dismissed him as that ridiculous cracker who raps. Somewhat ironically, though, the teenage Rob became known as Vanilla Ice precisely because he was the lone Caucasian kid in his crew.

"It was a break-dancing nickname. I hated it. And it was really 'Vanilla,' because all my friends in Dallas were black or Mexican and I was the only white guy on the scene.

"Anyway," he sighs with a snicker, "I told them, 'Stop callin' me that! Why you callin' me that!' But since it irritated me, they just kept goin' and it stuck.

"Then, because I had a move called ice, all my boys were like, 'Yo, Vanilla! Do that ice! Do that ice!' So it turned into Vanilla Ice. And now I love it."

See also: Miami Booty Bass: Ten Best Acts of All Time

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S. Pajot