A deep dive into the lyrics, nuances and backstory of one of the most iconic ’90s songs.
On Sunday, I was at a bar that played Ice Ice Baby. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit this, but that was once the big song in my life. It came out when I was in sixth grade — so right as I was forming my first musical opinions. I owned Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme album. My first concert was actually seeing Vanilla Ice in Cleveland. That is the truth.
In the past 21 years, as Ice Ice Baby plays, everyone always raps along. But that’s on autopilot. For some reason, this time, I actually found myself listening to the lyrics — and realizing what I was saying. And it was primarily jibberish. That experience sent me down an Ice Ice Baby rabbit hole… which brings us to this.
Here are 11 answers to deep questions about Vanilla Ice’s legendary Ice Ice Baby. Word to both of your parents…
1 | Did he steal the melody from “Under Pressure”?
Absolutely. At first, he tried to deny it. There’s a great interview — that, inexplicably, isn’t on YouTube or anywhere else online — where Vanilla tries to explain the songs are different because he added a note. He even sings little bits of both songs to prove it — but what he sings for each one sounds identical to the other.
Eventually Freddie Mercury and David Bowie sued Vanilla Ice. It never went to court — probably for the best, since having all three of those guys in court would’ve been some kind of amazing weirdness vortex that might’ve consumed us all. Vanilla settled, and now Mercury and Bowie get songwriting credits on Ice Ice Baby.
You read that right. Your beloved David Bowie has his name on Ice Ice Baby.
2 | How does a harpoon flow?
You mean besides daily and nightly? This is one of those “jibberish” lyrics I was talking about.
3 | Did kids (or their parents) notice Vanilla Ice was rapping about guns and cocaine?
As someone who knew every word to this song at age 11, I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of kids and saying… no, we had no idea we were rapping along and making references to guns and cocaine.
“Shay with a gauge and Vanilla with a nine / ready for the chumps on the wall / the chumps acting ill because they’re full of eight balls” meant absolutely nothing to us. Maybe we thought the chumps were playing pool. Or at least asking yes or no questions and then waiting to see how that little blue triangle inside of their eight balls responded.
4 | Why does he say “D-Shay” instead of “DJ” in the lyric “check out the hook while D-Shay revolves it”?
That’s a reference to D-Shay, one of his friends and DJs early in his career. D-Shay gets several — almost too many — shoutouts during the song (“Shay with the gauge” / “Shay plays on the fade”) but this one stands out because you’re expecting him to say “DJ” like he does in the previous verses. You can always tell just how big a Vanilla Ice fan someone was by whether they still remember when to switch from “DJ revolves it” to “D-Shay revolves it” when rapping along.
5 | What ever happened to D-Shay?
Apparently right before Ice Ice Baby hit big, another one of Vanilla Ice’s DJ friends (and the song’s co-writer) named Earthquake got into a physical fight with D-Shay. Everyone sided with Earthquake, including Vanilla Ice, so D-Shay stopped working with them. But the shoutouts still remained, keeping D-Shay eternally relevant. I searched quite a bit but couldn’t find any info on what D-Shay is up to today. I’m going to guess manager of a Jamba Juice.
6 | What are rockman lovers?
I don’t know. I searched and searched but couldn’t find a definitive answer. They have enough money to drive Lamborghinis, we know that. They’re jealous of Vanilla Ice, we know that. But I couldn’t find my Uber-niche Early ’90s White Rapper Slang-to-English dictionary as I was writing, so I can’t answer this one.
7 | Why did the song make Suge Knight want to kill him?
Suge Knight had his fingers in the Ice Ice Baby pot, although it’s not entirely clear how. Legend says that one of his employees claimed partial credit for writing it, so Suge took Vanilla Ice out onto a hotel balcony and implied that he’d throw him off if Vanilla didn’t pay up.
Vanilla ended up giving Suge a huge chunk of money — again, it’s not exactly clear why, and if this sounds like a mob protection racket, that might not be far off. And now, Vanilla regularly says in interviews he’s fine that he gave Suge millions of dollars because that launched Death Row Records which makes Vanilla partially responsible for artists like Snoop and Tupac. I’m not sure who comes off the worst in that whole story.
8 | Why doesn’t the video show any scenes from Miami?
The music video doesn’t show Miami because… it wasn’t filmed anywhere close to Miami. It was filmed in Dallas, 1,300 miles away, and had a budget of $8,000. After watching it, I’m not sure where about $6,000 of that went. It does show some of the worst blue screen removal to ever go public — this makes a local weather report look like 300.
9 | Why is Ice Ice Baby considered a monumental moment in hip-hop?
It’s hard to believe 21 years later, but before Ice Ice Baby, no hip-hop song had ever hit number one on the Billboard charts. Ice Ice Baby gets credit for bring rap more mainstream than ever.
Here’s a bit of trivia that generally gets left out, though. While it’s definitely the first number one hip-hop song, it’s the third number one to feature some amount of rapping (or, I guess, sustained rhythmic talking) — behind Blondie’s Rapture and Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls. All three features white people doing that rapping.
The first hip-hop song featuring black people rapping? Depends on your definition of hip-hop, but it’s either C + C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) in February 1991 or Kris Kross’s Jump in April 1992. Keeping in mind that Right Said Fred squeezed in between for yet another white “rapping” number one with I’m Too Sexy.
10 | What does “Yo, VIP” mean?
The song starts “Yo, VIP! Let’s kick it.” VIP was an abbreviation for the “Vanilla Ice Posse.” Which I think I was sadly a part of by going to his concert. I’m sure there was a 1-900 number to call too.
11 | Did he “borrow” the end from a black fraternity, or vice versa?
The Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity has a chant that goes “Ice ice baby, too cold, too cold.” It’s a bit ambiguous as to whether Vanilla Ice took that from the Alphas or vice versa — although it’s obvious which one everyone suspects is the case. And yes, I’m nerdy enough to think this is a complete “brrr, it’s cold in here, there must be some clovers/toros in the atmosphere” moment.