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Vanilla Ice will open for M.C. Hammer at 8 p.m. Thursday at the University of South Florida Sun Dome. Tickets cost $20 in advance, $21 the day of the show and are available through Ticketmaster.Yo Vanilla, let's kick it.

How'd you get to be so dope?

What's the story behind the rapper with the saber-sharp cheekbones and the jack hammer moves whose single, Ice Ice Baby, is the surprisingly long-legged hit of the autumn of 1990?

Well, it goes a little something like this:

Vanilla Ice (his real name is a closely guarded secret) grew up in Miami, attending the same high school as 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell. When he was in junior high school, he started hanging out with a group of musically inclined friends, rapping at house parties and on the street.

In 1988, Vanilla moved to Dallas. He entered a rap showdown contest at a nightclub, won, and found himself deluged with offers from record companies. Vanilla cut a demo album called Hooked for the tiny independent Ultra Records label. Ice Ice Baby was originally released this spring as the B side of a cover version of Wild Cherry's Play that Funky Music.

A Columbus, Ga., club DJ discovered the concealed gem, and Ice Ice Baby hurtled to the top of the dance charts. Vanilla, now on SBK Records, released a new album that includes Ice Ice Baby. The album, titled To the Extreme, features more of Vanilla's wry street poetry and fetching rhythms.

Ice Ice Baby attained its momentum on the basis of its fun lyrics (a typical aside goes: "To the extreme I rock the mike like a vandal


Light up the stage and wax a chump like a candle") and driving melody layered over the bass line from David Bowie's Under Pressure. But Vanilla's undeniable aesthetic appeal, showcased in a video full of rapid-fire dance sequences, hasn't hurt his career either.

Having shared stages with 2 Live Crew, Tone Loc, KRS-One and Stetsasonic, Vanilla is now opening shows on a tour with M.C. Hammer.

Vanilla was once a champion on the motocross circuit, winning three national titles for Team Honda. Although he claims to be burned out on bikes, his performances allegedly feature Vanilla doing wheelies and other cycle stunts.