I'd like to start my review out by getting the smartassery out of the way: Yes, "WTF" is the typical reaction to most people when they hear that Vanilla Ice is releasing a new album. (The title of this album actually stands for "Wisdom, Tenacity and Focus", but regardless.) People seem really desperate for Vanilla Ice to go away, for reasons I cannot fathomed. As far as I am concerned, the guy whose mother named him Rob Van Winkle is and always has been, a guy trying to have fun and make music. If you're a musician, isn't that what you try to do? If you're not, what exactly is your deal with the guy, anyway? Do you really need to spend your life predominately focused on something that you don't care for?
I've actually been waiting for this latest V-Ice release for quite a while. It was supposed to come out in 2009, then in 2010, and now turns up in 2011 on some label I've never heard of (Radium Records). The visual metaphor on the album cover, of Vanilla Ice stepping through a burning poster of the cover to his debut album To The Extreme
, is perfect. The contrast between that album and this release is astounding. This release is thoroughly modern, and strongly grounded in the stylings of the modern underground rap scene in its hip hop tracks. There's also a strong electro influence running throughout the material.
Kicking off the album is the electro-based "Turn It Up", which is very danceable, and banging. Ice's love of the darker side of the lyrical spectrum turns up on a couple of tracks here, "Nightmare Disco", which is an electro track with lyrics about sex and murder, and the semi-autobiographical "Born on Halloween" (which Ice was - October 31st is his real birthday). Loosely based on "This Is Halloween" from The Nightmare Before Christmas
, this is Halloween party music. It's catchy, with Ice throwing some clever horror movie metaphors about his rhyming skills ("Some call him Psycho, the Norman Bates of Hip Hop / Ladies call him Alfred 'cause they're all over his Hitchcock").
Live instrumentation is present here, but it's not metal like his Hard to Swallow
albums. Cowboy Troy
turns up on the guitar-backed country rap "Good Times", another standout track, there's an alt-rock song about the fickleness of fame ("Bought & Sold", which, despite being fairly weak, has a remix closing out the album), an acoustic guitar version of Ice's older song "Hooked", and a song in which Ice sings "Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be strippers", which is pretty funny.
This stands as Vanilla Ice's best album to date. You can unleash any one of these tracks upon an unsuspecting public and have them bobbing their head, or dancing without even knowing that it's Vanilla Ice. This album is the culmination of a long career of an artist who has honed his craft for a very long time and has tied down his approach to make exactly what he wants.
That being said, with all the strong material on this album, it's far from perfect. There's some weak tracks, like "Bought & Sold", as previously noted, and "Rockstar Party", which is extended from a song written for a television commercial. The longer version is kind of annoying, and it's the second song on the album. And there will always be people who make fun of Ice's lyrics, no matter how little thought goes into the criticism. The lyric "release the juice" on "Turn It Up" has already been criticized - even though it's a dance track and a reference to sweating on the dance floor is appropriate. Vanilla Ice has never been the greatest lyricist out there, but his lyrical content has never been excruciatingly painful that it ruined the merits of the overall songs, and he's always made fun, enjoyable albums. This album, in particular, is pretty solid lyrically, for a Vanilla Ice album.
The killjoys will say "no, music shouldn't be fun", the brainwashed will slam it because it's not popular, because it's cool to hate on Vanilla Ice. But pop music's sheep and pretentious hipsters won't change the fact that this guy paved the way for Eminem, and continues to make albums for his fans, which do fairly well independently with hardly any mainstream promotion, and the guy does it as a side gig when he's not renovating houses and selling real estate. Vanilla Ice is very talented and deserves more respect than he's ever gotten, but you can't please everyone, it seems.
For the dedicated ninjas and VIPs, this will be another must-own, for Ice's haters, it's another must-avoid. And the underground rapheads will anxiously await Ice's next disc, which should hopefully come sooner and without the executive meddling that has plagued much of his career, delaying releases and annoying his fans. This album may not contain a version of "Ice Ice Baby", but it has some good tracks. The best tracks on here are better than "Ice Ice Baby" ever was. Yes, I'll say that even though it may be blasphemy for some readers.