To the Extreme (1990)
Thoughts Before Listening
Vanilla Ice… what is there to say? He had “Ice Ice Baby” and then what? I think there was a live album featuring a live version of the same song? I think there was an attempt at reinvention as a so-called hard core rapper at some point? Vanilla Ice is perhaps the poster child for OHWs the world over. His one song was a massive hit, and everything that followed was received with indifference at best.
I know for a fact that I’ve never listened to this album before. I’m far from a rap aficionado, but even back then, I don’t know why anyone would choose to listen to this. For perspective, both De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and the Beastie Boys’ seminal release of Paul’s Boutique came out the year before this did, and A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory came out the following year. Heck, Mama Said Knock You Out came out the same year. All of this is to say that there was excellent rap being released at this point.
But I’m listening to this.
I want to go into this with an open mind and heart, I have great memories of dancing to “Ice Ice Baby” at school dances. But I am fairly certain that this is going to be terrible.
Full disclosure, I’m not a huge rap fan. Usually the rap is so fast that I can’t hear the lyrics so I usually just go with the beat. I’m usually better with old school rap because they weren’t mumbling or doing their best impression of John Moschitta Jr. (the guy from the old Micro Machine commercials).
God help me, I’m going to do this.
Other Songs of Note
The icing on the cake
Aaaaaand, our format is broken. This is normally where the songs to which we’ve both awarded points would go. There are no songs on this album that meet this vaunted criteria. There were many, many songs that we vehemently agreed should have no points.
What we would put on our personal mixtapes
“I Love You”
Scott (2 points)
There are a lot of bad songs on this album. This is the only one that I feel is so bad that it wraps allllll the way around to other side. You know how there are movies that attain a level of bad that you just can’t turn away from? This is the “musical” equivalent. It’s bad enough to be considered self-parody. If there was a song on this album by The Lonely Island, this would be it. I can picture them creating a video for it, but leaving the music unchanged. It’s really quite extraordinarily bad. It’s the Bizarro World version of any LL slow-jam of the era.
Why did I give it 2 points? Well, our format prevents giving the same point value to any two songs, and since I’m about to give 1 point to another song, this one got bumped up. It almost earned points solely on its merits as a cautionary tale. Almost.
Weh-Ming’s (reluctant) Comments
What. The. Hell.
The only thing that I hated more than this song was that I now have to write a commentary on it because of Scott.
“I love you, cause I love you”. Seriously? This is the equivalent of the songs I make up and sing to my daughter. Let me give you an example:
“Now’s the time to brush your teeth,
Because brushing your teeth is important.
Brush your teeth, teeth, teeeeeeeth.”
I’ll be waiting over here for royalties to just roll in.
“Stop That Train”
Weh-Ming (1 point)
I am going out on a limb to give this song 1 point, and assuming Scott has given it no points at all.
Okay, it has a pretty good beat and it’s catchy… right up until he starts rapping. I like the sampled chorus – it’s pretty familiar, so I may have heard this song before or maybe I’ve heard the sample in another (better) song.
This song is so long. Why does it keep going? Is this a story that we needed to hear? That anyone needed to hear? Ever?
I would add this song to my own playlist, but then skip it every time it came on for a few years before finally deleting it.
I’m inclined to agree with many of Weh-Ming’s points. But not his point. The beat’s good – the rapping is not.
Scott (1 point)
This song is getting my only legitimate point, and in all honestly, it is partially a pity-point, and partially awarded on the merits of the sample. As a quick aside, the samples selected through the album were a high point – a couple Beastie Boy samples, a Wild Cherry sample, and the gem of a sample from this song. It’s a horn line many will recognize from DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”. It turns out Mr. Kool sampled a song by The 45 King who, as these thing go, sampled it from one Marva Whitney’s “Unwind Yourself”. The horns in that song (unsurprisingly, since Marva was a member of the James Brown Revue) are amazing.
So yeah. All that is to say – cool sample. The rest of the song isn’t as bad as most of the rest of the album. My second listen notes sing its praises – “Not as bad as I initially thought.” That’s the level of “praise” that elevated “Go Ill” into the “points”.
I agree with Scott. Great sample and a great intro. To be fair, most of the songs here I thought had a pretty great intro, and only took a nosedive when the rapping starts.
I might even have given this song a point, however, by this point on the album I was suffering from burn out. All of the previous songs, I’ve got multiple notes about different aspects of the song and thoughts on the beat and samples. For this song, I wrote down “Had to take a break halfway through” and “Ugh. So long.”
I stand by my decision.
This was an extraordinarily hard listen. I kind of feel like that’s an hour I will never get back. In its day, it wasn’t that far removed from its contemporaries – it was just notably worse than most of it. Hip hop and rap has evolved so much in the past 30 years that it’s barely recognizable as the same genre now. Even the best rap of that era can sound dated, with a few exceptions. This is not the best rap of that era.
Some of these songs have a good beat and great sampling, and an instrumental version might actually be reasonably good.
I just… there were so many people involved with this who said “yes”, you know?
I will do everything I can to forget this album.
Yeah But What Else
Down the Rabbit Hole (Additional Listening brought to you by searches inspired by listening to this album.)
Before I list a few songs, I have to mention that I’ve had to spend the last hour listening to them purely to cleanse my musical palette. Every one of them is time better spent than the hour I won’t get back from To The Extreme.
A Tribe Called Quest – Literally any song from The Low End Theory. This is one of my favourite rap albums of the era. It’s only real competition in my mind is
Beastie Boys – “Shake Your Rump” – Just one of many speaker testing jams from Paul’s Boutique. This album is wall-to-wall samples and is really something special. The Dust Brothers production work really meshed well with the Beasties, and it resulted in a shocking step up from Licence to Ill.
LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out” – ‘Nuff said.
Marva Whitney – “Unwind Yourself” – This James Brown adjacent singer had a couple minor hits. The horn line at the beginning is iconic.
“Weird Al” Yankovic did not do a parody of “Ice Ice Baby” (No, he didn’t do “Rice Rice Baby”, stop spreading that garbage). In an interview he said he just didn’t have time to get it onto an album. If it had appeared on an album, it probably would have been Off the Deep End (1992), known for its parody of Nirvana (including cover art) who was arguably a much larger influence on the world of music than Vanilla Ice.
This album won a Juno for “Best Selling Album by a Foreign Artist” in 1992, beating out C+C Music Factory, Metallica, Michael Bolton and AC/DC. The criteria was literally for which album sold the most. This is interesting because previously, the award was called “International Album of the Year” from 1981-91. Then in 1993, it was changed to “Best Selling Album (Foreign or Domestic)”.
The Junos basically said “Oh, no, look what happened” and changed the award and criteria.
Interesting side note: OHW Sinéad O’Connor was nominated for the award in 1991, but lost to MC Hammer.