He still remembers that moment, even as the chaos of his life swirled about him two decades ago. On the upside of his epic hit, Ice Ice Baby, Robert Van Winkle surveyed what his soaring career had afforded the cars, the parties, the good times and this modern pad on Star Island. It was a professionally designed showcase of flash, but deeply bereft of soul.
I felt like I was living in a nightclub, said Van Winkle, the rapper who commanded the stage as Vanilla Ice. It never felt like home.
Van Winkle, 45, who has spent more than half of his life in South Florida, re-imagined his space in warm earth tones. For Van Winkle, it was about so much more than decorating, but rather the beginning of the next chapter after a rap career that had been so promising, then careened into pop culture obscurity.
Many turns later, Van Winkle emerged from the wreckage as a successful, self-taught real estate investor, renovation whiz and a popular reality television home star, the seeds first planted that moment on Star Island when his house wasnt a home.
Van Winkles third season of the DIY Networks Vanilla Ice Project premiers next Sunday in which the rapper who still tours performs concerts buys, guts and makes pretty upscale homes. With his easy personality and hearty laugh still intact, plus a newfound Zen after a troubled past, Van Winkle mines South Floridas rich housing landscapes for homes that can be grabbed, renovated and returned to the market for a profit. He is also the star of a DIY special called Ice My House, airing this Sunday at 11 p.m., and has a new lighting collection called, you guessed it: Vanilla Ice Lighting.
With the recession, people have been feeling so miserable for so long. People dont want to put money in an upside-down house, said Van Winkle who lives with his wife and two daughters in a Wellington community. I wanted a show that motivated people to want to invest in their homes, to get that kitchen they always wanted. I want people to enjoy their homes.
The show is just the latest stop in Van Winkles transformation, and his leveraging of his monster single.
Vanilla Ice is one of those figures in pop music who was able to successfully reinvent himself, said Matt Donahue, of Bowling Green State Universitys Department of Popular Culture. Ice Ice Baby is his signature phrase and he has been able to take it all the way to the bank.
The Vanilla Ice Projects 13-episode season follows Van Winkle and a crew of contractors as they transform a 6,000-square-foot house in a Lake Worth subdivision. This place was rotten, we had to take down every piece of drywall, gut it down to the cinderblocks, he said. Everything in here now is custom, with state-of-art in-home technology and made with a whole lot less carbon.
On an especially muggy weekday, Van Winkle is taking a break from filming. Tattooed arms outstretched, he is animated as he talks about the plans to make this home a showpiece, a lifetime away from his early days as a rising rapper.
Van Winkle, who grew up in Dallas, exploded on the music scene in the early 1990s just as rap was settling into its second decade and sold 15 million To the Extreme albums worldwide on the popularity of Ice Ice Baby, the smash that started as a B-side song. The catchy song along with Vanilla Ices high-stepping in parachute pants became the first rap single in history to top the Billboard charts.