For the most part, the lyrics are a boastful rant about rocking a party, but there is a semblance of story starting with the line, "Rollin' in my 5.0." We hear about Vanilla rolling through Miami, checking out the lovely ladies when a shooting breaks out. Vanilla is armed (with his 9mm), but doesn't use it, instead hitting the gas and getting out of there. When the police show up, they ignore him ("They passed me up, confronted all the dope fiends").
Ice says that he wrote the lyrics in 30 minutes, and they the are based in fact. He told Entertainment Weekly in 2016: "The song tells you the story. It's me, with my top down, in my 5.0 Mustang, cruising down A1A Beachfront Avenue. It's a weekend experience that turned into an amazing song. It's timeless. I still love singing it, and it never gets old."
This samples the 1980 song "Under Pressure
" by Queen and David Bowie, but Vanilla Ice never got permission to use it. No lawsuit was filed, but it is likely that Vanilla Ice agreed to pay Queen and Bowie a settlement. According to industry insider Hans Ebert, Brian May of Queen first heard this song in a disco in Germany. He asked the DJ what it was, and learned that it was #1 in the US.
A producer for Death Row Records claimed that he wrote this song. Suge Knight, the head of the label and former football player, visited Vanilla Ice and convinced him to sign over the publishing rights to Death Row. It is rumored that part of the convincing involved hanging Vanilla Ice over a balcony by his ankles. Knight made a lot of money from those publishing rights, which went into Death Row Records and the development of artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac.
On the liner notes of the album, the composer credit is given to Vanilla Ice, Earthquake (his producer, Floyd Brown), and M. Smooth (collaborator Mario Johnson). They also thank MC Hammer, Ice T, Public Enemy, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Cash Money, EPMD, and 2 Live Crew, but there is not mention of Queen or David Bowie. However, Bowie and the members of Queen were later added as composers on the official credits.
When Ice raps about proceeding to "A1A, Beachfront Avenue," he's referring to the section of State Road A1A in South Beach, Miami where fast cars and beautiful people are found. "Beachfront Avenue" is the nickname for this section, which is officially Collins Avenue. It runs along the famous beaches in Miami and is very much a hot spot.
"Ice ice baby too cold, too cold" is a chant used by the black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha as seen in the 1988 Spike Lee movie School Daze.
Vanilla Ice's original bio, sent to music critics and other industry folks, was fake, claiming he was from Miami and went to high school with Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew. This bio stated that the chorus of this track was "a chant that's done by the Alpha fraternity." This acknowledgment was removed from all further press materials, which didn't help his standing in the black community.
Vanilla Ice was discovered by Tommy Quon, who owned the City Lights nightclub in Dallas. Quon surrounded him with a black backup crew (the VIP Posse) and hooked him up the the club DJ, Earthquake, who produced two sides of a single for Ice. Distributed by Quon's label Ultrax, the A-side was a cover of "Play That Funky Music
" by the disco band Wild Cherry, and the B-side was "Ice Ice Baby." A DJ named Darrell J on the Columbus, Georgia radio station WAGH flipped the single and played "Ice Ice Baby," which led to a record deal with SBK records. "Play that Funky Music" was released as the follow up, reaching #4 in the US. (Ice didn't credit that song's writer, Wild Cherry frontman Rob Parissi, who sued, collecting over $500,000 in royalties.)
This was the first single by a rapper to hit #1 in the US. It is not, however, the first #1 hit with a rap - Blondie earned that distinction with "Rapture
," which hit the top spot in 1981.
This was nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Rap Performance. The award went to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This
." It was only the second year a Grammy was given in the category, and the first was won by DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) for "Parents Just Don't Understand
." These choices didn't go over well among many in the rap community who felt they were awarding irrelevant songs that could hardly be considered rap; Public Enemy was nominated along with MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, and protested the show. Ten years later, attitudes changed and Eminem was a big winner at The Grammys.
At one point, SBK Records pulled the single to boost sales of the album, which went on to sell over 7 million copies.
Vanilla Ice (real name, Robert Van Winkle), claims he was not happy with the image the record company created for him, but he went along with it because they paid him so much money. After the song dropped off the charts, he became a bit of a joke, going through severe drug problems and depression as a result. In the late '90s he emerged as a hard-core artist, remaking "Ice Ice Baby" into a song called "Too Cold" on his 1998 album Hard To Swallow. In 2004, he appeared on the TV show The Surreal Life, where he shared a house with porn star Ron Jeremy, model Traci Bingham, and other sort-of-famous people.
Vanilla Ice was a top Jet Ski racer around the time this song came out.
When this went straight to #3 in the UK, it became the highest entry for a new act on that chart. In 1994 the Danish singer Whigfield went straight in at #1, making her the first artist to go directly to #1 in the UK with a debut single.
When this became a hit, it made "Under Pressure" more popular, as a lot of kids now recognized the tune. When Queen released their compilation album Classic Queen in 1992, they wrote in the liner notes: "In 1990 the bass and piano featured again on Vanilla Ice's number one single Ice Ice Baby."
Vanilla Ice has become a running joke, but at the time most people took him (sort of) seriously. The folks at the sketch comedy show In Living Color, however, jumped on the opportunity to ridicule him, putting Jim Carrey (the only white male member of the cast) in the role of Ice performing "White, White Baby." Sample lyric: "I take real rap and dupe it!"
M.C. Hammer and Milli Vanilli were also basted on the show long before most people saw the inherent comedy in their acts.
The duo Jedward had a huge UK with with their reworking of this song, which was titled "Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)
." Vanilla Ice featured on their version.
This song returned to the charts in 2010 when it hit #74 in a version by the Glee Cast, who sang it on the "Bad Reputation" episode of the show. Lead vocals on this one are by Matthew Morrison in the role of the teacher, Will Schuester.