Ice Ice Maybe

A decade after Vanilla Ice melted down, he's back with the man who made him

He insists his is a music-biz cautionary tale; he refers to himself as "an ambassador of the fucking, piece-of-shit music industry." He won the lottery, then tossed the ticket. Or maybe it tossed him. Ice is nothing but contradictions, a mixed signal. He likes to say humility is his company, that he's been humbled, shamed. But he also demands his piece of music history, to be recognized in the same breath as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, his ex-squeeze Madonna.

Yet for all his cockiness--his arrogance, if you must, and you must--and for all his talk about not giving a damn about ever winding up on radio or in the arenas again, one gets the sense that Ice does want to reclaim a slice of the pie, however small. That's why he's on the road plugging Bi-Polar, even though multinational BMG, which distributed the disc, considers it less a release than a rumor. And, more important, it's why he's back in the care of the very man who made him and made him over, only to get tossed from the tour bus just as things were getting good before going very, very bad.

The man allowing access into the inner sanctum is the last man anyone ever expected to see again working alongside Ice. Tommy Quon was there when the kid topped the pops and popped the tops of those who loathed the white boy for making mad millions in black face. But Quon was long ago banished from the Ice empire, fired when both were still in ascension--Ice as the best-selling rap artist in history, Quon as the manager who discovered and delivered him. Up until two years ago, they hadn't spoken since September 1991 and never thought they would talk again. Too much damage had been done then, and too much baggage had accrued since. Ice blamed Quon for the bad without thanking him for the good. And Quon took it, even as his own empire crumbled.

Mind-blowin' he's around at all: Vanilla Ice in repose in 1994, the year he attempted suicide
Visual Army/Scott Burnworth
Mind-blowin' he's around at all: Vanilla Ice in repose in 1994, the year he attempted suicide

In the grand scheme of things, the reunion of Vanilla Ice and Tommy Quon barely registers; it's a shower in a desert, an earthquake on Pluto. But to those who've followed Ice's career at all in recent years--or just tuned in to watch VH1's Behind the Music about Ice, among the highest-rated in that show's history--it would seem inexplicable, as likely as Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat sitting down for a nosh of bagels and lox.

Van Winkle spent almost the entirety of the 1990s blaming Quon for both his success and his downfall, for manufacturing his image (the baggy pants, the Gaultier shirt, the flat-top fade, the gold chains meant to dazzle little white girls) and his past. Van Winkle has always insisted it was Quon, not he, who fabricated the Ice mythology--the stories about growing up dirt-poor in Miami, about attending the same high school as 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell, about getting stabbed by rival gangstas. Though Van Winkle would have no problem recounting those tall tales to journalists in 1990 and letting Morrow/Avon publish his "autobiography" Ice by Ice in 1991, he would later insist he had nothing at all to do with the lying, that he was actually out of the country when the book was published and that all of it was solely Quon's idea and execution. "And that's why Tommy Quon's not my manager anymore," he said in 1998, spitting out his then-former manager's name as though it were an epithet.

Yet here they are a mere four years later, once more riding the tour bus from gig to gig. The size of the venues and crowds isn't the same. The arenas have shrunk down to the size of clubs; the tens of thousands have thinned to a few hundred. The little girls have grown up, and what few women remain in the audience dress like Britney Spears' backup strippers--bare midriffs, hip-huggers, belly rings. Mostly, it's dudes who pump their fists to Ice's rawk, who don't feel guilty shouting along to "Too Cold," his nü-metal version of "Ice Ice Baby" that appeared on 1998's Hard to Swallow.

And the album sales are a fraction of what they once were: Where To the Extremetopped the Billboard charts on November 10, 1990, and went on to sell some 15 million copies, Bi-Polar, which was released on the tiny Liquid 8 imprint, has moved only 10,645 copies since its release on October 23--or a little more than double the back-catalog sales of To the Extreme since the beginning of this year. (According to SoundScan, 4,356 copies of Ice's debut have been sold in 2002.) Still, sales of Bi-Polar are "not bad...for Vanilla Ice," says one BMG exec. "That's pretty respectable. Seriously." Especially when you consider that Liquid 8 did almost no promotion for the album.

Quon and Ice are together again for reasons personal and practical--because, maybe, they had no other options than to once more chain themselves to each other and head out for the open road. They're each other's last, best hopes of recapturing just a bit of the spark and magic they created more than a decade ago, when they made each other, and made each other filthy rich.

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