“Play That Funky Music” by Vanilla Ice
It is not only Black artists who have been able to capitalize off of stereotypes as far as rap music is concerned. If you listen to Vanilla Ice’s hits these days, you’d probably be like ‘how the hell did this guy ever blow up’.
And that’s especially true as far as “Play That Funky Music” is concerned, a track which honestly sounded a bit corny even by early-1990s’ standards.
But when people talk about how visuals have impacted the music industry, such is not an exaggeration. For instance, the late Michael Jackson, in all his glory, would probably never have been able to claim the crown as King of Pop if he didn’t have music videos to rely on.
And likewise, going back to the first sentence of this post, Vanilla Ice shocked viewers, White and Black alike, by being a Caucasian who was fully able to dance hip-hop. In order words, he was a far better dancer than rapper, and there is a pervasive stereotype, likely going back centuries, that White people can’t really get down and boogie.
Well Vanilla Ice, at least as far as his own personage is concerned, definitely broke that stereotype. Furthermore, he was able to rely on that skillset to establish himself as a superstar.
Exceptional Dancing Skills in Music Video
Take a look at the music video to this song for instance. Dude was no joke, executing flips on stage and everything. And please don’t try that at home kids, because attempting to pull off such moves without proper training and again the intrinsic skills can even result in fatal injuries.
In those days rappers dancing was kinda common. Or if they didn’t personally dance, they would at least have backup dancers. But only a handful could actually match skills with Vanilla Ice.
In fact in the song, Ice even asserts that he “can dance better than… Kid ‘N Play”, which may be an exaggeration, but it’s safe to say that he was at least their equal as far as that talent is concerned.
“Play that Funky Music”
And with all of that being noted, “Play that Funky Music” is intrinsically a dance song. Or stated more specifically, the titular music is being played in the name of getting the venue, i.e. the party for instance, jumping.
We know this not only due to the sound of the tune but also the original “Play That Funky Music” (1976) which it is based on. And just to note the full title, as relayed in the chorus, is actually “play that funky music, White boy”.
And in a roundabout way such is also an acknowledgment of the aforementioned ‘White people having no rhythm’ stereotype. In short, what that basically alludes to it is something exceptional, if you will, for a White musician to be able to perform Black music.
Other Topics in “Play that Funky Music”
But now with all of that out of the way, dancing is not the only theme of this song. For in addition to touting his abilities in that regard, Vanilla Ice also exalts his exceptional rapping and lady-attracting abilities.
YES, this is a braggadocious song, the type you would expect from a rapper from the early-1990s. In fact it is fundamentally the same in content as Ice’s iconic hit song “Ice Ice Baby“. However, in this case there is slightly more of an emphasis on Ice being a playa, i.e. getting a lot of ladies.
Offensive Language in Lyrics
Then as far as the quality of the actual song goes, it isn’t really exceptional in any way, shape or form. But there is a line which must be pointed out. The line in question finds Vanilla asserting that he’s “steppin’ so hard like a German N*zi”.
Such language would definitely be unacceptable if one were to drop such a phrase now, in the social-media age. But back then, given once again that by and large no one was really interested in what Vanilla Ice had to say in the first place (as in it wasn’t his raps which made him famous) then it’s like that line totally got past the censors and critics.
All in all
In fact after now having analyzed both of Vanilla Ice’s only-two hits (this and “Ice Ice Baby”) yes, it must be concluded that the man has heart, as well as exceptional talent.
But said talent wasn’t rapping. He was a mediocre rapper, at best. Rather Ice was and probably still is really good at dancing. And the main factors which contributed to him becoming an overnight success include:
- his reliance on sampling
- his good looks likely
- the fact that he is indeed White and came out during a time when Caucasian rappers were viewed more as anomalies
And that is obviously something he was aware of and capitalized on, considering once again that he refers to himself as a “White boy”, albeit a “funky” one, on this track.
When did Vanilla Ice release “Play That Funky Music”?
This is the song which actually led to Vanilla Ice signing his first record deal, having done so with Atlanta-based Ichiban Records.
“Ice Ice Baby” (1990), a track which in its own way revolutionized rap music and is Vanilla’s signature song, was originally the B-side to “Play That Funky Music”.
It served as such on a project called “Hooked”, which was an earlier version of “To the Extreme” – the latter being recognized as Ice’s actual debut album.
So officially “Play That Funky” music came out in 1990 as the second single from “To the Extreme”, which was actually put forth by SBK Records.
Vanilla Ice was heavily dependent on sampling other people’s work as the only two hits of his career, this song and “Ice Ice Baby”, relied on such technique.
And we have already pointed out in our analysis of the latter how doing so got him into a bit of hot water. Well the same was apparently the case with “Play That Funky Music”.
Fans of classic funk would instantly recognize this song as being based on a song of the same name, “Play That Funky Music” (1976), by Wild Cherry.
In fact Vanilla’s version is to some extent considered as a cover. And it’s like he was trying to be sly or anything, as back in late-1980s/early-1990s you would never hear of a rapper being sued for sampling, as in having to credit those whom he sampled.
Well all of that actually changed once Vanilla was compelled to legally compensate Queen and David Bowie with songwriting credit for “Ice Ice Baby” due to Ice sampling their song, “Under Pressure” (1981).
And the same thing happened with “Play That Funky Music”. However, apparently in this case, Rob Parissi (the author of the original), did not get songwriting credit.
But Rob did receive a sizable settlement from Vanilla Ice nonetheless, to the tune of half-a-million dollars.
That noted, Vanilla Ice is acknowledged as the sole writer of his version of “Play That Funky Music”. And he also co-produced the song with his DJ, D-Shay. And after Ice Ice Baby blew up, this song was issued as an official single.
We can say that largely due to the success of Ice Baby – the first rap song to top the Billboard Hot 100 – “Play That Funky Music” also proved quite successful as its follow up.
For instance, it entered into the official charts of several countries. In doing so, broke the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. It achieved a similar success in the UK Singles Chart.
But still it wasn’t nearly as big of a hit as its predecessor, which was actually foretelling of Vanilla Ice’s career trajectory, as he really hasn’t dropped a genuine hit song since.