To The Extreme introduced America and the world at large to the incomparable Vanilla Ice. Combining styles ranging from hip-hop, rock, street-smart rap, and jazz, Vanilla Ice paints an emotional tapestry that can only be described as To The Extreme. This legendary 1990 album sports many classic tracks such as Stop that Train, Play that Funky Music, Hooked, and Ice is Workin' It, but the most memorable cuts include the legendary anthem Ice Ice Baby and the essential rap classic Havin a Roni, which bookend the album. This album totals fifty seven minutes and thirty four seconds over fifteen tracks and was published by Capitol Records.
In 1988, the incomparable Robert Van Winkle was just another unknown, having a small following in the club scene around Dallas, Texas. He regularly performed at various African-American dance clubs in the area and released a few singles on his own in 1989. One of these singles featured the song Ice Ice Baby as an otherwise unnoted b-side, until one day in 1989 a radio station in the Dallas area accidentally played the wrong side of the single. The station's switchboard lit up like wildfire, and the song became a regular in that station's playlist.
In early 1990, the Iceman's local success caught the eye of the rap group Public Enemy, who wanted to sign them to their own label. Unfortunately, this was not to be as the label was stretched financially thin, so Vanilla's name and demo tape were passed on to Capitol Records who signed him on the spot and ushered him into the studio to record one of the landmark albums of the early 1990s.
The album opens with the extremely well-known anthem Ice Ice Baby (4:28), with a backbeat inspired by the classic David Bowie and Queen collaboration, Under Pressure. This song was a monstrous hit by anyone's account, and it reached the top of the singles chart in late 1990, the first rap single to top the charts in America. Its epic nature, comparable to such legendary tracks as Stairway to Heaven, Hey Jude or, perhaps more appropriately, Disco Duck, literally ruled the radio waves as Christmas 1990 rolled around.
The second track (Yo Vanilla (0:05)) is just a brief introduction to Stop That Train (4:28), the third single released from this hit-making album. This song, also featuring a catchy, danceable beat, is a tale of misbegotten love and sexual confusion.
Hooked (4:51) is the song that most Icefans point to when discussing Vanilla's street credibility. This was the a-side to the original single (with Ice Ice Baby being the b-side) that put Vanilla on the map. This song deals with addictions, both emotional and physical, and the pain that comes about when you tear yourself away from those addictions.
Ice Is Workin' It (4:36) is a bravado-filled and beat-heavy tale about Vanilla's romantic and social exploits. Set to a strong, catchy beat, this song proves once and for all who the true king of the dance floor is.
Vanilla gets more soulful on the sixth track, Life is a Fantasy (4:46), a much slower, heartfelt track that really shows off Robert Van Winkle's musical range. An excellent change of pace in the middle of a legendary album.
Vanilla's second monster single from this album is Play That Funky Music (4:44), a song that deals with the challenges of society and how the "funky music" can bring us all together. Again, Vanilla lays down the beats fast and furious here and teaches us all a lesson in how to be a top-notch lyricist.
Dancin' (5:00) is a straight-up dance track that perhaps provides the clearest example of Vanilla's skill at working the danceable beats. The next time you have a party, throw this masterful dance anthem into your rotation between Jump by Kriss Kross and Informer by Snow and watch the crowd start movin'!
Go Ill (4:57) and It's A Party (4:38) provide ten straight minutes of great danceable cuts. Vanilla's lyrical mastery isn't as evident here, but the beats are as amazing as always.
The skit Juice To Get Loose Boy (0:09) introduces what could have been another chart-topping single for Vanilla, the anthemic Ice Cold (4:04), where Vanilla tells the world that he is legit and that he is here to stay because, in fact, he is "ice cold."
Rasta Man (4:35) is a fun party number, but it doesn't have the emotional impact of, say, Ice Ice Baby. Fortunately, Vanilla's heartfelt balladry comes out on the fourteenth track, I Love You (5:04), in which the Iceman bares his inner soul for all of us to see.
Havin' A Roni (1:09) is a magnificent piece to close out the album, reminiscent of how Her Majesty closes out Abbey Road or how Work This provides an amazing close to MC Hammer's epic Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. It closes out the album on a positive note, letting the world know that Vanilla's party is going to keep on rollin'.
To this day, this album is often critically bashed by many. To this, one can only quote a single number: 17,000,000. That's how many copies this album has sold, a number that no other rap album has even approached.
If you enjoyed this epic classic from the early days of rap and r&b, I strongly recommend the classic Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em and 2 Legit 2 Quit by Ice's musical contemporary, MC Hammer, as well as Totally Krossed Out by the rap duo Kriss Kross. These albums also provide an excellent look at the state of rap music at the time, as well as provide some funky beats for you to lay down at your next party.