Here’s How Freddie Mercury Reacted After Hearing ‘Ice Ice Baby’
Sampling has become an ingrained part of musical culture, and these days, there's an established legal protocol for any artist who wants to reuse a portion of another act's recording.
But in the early '90s, those details were all still being litigated — which is how Queen ended up finding out that the bass line from their hit "Under Pressure" had been lifted for rapper Vanilla Ice's breakout single "Ice Ice Baby."
The saga of Ice's entanglement with Queen is long, sordid, and often hilarious, but we've never known how late singer Freddie Mercury reacted after hearing "Ice Ice Baby" for the first time. It's a scenario we can now imagine courtesy of Mercury's longtime assistant Peter "Phoebe" Freestone, who recounted his version of events in a blog post recently added to his official site.
As Freestone writes, Mercury actually thought he was listening to "Under Pressure" at first — and as reality set in, he seemed bemused more than angry. "He carried on eating his breakfast and suddenly stopped, frowning. I thought there was a problem with his food but he said ‘no,'" he recalled. "He started listening intently and couldn’t believe his ears. He was smiling when he said that he couldn’t believe what he was hearing ... a blatant ripoff."
After calling manager Jim Beach, Mercury apparently "left it at that, always remembering that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" — although the way things shook out wasn't always flattering for Vanilla Ice, who soon saw the chart-topping era of his career implode in a cloud of embarrassing personal revelations and Ninja Turtles, and would spend years facing assorted mockery for the way he'd handled the "Under Pressure" situation.
The members of Queen weren't always the kindest when talking about "Ice Ice Baby," which was ultimately co-credited to the band as well as their "Under Pressure" collaborator David Bowie. "A white rapper from Florida ... great," quipped drummer Roger Taylor at one point, and in 1991, guitarist Brian May admitted his view of the whole thing had been jaundiced "because rap doesn't really appeal to me."
After a couple of years, however — and a lawsuit settled to the band's satisfaction — May's feelings had softened somewhat. In a 1993 interview with Howard Stern, he insisted there were "no hard feelings" because Ice "settled up" — and ultimately, the song might have exposed their music to a new audience anyway.
"In the end, it was very good for us because a lot of people went 'ah, so that's where that comes from,'" May noted. "So a lot of people who never would have heard of Queen heard of Queen because of that."