Ice, Ice Baby

“I just want to go back to the ’90s,” said Vanilla Ice, the rapper.

It was a Thursday morning, two weeks after he had performed at the Palladium Times Square in New York City. And after blowing off one interview altogether and showing up 15 minutes late to this one, Vanilla ice finally got on the phone through his publicist.

He began by explaining that he’s been super-busy. He was in a car on his way to do voice-overs for a home makeover TV show, “Vanilla Ice Home Show,” that is being shopped around. Then he had to pick up his 4-year-old daughter from school.

“She won’t let me sit down,” said Vanilla Ice, 54, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle. “I feel like I am in constant Zumba classes with her every day because she’ll listen to, ‘You’ve got to move it, move it,’ and make me dance.”

Three decades after he hijacked teenage pop culture as a “white boy rapper” with a zigzag haircut and break-dancing movies — and an appearance in a Ninja Turtles movie — Vanilla Ice making a run for relevancy again.

This summer, he has been the headlining act in the “I Love ’90s” national concert tour, which features other forgotten acts of that decade including Color Me Badd, Coolio and Tone Loc. He also performs at Collect-A-Con, a pop culture convention that draws tens of thousands, including a sizable number of Pokémon fans

In June he teamed up with Joyburst, an energy drink company in Toronto, on a new flavor: Vanilla Ice, naturally. Ads for the drink, which feature a boombox, gold chain and silver track suits, have started to appear online and elsewhere. And he is opening a brewery and pop-culture museum in Lake Worth Beach, Fla., where he lives.

“During the week I have to be a lousy adult, because I do construction, and not just for TV,” he said. “But during the weekend I am the oldest teenager in town.”

Below, in an edited interview, he muses on the decade he loves — and that loved him back — and talks about his current comeback.

On TikTok, where you are very active, you’ve gotten almost a million views on videos preaching to Gen Z-ers about why the ’90s were so much better than today. Why do you think they are listening?

The ’90s are infectious. The decade was so colorful with neon colors. Nothing was that serious. It was, “Let’s enjoy life, let’s make friends.” We had Beavis and Butt-Head, we had block parties, we had fanny packs. If you walk through the mall today, everyone is wearing items from the ’90s. Sneakers are going crazy. The checkerboard Vans, that is from the ’90s. It’s all back.

Why do you think the ’90s has such strong appeal?

The ’90s was the last of the great decades, because after that, computers killed the world. We were excited about things like floppy disks. Now there are so many channels that divide everybody and try to control your thoughts. In the ’90s they reported the news. It wasn’t this side or that side. I have fans on every side of everything, and I try to embrace it all.

You performed at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve in 2020, to a maskless crowd during a height of the pandemic. How is that not political?

I live in Palm Beach, that place is legendary. The architecture was unbelievable. You should have seen Mayor Giuliani dancing. And Don Jr., he was going bananas. He knows every word to every song.

But by performing there, weren’t you taking a side?

Heck no. The people who get it, just get it. We are all neighbors here, man. Don’t panic because my hairdo is different from yours.

Who goes to your shows?

It’s a very young crowd, and I see college kids, which is the hardest crowd to get. They might get introduced through their parents, but I think more find me through my Adam Sandler movies. I also have the Ninja Turtle connection, which always keeps me young. Some come dressed as turtles. The soccer moms, the 35- and 40-year-olds, also show up. They get babysitters and they come dressed up, and they have a night. I can tell they are really reliving high school.

Tell me about your pop-culture museum.

It’s four floors. On the bottom will be a speakeasy with a piano player. I am mimicking the one from “Titanic — when people see it, they will see Leo. There is also going to be a brewery, and seven celebrities are making beer along with the brew master. I can’t say who they are, but they are all super-iconic celebrities who we all know. The rest will be a collector’s heaven. There will be rare stuff, like Ninja Turtle cereal bowls, or things that Muhammad Ali owned.

What keeps you going?

I know it sounds cheesy, but I get oxygen through vegetables. I have this blood type, O negative, that is rarely rare, and I have to keep my body healthy, so I’ve been vegetarian for 19 years. I do lots of salads, and I learned how to drink smoothies. My favorite is Indian food. There are full vegan Indian restaurants all around me.

But also, it’s good that I have young fans. I use their energy to keep me young, keep me moving, and keep my pep in my step.

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