Take away Milli Vanilli, and pop music still has not had a very good year, integrity-wise.
Two members of Menudo, a Spanish-speaking New Kids in the Barrio, were dumped from the group after being arrested last weekend at Miami International Airport. A police dog had allegedly sniffed traces of marijuana on their clothing. Perhaps Sergio Gonzales, 18, and Ruben Gomez, 16, simply misunderstood the Who's motto: "Hope I get high before I get old." Of course, Gonzales was already pushing the outer edge of old for Menudo, a group whose alumni will someday outnumber its fans.
Then there's the strange saga of Vanilla Ice, whose "To the Extreme" album has spent three weeks at the top of the charts, ending a 23-week run by M.C. Hammer (ironically, Vanilla Ice has been opening on a national tour for Hammer, who may very well want to "hurt him" now). Seems Vanilla Ice's not all he's cracked up to be in his record company bio, which usually only goes to critics, who never read them anyway (though Vanilla Ice himself seemed to fall for some of the misleading information when conducting interviews as his star was rising).
Vanilla Ice's original bio, which omitted his real name, suggested he grew up immersed in gang culture in a lower-class Miami neighborhood, went to predominantly black Palmetto High with Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew and was a triple champion motocross racer for Team Honda when not recovering from motorcycle and gang violence. Turns out Vanilla Ice is really one Robert Van Winkle, a middle-class graduate of Turner High in suburban Carrollton, Tex. (Campbell actually went to another school, Miami Beach High), who may have won some Southwestern regional biker competitions sponsored by Kawasaki.
Vanilla Ice has also been having problems on the royalty front: His ubiquitous "Ice Ice Baby," the first rap single to top the charts, sampled liberally from the Queen/David Bowie hit "Under Pressure," but it wasn't until recently that the names of Bowie and Queen were added to the quadruple-platinum album and to Billboard's hit single songwriting credits (though historically this album is more likely to go down as the first to reach No. 1 without being available on vinyl). Additionally, the black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha has accused the white rapper of copying its chant ("ice ice baby/ too cold too cold") without credit or permission (in his original bio, Vanilla Ice credited APA, but omits it in the revised bio).
It's hard to predict whether any of this will affect Vanilla Ice's potential endorsements or his film debut in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, "Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze." Vanilla Ice wrote the theme, "Ninja Turtle Rap," and appears in the film (the Ninjas serve as background dancers; he helps them out in a fight at a nightclub). Like "To the Extreme," the Turtles soundtrack will be on SBK Records (the last one sold 2 million copies, the film grossed more than $100 million at the box office and the video is humongous -- so who's laughing?).
Blues From the Simpsons Geffen, which recently ended its rocky relationship with such controversial acts as the Geto Boys, Slayer, Andrew Dice Clay and Danzig, may be stepping into the firing line once again with "The Simpsons Sing the Blues" (to be released next Tuesday). The album celebrates the exploits and the home environment of Bart Simpson, the Axl Rose of the animation world and T-shirt villain to dozens of elementary school principals around the nation. Local radio has already picked up on "Do the Bartman," the novelty dance rap that is probably the best thing on the album (the video has its world premiere on "The Simpsons" next week -- before MTV!). Other items: Homer's surprisingly heartfelt rendition of "Born Under a Bad Sign" (with guests B.B. King and the Tower of Power Horn Section); Marge's less convincing "Springfield Soul Stew" (a takeoff on "Memphis Soul Stew"); a Homer and Marge duet on Randy Newman's maudlin "I Love to See You Smile"; a double dose of Lisa on Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" and the original "Moanin' Lisa Blues" (probably the next best cut apres "Bartman"). Maggie doesn't get a drum solo (maybe on Vol. 2). Other cuts include Bart and Buster Poindexter covering Chuck Berry's "School Day" and a Lisa/Bart duel on "Sibling Rivalry." The voices are provided by the same folks who do them on the Fox show, including Nancy Cartwright as Bart. The "Simpsons Sing the Blues" CD packaging features a brightly colored, punch-out 10-inch standup of young Bartholomew J. Simpson.
Reprise has stepped into the rap race with a Cold Chillin' compilation called "2 Nasty 4 Radio" (the Prince influence evident in the spelling, if not the music). Unlike the case with the boldly titled Priority compilation "Explicit Lyrics," none of the money coming in from sales of "2 Nasty" will be directed at groups fighting music censorship, even though the record is likely to provoke prosecution (Florida attorney Jack Thompson is already predicting a raft of obscenity charges). Among the printable titles: Big Daddy Kane's "Pimpin Ain't Easy" (plus his duet with veteran comedian Rudy Ray Moore, "Big Daddy Versus Dolomite") and Kool G Rap's "Talk Like Sex."
Local Woppers Two regional groups have been nominated for first-year induction into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America (which will be in Boston, hopefully more so than the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland). Washington's Clovers and Baltimore's Orioles are among 32 groups nominated in the first round (five groups will eventually be chosen and inducted in a gala ceremony and concert next spring). The Hall of Fame will salute vocal harmony groups from the '50s and '60s.