Did Vanilla Ice Pay Queen & David Bowie for Under Pressure?

Vanilla Ice lifted the bassline from “Under Pressure” for his track “Ice Ice Baby” off his debut album. Eventually, Vanilla Ice had to pay Queen and David Bowie. But how much did Vanilla Ice pay Queen for Under Pressure?

Vanilla Ice reportedly paid around $4 million to Queen to purchase the publishing rights to Under Pressure after the original songwriters filed a lawsuit for his illegal use of the sample. Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice’s legal name) decided to completely buy the song instead of paying ongoing royalties. 

Does Vanilla Ice continue to pay? And every time you stream the original song, does Queen (and Bowie) get the money or Vanilla Ice?

Let’s dig deeper!

Vanilla Ice pay Queen lg

Who owns the rights to Queen’s Under Pressure?

Vanilla Ice (real name Robert Van Winkle) owns all the rights to the 1981 hit by Queen and David Bowie “Under Pressure”, after buying it from Brian May to avoid a court case.

Vanilla Ice revealed the information on the Dan Patrick Show in 2017. I have also added the link if you want to listen to the interview.

Robert mentioned on the show that he bought back all the publishing rights. He further explained in the same interview that he went to Brian May of Queen and bought the song because

“owing the publishing rights worked out way cheaper than battling Bowie and Queen in court.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Queen and David Bowie’s camps claimed that the statement made by Vanilla Ice was inaccurate, and an arrangement was made whereby the publishing rights were shared.

Therefore, until any other news about Vanilla Ice and the song, I think Vanilla Ice has ownership of Under Pressure for now since the lawsuit.

Who gets royalties from Ice Ice Baby?

Vanilla Ice gets all royalties off his 1990 hit “Ice Ice Baby”. The total worth of his royalties stands at around $400,000 per year.

The song was released three decades ago, and this is one song that has enabled Vanilla Ice to have a reasonably active career today. Vanilla Ice recently gave out exciting insights into his current financial standings.

He revealed two amazing facts:

  1. Vanilla Ice is worth at least $10 million, and the number might be much higher depending on the valuations of his surprisingly impressive real estate profile.
  2. Vanilla Ice still earns around $800,000 annually. More than half of that is connected to royalties from “Ice Ice Baby.”

What is more interesting to discover is that Ice Ice Baby famously sampled Queen and David Bowie’s track ‘Under Pressure’, and that means David Bowie and Queen’s estate are getting a cut of all royalties.

After all, while he may have bought the publishing rights to the original since it’s actually Queen on the recording of Ice Ice Baby (no Bowie since vocals weren’t in the sample), the band probably gets performance royalties when it’s played.

So, if Vanilla Ice still earns half of his income per year in royalties after everyone gets their cut. The overall cut from the track must be enormous.

This information is less shocking when you recall that Diddy’s hit song “I’ll Be Missing You” earns Sting approximately $750,000 annually. And “Baby Got Back” gets Sir Mix-A-Lot approximately $500,000 annually.

Ice’s financial disclosure is yet to be adequately revealed.

He’s said to own 15 estate properties potentially worth a minimum of $5 million each. He also owns eight vehicles, a boat, and other substantial assets.

Who wrote Under Pressure: Queen or David Bowie?

The song Under Pressure was written collectively by all members of Queen in addition to David Bowie. But the original idea for the song was brought to the band by Bowie.

David Bowie originally recorded backing vocals for the song “Cool Cat”. Queen had already started working on another track, “Feel Like”, around this time. Both were unsatisfied with how their tracks sounded.

One day David Bowie came into Queen’s studio and improvised the jam session for Cool Cat. This is where the track became “Under Pressure”.

While Bowie and Mercury disagreed on mixing the song, one cannot deny that the track resulted in the most remarkable rock collaboration.

Bowie played the song live for the first time in 1992 to pay tribute to Freddie. After that, he started playing the song in nearly all live performances. Unfortunately, the duo never got a chance to perform the hit track live, even when both performed at Live Aid.

But did David Bowie also co-write any other song? 

If you recall, Bowie was also said to have co-writing credits on John Lennon’s Imagine. But is Imagine a David Bowie song? I was curious to know. So, I made sure to discuss it in my recent article.

Just click that link to read about it.

