Tonight at 9 p.m., nineties rap sensation Vanilla Ice, a.k.a. Robert Van Winkle, will debut his show The Vanilla Ice Project on the DIY Network. The show follows the hip-hopper turned real-estate investor as he flips homes for resale in the Palm Beach, Florida, area. Yesterday, he spoke with Chris Rovzar about projects new and old.
So, walk me through when and how you got into the real-estate business?
I was about 16 and made a lot of money, so I bought a lot of houses. I went on tour for like three years and never used those homes. I sold them and I had made a lot of money on them. And I was like, “Oh my God, it can’t be this easy.” And it was.
Where were you first houses that you had?
My summer house was in Miami on Star Island, right next door to Don Johnson. I also lived in L.A. in Laurel Canyon next door to Michael J. Fox, and then I had a place on Bleecker Street in the Village in New York City.
It looks like on the show you’re doing some manual labor. Talk to me about the transition from being a performer to working with your hands.
Well, I never left the music behind. I got a new record obviously coming out, so I’m still into that. And you know, this is just a hobby. I’m just somewhat of a guy that enjoys to get in there and sweat with the guys and swing a hammer, so to speak. I can save a lot of money by doing that, and I get a lot of respect from the guys working for me because they know I know the trade. Like, I can install toilets. Most people think it’s so complex, but yet it’s so simple that paying 100 bucks an hour for a plumber doesn’t make sense.
Ten years ago, I was in college and [one] could hire you for, I think, $7,000 to play at fraternity parties. Was there a period of time where that was your main gig? Just performing your early-nineties songs?
No, no. I did a record with Ross Robinson, Korn, Limp Bizkit, heavy hard-core, very un- radio-friendly type stuff. I didn’t expect much from it but it took off, sold over a million copies, went platinum. So the type of shows that record would require were the type you’re talking about. And I actually like those because to me that’s called “swimming through the trenches,” and in order to get the appreciation and respect from all your people — and to create new fans — you’re going to have to do that. Because what’s cool in eighth grade is not cool when you’re in the tenth grade — that’s just the nature of pop music. I’ve got a very loyal clientele, or I don’t even call them clientele. They’re almost like a subculture and they’re not going anywhere. They have tattoos of Vanilla Ice all over their arms.
What’s the craziest show you ever performed?
Well, I just got through playing some pretty wild shows, I played in Portugal, I played in Russia, in downtown Moscow — 80,000 people. I had a carousel onstage, a real, full-blown carousel with topless girls going around and none of them spoke English and it all looked so perfect and choreographed and none of it was. Then I went out recently to England; I have the No. 1 record in England right now.
Yes, I wanted to ask you about that, because I love Jedward.
I performed out there with Simon Cowell front-row. He brought us out and I saw these kids, they dressed up like the old me and I loved that, you know? I was like, this is too much. And they’re just hilarious.
They’re not the best singers …
No, that’s the greatest thing about them. They know they’re not.
So, you look great. You’re 42? What’s your secret? You look like you’re 31 years old.
Take your vitamins … I’m a vegetarian. I don’t know. Genes.
You also mentioned people getting tattoos with your name on them. I wanted to ask you about your sleeve tattoos.
I just started decorating, like I decorate the houses, and I couldn’t quit.
Which one’s your favorite?
I got my daughters’ names on me, I got my wife tattooed here to me. Some are personal and some not. I got a picture of a mermaid on me. I just like mermaids, ya know? I got Krusty the Clown, too. I like clowns.
Do you have any that we can’t see?
Yeah, I got a couple if I take my shirt off. I don’t put them in genital areas because, you know, why waste time putting one there?
I watched you on Fox News yesterday — did you see the hostesses dancing to “Ice, Ice Baby” on the air?
I love it. I love that. That’s just the greatest thing. We’re all Glee. It’s America, and everybody is just happy. When that song comes on it brings back great memories. No matter how old you are. It’s not about the economy, or the war, or whatever’s going on today. And to be honest with you, between that and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the entire generation that was huge fans of “Ice, Ice, Baby” is running the whole world right now. Even Obama, I’m sure he did the Running Man, somewhere. I’m sure of it.
Why do you think people like watching real-estate shows so much?
People love to decorate their houses and get ideas from these shows … “Oh, I like that, I want to put fire pods on my back patio!” “Ooh, I want a home theatre!” “I like the color combination!” “I like the shower that sprays in ten different areas!” They love that stuff. It’s the greatest thing about being an American. We all take pride in our stuff and we always want to have our little personal touch on all of it.
Speaking of your recommendations, they’re color palettes, they’re flowers … they’re not very manly-man decisions.
You’re absolutely right. Some of the feminine side comes out in me. I don’t like to admit it to my friends. I’m a man guy of course, I do the man cave. I work on the cars and all that, but I can still go out there and have a green thumb and really appreciate the floral pattern and the carpet and try to tie in the landscaping and the colors. It’s just fascinating to me. It’s not so manly, but I don’t care. I still jump my motocross bike. I still get onstage. I still go out and dig the colors and the flowers, and it’s just neat.
What can you tell our readers about keeping the right self-perspective as you go through life?
Do as I say, not as I do. Set the right example, understand that no one’s perfect. Learn from my mistakes and you don’t have to make them yourself. You know? I feel so proud of my kids, they’re amazing. They’re so good, and so polite, it’s amazing that you can teach them that way. It’s hard to tell them “no tattoos.”
What are the regrets that you teach them about?
Oh, tons of them. I let them know all of it. “Daddy had a weekend that lasted a few years.” Don’t ever do this, don’t ever do that and you won’t end up on a self-destruction path like I ended up. You give them advice and once they get to a certain age they’re on their own anyway, so you hope you taught them well.