Review Summary: Joint-rolling, head-banging Vanilla Ice? I was surprised, too.
I hate the kind of rap being constantly played on the radio these days. Some might blame the likes of today's snap-hyphy-crunking booty-swingers on the negative influence of pop music on hip-hop. But I happened to have got into hip-hop through immensely catchy pop hits of MC Hammer
and Vanilla Ice
. What I didn't know at the time was that Vanilla was not, in fact, a pop musician, but had been performing for black crowds in the early days of his career, opening for the likes of Public Enemy
. Vanilla--whose real name is Rob Van Winkle--was surprised when, after having signed to a major label, his audience changed from the largely-black faces he was used to performing in front of, to pimply-faced white teens.
After efforts to abandon his label and recapture his former audience failed, Van Winkle retired from hip-hop to concentrate on another one of his interests, rock music, playing in a Miami grunge band for several years, trying to find a way to capture a unique sound he had wanted to perform -- a fusion of punk, heavy metal and hip-hop. He eventually hooked up with Korn
producer Ross Robinson, who was able to help him develop the sound he was looking for. The result was 1998's Hard to Swallow
, an underrated "skate rock" effort with a dense groove-oriented rap fusion that is truly unique and will shock many listeners only familiar with that catchy, Queen
-fused hit. This is not a hip-hop album. This is a rock album.
"Living" opens up with a lean bassline and a nice, fat beat before kicking into its sludgy groove. Sharp, raw riffs and pounding rythms compliment the lyrics of "Scars", describing Rob's troubled childhood:
Whoever you are
Beat my mother down, all I see is scars
And memories - what about me?
Throw me through a window for watching tv
Where did I get this anger?
Where did I get this hate?
And where did I get my temper?
Now I’m gonna show my faith"
"*** Me" sees Rob snapping back at his critics ("Vanilla Ice sucks? Hope you got more *** than that."), while "Zig Zag Stories" is a trippy, stoned tribute to the sticky-icky. "Too Cold" successfully revisits Rob's biggest hit as a stomping metal anthem, "S.N.A.F.U." breezes along at a fast pace before Rob slows things down a bit for "A.D.D." It is appropriate that "Stompin' Through the Bayou" would take a horror movie theme, as who would show up on the album's final track, the funky hip-hop "Freestyle", but Insane Poetry
? Cyco's former group was the first "horrorcore" rap group, preceding similarly-themed efforts from Flatlinerz
. This appearance serves as a tribute to one of the most underrated underground groups out there, and is a fine conclusion to an entertaining rock album.
While many will be quick to dismiss this one because of its performer, I would strongly advise against being too judgmental. This album features a different style and many listeners should fine this one far more entertaining than Vanilla's previous efforts. Hard to Swallow
successfully proves that Rob Van Winkle is more than just "Ice Ice Baby".