Did Vanilla Ice originally pay royalties for Under Pressure?

Initially, Vanilla Ice did not pay any songwriting royalties for Under Pressure. But the spokesperson from David Bowie and Queen’s camps filed a lawsuit of infringement of copyright laws, after which Vanilla Ice had to pay around $4 million.

Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice) denied the accusations that he sampled the bassline and modified it. But the people from David Bowie and Queen filed a court case.

The lawsuit resulted in Bowie and Queen members winning the favor and receiving songwriting credit for the sample.

Vanilla Ice later claimed that he did sample the bassline and bought the song because it made more financial sense than paying a continuous amount as royalties

When did Vanilla Ice buy Under Pressure?

American rapper Vanilla Ice (born in Dallas) bought the seminal track Under Pressure when David Bowie and Queen sued him in 1990. The legal procedures eventually led to sharing writing credits.

Vanilla Ice admitted in a new interview that he was stupid back in the day when he said that songs were different because he added an extra beat to the bass line.

He quickly dropped the bomb, saying: “I ended up buying the song. It was David Bowie and Queen, so they didn’t have the actual rights to it”.

Ice further added:

“So I went to Brian May and bought the song. I own the song like Michael Jackson owns the Beatles. It was cheaper than a lawsuit and court settlement. So ‘Under Pressure,’ ‘Ice Ice Baby’ – same difference.”

Queen vs. Vanilla Ice - Under Pressure Baby(Ice Mix)

Conclusion

Vanilla Ice broke onto the scene with his famous hit Ice Ice Baby.

But just after the release, fans were angry because this track allegedly lifted the bassline from another famous track, “Under Pressure”, written by David Bowie, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon.

Disappointed by not getting any songwriting credits, singer David Bowie and the members of Queen filed a copyright infringement suit against Vanilla Ice.

As a result, to avoid paying any royalties, Vanilla Ice claimed to have bought the track for $4 million. On a show, Vanilla Ice cleared this controversy surrounding the writing credits in 2017.

Robert Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice) owns the exclusive rights to the song. But a spokesman for British rock band Queen told a website that the statement is inaccurate, and the publishing rights are shared. So future royalties would get split across all of them.

Interestingly, as of this writing, when looking at “Ice, Ice” Baby” on Spotify, I see 2 versions.

The original lists the following songwriting credits:

  • Floyd Brown (who?)
  • Freddie Mercury (who ironically isn’t heard on the song)
  • John Deacon (Queen bassist who wrote the bass line)
  • Mario Johnson (who??)
  • Robert Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice)
  • Roger Taylor (Queen drummer)

Interestingly enough, neither Bowie nor Queen guitarist Brian May are listed.

Then, in a re-done version from Ice’s 2008 album Vanilla Ice is Back, no songwriting credits are listed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sampling part of a song considered fair use?

Sampling part of a song is not automatically considered fair use.

Fair use is a complex legal concept that requires a case-by-case analysis. Factors such as the purpose and character of the use, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect on the original work’s market may determine if it falls under fair use.

While some artists have successfully argued fair use for sampling, it is advisable to seek legal permission or obtain proper licenses to avoid copyright infringement. The laws regarding sampling vary by jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult with legal professionals familiar with intellectual property and copyright laws.

Parody, for example (as in the work of Wierd Al) would be considered Fair Use. Taking someone else’s music, as Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams did with Marvin Gaye in their song “Blurred Lines” is not (hence they lost a lawsuit to Marvin Gaye’s estate).

How much money did Vanilla Ice make?

Vanilla Ice, the American rapper, songwriter, and TV personality, achieved considerable commercial success in the early 1990s. His hit single “Ice Ice Baby” reached the top of the charts and became a pop culture sensation.

While exact figures are not publicly available, it is estimated that Vanilla Ice’s net worth reached its peak at around $20 million. However, his financial situation fluctuated over the years due to various factors, including legal issues and changing trends in the music industry.

Despite the ups and downs, Vanilla Ice’s contribution to the music industry and his influence on the hip-hop genre remain noteworthy.


Photo that requires attribution:

Vanilla Ice by wonker is licensed under CC2.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.

Jeff Campbell

Hi, I'm Jeff Campbell, a former DJ, music journalist, musician, and music lover. I'm old enough to have seen all the cool bands and young enough to still remember them.

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