December 10, 2015 by NowhereButPop
Despite being the most maligned and oft-ridiculed album this side of Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know It’s True, history has a hard time remembering just how much it initially enjoyed To the Extreme, the debut album of Vanilla Ice. It became the fastest selling hip-hop album of all time, spent 16 consecutive weeks at the #1 spot, and has been certified 7x platinum by the RIAA with over 15 million copies sold worldwide. Vanilla’s debut album was also the 20th highest selling album of the 1990s and helped to diversify hip-hop and rap music by introducing mainstream white America with a rapper that it could identify with a full 10 years before Eminem came onto the scene. Whatever controversies surrounded Vanilla Ice after his breakthrough, let it not be said that To the Extreme isn’t an enjoyable album.
The downfall of Vanilla Ice was that he wasn’t honest with the public. He never gave credit to Queen and David Bowie by acknowledging that “Ice, Ice Baby” samples “Under Pressure”, and he lied about his upbringing to make himself seem tougher and more streetwise than he actually was. It was disingenuous and it only served to make Vanilla seem like a fraud on both a musical and personal level. However, the only time that Vanilla appears disingenuous or insincere is on the album’s final tracks “Rasta Man”, where he tries to sound like a Rastafarian, and “I Love You”, a completely ill-begotten ballad that’s better suited for a Color Me Badd album. The final cut, is the outro “Havin’ a Roni”, the hip-hop equivalent of Guns N’ Roses’ “My World”, and the only real WTF moment on To the Extreme. Besides the last fifth of the album, every other song on To the Extreme is fun, entertaining, and enjoyable, and not the detestable, audio-syphilitic cringe-worthy laughingstock that it’s misconstrued as to this day.
Although not the best rapper, Vanilla is a surprisingly decent producer, overseeing the entire production process of To the Extreme. From the sampling of The Jackson 5, James Brown, and Wild Cherry, Vanilla mixes and matches these former hits to accentuate his own natural charisma. If nothing else, Vanilla Ice is an entertainer who on To the Extreme concerns himself with making sure everyone “catches the groove” as he so puts it on “Dancin’”, one of the highlights of the album. Maybe it’s because he isn’t a masterful rhymer like Kendrick Lamar, or as poetic a lyricist as Chuck D., or as intense as Eminem, but Vanilla sounds like a man who aspires to be great, as opposed to someone who is innately great. Listeners and viewers can hear the see the effort that Vanilla put into To the Extreme. That’s what made Vanilla Ice so charismatic—He always seemed like a regular person who just wanted to spread the gospel of hip-hop. There was never an agenda or political statement; it was always about introducing the joys of hip-hop to a widespread audience. Vanilla revered hip-hop so much that he saw himself more as a vehicle of its expansion, and never as its master.
“Ice, Ice Baby”, the most well known track on the album is the best track on To the Extreme, but it’s by no means the only memorable track. “Hooked” is a funky tune recounting the tale of a succubus and with its laid back funk, perfectly compliments the hyper “Ice, Ice Baby”. “Dancin’”, which samples The Jackson 5, makes listeners want to do just that, and “Go Ill” characterizes the album’s playful nature. Vanilla delivers his most spirited effort on “It’s a Party”, where he saves his best rhymes. As it stands, it even rivals the beloved “Ice, Ice Baby” in vibrancy. On “Stop That Train”, Vanilla reinvents a 60s hit for his own innovation machinations to remind listeners that he’s more than just a rapper.
Despite not being the best rapper, Vanilla somehow finds the right beats or songs to sample, as he does on “Ice, Ice Baby”, “Play That Funky Music” and “Dancin;”. If he wasn’t as astute of a producer, the entirety of the album would fall apart, but since Vanilla marries his lyrics with his beats and use of samples, he knows exactly where to put each word and how exactly to mix his beats to maximize the potency of his rhymes and delivery. And unlike modern rap songs which can feature upwards of six songwriters, Vanilla Ice co-wrote all of the 13 songs on To the Extreme, and is credited as the sole song-writer on seven of those tracks. Although he fabricated his background, to call Vanilla Ice a fraud as a musician is not only wrong, but blatantly ignorant of all the effort that he singlehandedly put into To the Extreme.
The novelty of a white rapper with decent rhyming skills rapping about the dance floor and a life he knew very little about was never going to last. But, what Vanilla Ice showed everyone was that anyone could be a rapper, even a middle-class white boy from Texas. There was a time when Vanilla was on top of the world. He had the hottest single and album and inspired the fluffed up, white-boy flat top that was popular at the time. Although he’s known just for “Ice, Ice Baby”…and then getting sued by Queen….and then almost being thrown off a building by Suge Knight, To the Extreme is proof that Vanilla had other quality offerings. For anyone who liked “Ice, Ice Baby”, there’ll be at least two other tracks on the album that listeners will be amused by. After spending the last 25 years treating Vanilla Ice as a fraud and using him as the butt end of jokes, it’s bad enough that everyone denies that they ever liked him. The least we can do is give his best album a chance.