Monday, November 19, 1990

Milli Vanilli is stripped of its Best New Artist Grammy: November 19, 1990

Originally posted November 19, 2011.

German music producer Frank Farian was the creator of Milli Vanilli, a dance-pop outfit from the late ‘80s. They were presented as the duo of Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan and found success quickly. In October 1988, the single “Girl You Know It’s True” hit the UK, peaking at #3. It charted a couple months later in the U.S. and climbed all the way to the #2 spot.

They proved to have ample songs to go the distance. The next three singles, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”, “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You”, and “Blame It on the Rain” were all #1 hits in the U.S. A fifth single, “All or Nothing”, went to #4. All five songs appeared on the 1989 U.S. album Girl You Know It’s True, a reworked version of the previously released German album All or Nothing. Not surprisingly, the U.S. album logged eight weeks atop the Billboard 200 and sold six-million copies.

The duo’s commercial clout translated to Grammy clout as well when they took home the 1989 trophy for Best New Artist, beating out Tone Loc, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and the Indigo Girls. The only problem was that Rob and Fab didn’t sing. While the original German album only featured them on the cover, the U.S. version went a step further and actually credited the pair with the vocals. In actuality, the dancer-models were hired to serve as the public face for Brad Howell, Johnny Davis, and Charles Shaw – the session musicians who did the actual heavy lifting.

Shaw publicly admitted the ruse which supported suspicions that Rob and Fab were lip-synching live performances. The duo pressured Farian to let them sing on the next album. Rather than cave, he confessed the deception to the press. Soon the Grammy cops came knocking and demanded the return of the ill-gotten award. It is the only time the Grammys have revoked an award.

And here are Rob and Fab, uh, not singing at the Grammys.

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Saturday, November 3, 1990

Vanilla Ice “Ice Ice Baby” becomes the first rap song to hit #1

Ice Ice Baby

Vanilla Ice

Writer(s): David Bowie, Queen, Earthquake, Vanilla Ice (see lyrics here)

Released: August 22, 1990

First Charted: September 8, 1990

Peak: 12 US, 12 CB, 3 GR, 12 RR, 6 RB, 14 UK, 11 CN, 13 AU, 5 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.5 US, 0.6 UK, 3.12 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 453.84 video, 366.85 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“The success of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ is a crucial pivot-point in the history of rap music.” SG The beginning of hip-hop can be traced back to 1973 when a Jamaican-born teenage DJ known as Kool Herc “played records at a back-to-school party in the rec room of his Bronx apartment building, cutting between the percussive breaks of funk singles and accidentally birthing a whole genre.” SG Six years later, rap hit the mainstream when the Sugarhill Gang hit the top 40 with “Rapper’s Delight,” “In which they rapped europhric rhymes…over the groove from Chic’s disco hit ‘Good Times.’” SG It would be another 11 years before the genre would score its first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The genre had largely been viewed as an underground movement among the Black community and a fad. However, after Run-DMC took their remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” to the top 10 in 1986, rap infilitrated the charts more and more. In the late ‘80s, there were pop songs which integrated rap, but it wasn’t until the fall of 1990 and “Ice Ice Baby” that a full-fledged rap song ascended to the throne.

The Dallas-born Robert Van Winkle (aka “Vanilla Ice”) was attacked for being a white kid from the suburbs who was hijacking a largely urban Black musical form. He also received flack for the “hyper-obvious sample of a rock-radio standby,” SG the “spacey, tingling bassline” SG from 1981’s “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie. While sampling had been a norm in hip-hop, the success of “Ice Ice Baby” sparked record companies and artists to demand credit and compensation, making it too expensive for many rap producers to continued sampling as they had before.

The song didn’t just borrow from “Under Pressure.” Its hook was lifted from a chant used for years by Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha that director Spike Lee used in his 1988 musical School Daze. Others claimed to have written the beat and much of the “memorably ridiculous song” SG with its irrestible hooks and absurdly nonsensical lyrics. Vanilla Ice “sounds clumsily enthusiastic, like he’s trying to project cool reserve even though he can barely believe that he’s getting a chance to rap on record.” SG

Vanilla Ice fell in love with hip-hop via the 1984 movie Breakin’. In 1987, he won a talent contest at the Dallas nightclub City Lights, where he was a regular and usually the only white face in the crowd. He became a house act opening for headliners like Paula Abdul, Public Enemy, and Tone Loc. FB The club’s DJ Earthquake produced some songs for Ice which were released by Tommy Quon, the club owner. A reworked version of Wild Cherry’s 1976 hit “Play That Funky Music” was released as a single. It flopped, but Darrel J, a disc jockey at WAGH in Columbus, Georgia, started playing the B-side, “Ice Ice Baby.” FB It took off at radio and a video was made which started getting played on cable networks The Box and BET. Ice signed to a major label who repackaged his 1989 indie-label debut Hooked as To the Extreme and rushed “Ice Ice Baby” to the national market.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for Vanilla Ice
  • FB Fred Bronson (2007). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (4th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 771.
  • SG Stereogum (10/20/2021). “The Number Ones” by Tom Breihan
  • WK Wikipedia

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First posted 10/17/2022; last updated 6/18/2023.