’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Ice Ice Baby”
The twenty-third No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. This track is considered the first Hip-Hop song to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart, an accomplishment that’s downright infuriating to those who accuse Vanilla Ice of cultural appropriation and find his talent dubious. Vanilla Ice’s first release was “Play That Funky Music,” but “Ice Ice Baby,” the B-side on that single, gained greater attention and propelled him to No. 1. Subsequently, a re-release of “Play That Funky Music” peaked at No. 4, and a wretched follow-up, the embarrassing slow jam “I Love You,” stalled at No. 52. He then released a song called “Cool As Ice (Everybody Get Loose)” from the soundtrack to Cool As Ice, a critical and commercial failure he starred in. After “Cool As Ice” peaked at No. 81 in 1991, Vanilla Ice was never seen on the singles chart again, having suffered from an irreparably damaged reputation. He has continued to regularly release music that has been consistently unpopular.
“Ice Ice Baby” famously samples “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie, giving the track a smooth, relaxed, chilled-out vibe that makes it accessible and radio-friendly. The lyrics became very well-known and were easy to rap along with. Most people of age in 1990 know the lyrics, whether they were fans of the song or not.
Let’s give “Ice Ice Baby” a listen:
Even prior to the deterioration of Vanilla Ice’s credibility, “Ice Ice Baby” exhibited an unsettling mix of coolness and uncoolness. You never knew whether you liked it or hated it, and whether it was OK to like it or hate it out loud. We always hated it, and always said so freely. Over time, it’s grown to be a song people are OK liking in a facetious, tongue-in-cheek way. It now has enough retro appeal that its catchy qualities are more palatable even though it’s fundamentally cheesy.
This song was cool for an extremely short amount of time. After it expired, it was downright toxic, and came to represent many egregious cultural transgressions.
Does it hold up? That’s the million-dollar question. As one data point, note that the video has over 100 million views on YouTube, and a respectable Like-to-Dislike ratio. “Black Cat” by Janet Jackson, the song that preceded “Ice Ice Baby” at No. 1, has, as of this writing, received 2.4 million views. The No. 1 song that preceded “Black Cat,” “I Don’t Have The Heart” by James Ingram, a song we adore, doesn’t yet even have 1 million views, and it’s been up for six years. This is anecdotal evidence, but it supports the idea that “Ice Ice Baby” has an immortal quality for some reason. It’s part of pop culture history in a way that many No. 1 songs aren’t. That doesn’t make it a good song, but it’s something of which Vanilla Ice should be proud.
Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?