To The Extreme

Vanilla Ice

SBK Records, 1990

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/14/1999

Damn you, VH-1. Damn you for making me interested in an artist like Vanilla Ice by showing he's human, just like the rest of us.

If it hadn't been for your "Behind The Music" show featuring his career, I would have been happy enough with my critical drubbing of Hard To Swallow, and would never have had the inkling to check out anything else by Rob Van Winkle. But, no, you had to spark something in my brain that made me dig through my wife's tapes and grab her copy of To The Extreme, Ice's major-label debut and juggernaut to a brief flirtation with the high life.

Actually, I once was very familiar with this album. I had no choice; I was cabling with my father at his side job, and the owners of the building played that goddamn CD nonstop. (My father is not a man prone to violence, but I think even he was ready to see if a CD could fit up a certain body cavity.) After five hours of nothing but "Ice Ice Baby," I was ready to jump out the window... or at least I would have sent that boombox hurtling towards the pavement. (Insert sound effect of boombox falling: "Ice, ice, babbbbeeee.......".)

Now that I'm older and have achieved a more Zen-like nature, I could approach the album without breaking out the lead gloves and salad tongs. And - you're not going to believe what I'm about to say - but the album isn't as wretched as we all would like to believe. It's no masterpiece - far from it, in fact. But it does have some brief moments.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The whole schtick of Ice's act, of course, is that he's a white boy performing the rhymes that normally were not done by Caucasians. The problem is that Ice flaunts his whiteness, as evidenced in songs like "Play That Funky Music" (featuring the signature lick from the Wild Cherry hit of the same name). Okay, Ice, so you're white; big honkin' deal. Artists like Snow and 3rd Bass were white, and look where they've ended up without bragging about the color of their skin. (Hey, wait a minute... uh, scratch that last thought.)

The centerpiece is the mega-hit "Ice Ice Baby," which did more for overexposure than New Coke did for soft drinks. Looking back nine years after the song's glory days, it's not that bad, though there are early images of Ice's flirtation with a style of gangsta rap. I'll give him credit, though, he minimizes it, and he's not talking about "bitches" and "hoes" on To The Extreme.

That's not to say that Ice isn't thinking about things like sex; "Life Is A Fantasy" is a wet dream put to music... a tamer 2 Live Crew, if you will (if there is such a thing). It's a bit sophomoric; like I've always believed, if you're singing about how you're getting parallel all the time, chances are you're not gettin' much lovin'.

Where To The Extreme succeeds is as a party album. "Ice Ice Baby" is a song that is a mood lifter for your backyard jamboree (so long as the other guests don't hit you over the head with the turntable), while other tracks like "Dancin'" and "It's A Party" are better suited for the lighter moments of life than a rap album, no matter what its focus is.

But there are mistakes on To The Extreme - and, to Ice's defense, other groups were making the same mistakes around the same time. "I Love You" is a failed attempt at a soul track, while "Rosta Man" is a pitiful dip towards reggae - something 2 Live Crew was just as guilty of on As Nasty As They Wanna Be. I mean, c'mon, you're either rap or reggae.

If anything, To The Extreme could be seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure. I can stand "Ice Ice Baby" every once in a while, though I can't see myself tooling down the Tri-State with the windows down, head-bopping to this one a la A Night At The Roxbury. And although it's weird as hell, I can't help liking "Havin' A Roni" (someone wanna explain what this is supposed to mean?); it's a bizarre end to a disc spotlighting a bizarre career.

Chances are, if you were in your teens or early twenties in 1990, you've got a copy of To The Extreme floating around the living room. While it's not an album I would want to leave on the coffee table, it does have a few moments that showed talent that Ice had. Go ahead, dig it out and give it one more spin. It's as dangerous as dancing around in your underwear - and just as embarassing if you get caught.

Rating: C+

User Rating: C+


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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of SBK Records, and is used for informational purposes only.