Vanilla Ice might quite literally be one of the last people you'd think to consult about the Florida real estate market.
But the '90s rap sensation has a unique perspective as star of the DIY Network hit show "The Vanilla Ice Project," which sees Ice, aka Robert Van Winkle, and his crew of handymen renovate and flip houses for profit in his hometown of Palm Beach.
"It's one of the only places the housing crunch didn't really affect," he explains. "It's a very strong market here."
Vanilla Ice, real estate mogul. Who knew?
Van Winkle hasn't forsaken a musical career that first exploded with the megahit "Ice Ice Baby," from his 1990 album "To the Extreme." He still writes lyrics in his spare time ("I love poetry," he says) and does live shows, including a headlining spot at the DeSoto Seafood Festival on Saturday in Palmetto.
But he found a second passion 18 years ago, he says, when he began investing his money into real estate. It was only a few years ago that he was approached about having that passion filmed by a reality TV crew. The "Vanilla Ice Project," now in its fourth season, is the top-rated show on the network.
"I didn't think anyone would want to see Vanilla Ice renovate homes," Van Winkle says. "I guess people are responding because it's a positive show."
And, he assures, this "reality" show is very real -- so much so that he's doing a phone interview while driving back from an urgent care facility, where he got five stitches after "a big 16-foot wooden plank put a frickin' hole in my leg" while filming an episode.
Van Winkle has experienced a resurgence in popularity thanks to the success of "The Vanilla Ice Project" and last year's intriguingly titled "Vanilla Ice Goes Amish." But it wasn't always this way: In the years following his early '90s success, there were dark times and drug abuse as his stardom faded.
"I lost my ego a long time ago," he says.
What helped him survive is music. Van Winkle continued to put out albums and experiment with different styles. He particularly credits the 1998 album "Hard to Swallow," a foray into angrier rap-rock and more introspective lyrics, with turning things around.
"It saved my life," he says, bluntly. "It helped me get all the demons out of my system. It was the greatest therapy of all time."
Now, Van Winkle is all about positivity, whether it be inspiring people to take on home renovation projects and experience "the American dream of home ownership" through his TV show, or to turn back the clock and relive the good times at live concerts like Saturday's in Manatee County.
"We're gonna take everyone back to the old school," Van Winkle says. "We're gonna do 'Ice Ice Baby,' we're gonna do 'Play That Funky Music.' It's not like a rap show. We've got live drums, instruments, pyrotechnics, fire, water and all kinds of stuff."
The hits still get a big response live, he says, even as his fan base tends to skew toward the 16-25 age bracket, millennials who weren't even around to hear "Ice Ice Baby" on the airwaves or to see him on the big screen in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze."
A Vanilla Ice show earlier this month in Clearwater was "off the hook," and he expects the same in Palmetto.
"I know I've got fans there," he says.
"The minute it was announced, my Twitter blew up. They're amped."
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter@JasonBartolone.