He dated Madonna, trashed an MTV set on live television and wrote a song that’s superglued in your brain. Twenty years after “Ice Ice Baby,” Vanilla Ice (aka Rob Van Winkle) returns to pop culture as, um, a home builder. In his new DIY Network show, “The Vanilla Ice Project” (Thu., 9 p.m.), the rapper and his contractors renovate a Palm Beach, Fla., pad.

How long have you been renovating homes?
When I did “Ice Ice Baby,” I was only 16. I bought homes like a rock star who didn’t know what he’s doing. I never used them. I’d come back to L.A., New York or Salt Lake City, where I had homes, and they’d collect cobwebs. I sold them when the market was good and turned a real good profit. I’m, like, “Are you kidding me? It can’t be that easy to make money.”

But isn’t making a profit in real estate tougher now?
Now you can buy a foreclosed property cheaper than you can build one. That’s how I’ve evolved into flipping cribs, instead of building them. Just go buy a home, even if it’s distressed. The one on the show had nothing in it, literally no kitchen sink or air-conditioning. Everything was missing, even walls.

How involved do you get in these projects?
I’m hands-on. I know basic plumbing skills and a lot of carpentry. Some people may look at it like, “This is a pain. I’d rather be sitting on a beach drinking a pina colada.” I still drink the pina colada, but I do on the side. It’s a fun thing. I sit back and take pride and go, “Wow, I turned that from zero to hero.”

A recent YouTube video shows you driving a car into a lake. The car sinks, and you go underwater for a sec. What happened?
That was the finale for the show. The car didn’t sink right away. I’m sitting there thinking, “No big deal; I’m almost out.” My leg got wedged between the steering wheel and the seat, and the car dragged me down. I didn’t panic. I turned my knee out and came up. It took a good minute, and people were panicking, but I didn’t end up with a scratch.

Aside from being an adrenaline junkie, you’re also a vegetarian.
Yep, for three and half years. I had high cholesterol. You know how some people can have a bunch of cheeseburgers and get high cholesterol? Mine was hereditary. I tried being vegetarian for three months, and it brought my cholesterol from over 300 to 133 without drugs.

What was the toughest thing about ditching burgers?
You’ve got to find stuff to eat. And you don’t lose weight — you gain it because you’re pulling more pizza, trying not to eat meat. But, boy, there’s a lot of good food out there, like curries and sauces. It opened up a whole new menu to me. I love it.

Written by Express contributor Kris Coronado
Photo courtesy DIY Network