Ice Spice broke out with ‘Munch’. Rap’s new princess is just warming up.

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The 23-year-old rapper Ice Spice in New York on January 16, 2023. (Photo: NYTimes)
NEW YORK, United States — On a cold, damp afternoon earlier this month, Ice Spice did not want to be recognized, so she covered her signature bounty of red curls with a wig of long blond tresses, and wrapped that wig in a pink scarf. After a quick stop at her dentist in Bushwick to get her veneers adjusted, the rising hip-hop star hopped in a black SUV to head up to the area around Fordham Road in the Bronx where she grew up.اضافة اعلان

At first, she was muted on the ride, pulling a makeup case out of a pink Von Dutch bag and applying foundation, mascara, and lip liner while playing a string of sentimental songs by Atlanta R&B singer Mariah the Scientist from her phone through the car’s stereo.

But by the time the SUV crossed over into the Bronx, Ice Spice — wearing a black Prada fleece, black Balenciaga tights and black Uggs, her long nails painted in an exaggerated French manicure — had livened up, playing her latest single, “In Ha Mood”, on repeat, and rapping along with quiet force:

“Oh, they mad ’cause I keep making bops/Oh, she mad ’cause I’m taking her spot.”
“I’m just naturally super chill and nonchalant about a lot of things,” she said. “I’ve always been that way, since I was a baby.”
These are the sort of coolly but directly confident verses that have made Ice Spice, 23, one of the most signature voices in New York drill music, as well as an emerging pop culture touchstone, beloved both for what she says and how she comes off while saying it.

“I’m just naturally super chill and nonchalant about a lot of things,” she said. “I’ve always been that way, since I was a baby.”

On Friday, she will release her first EP, “Like..?” which gathers her previous singles with some new songs, all of which feel of a piece. While the sound of the Bronx drill scene she emerged from is often unrelenting and harsh, the style of her EP, she said, is “pop drill” — spacious, up-tempo and a little skittish, with careful use of melody and just the right amount of punch.

Unlike many New York drill rappers, who tend toward the antic, Ice Spice raps with equanimity: calm, controlled, and almost reticent, letting each line linger ever so slightly, almost as if to draw you to her before she again pushes you away.

“She makes this thing we call sexy drill,” said Nicole Racine, founder of Talk of the Town, a media company that documents New York drill music. “Her being sexy, being feminine, not the rah-rah drill that we expect.”

The breakoutJust a few months ago, Ice Spice did not need to hide behind decoy wigs, but that changed during one hectic week in August. First, Drake expressed admiration for her music — she posted a screenshot of his message — and then flew her along with her manager and producer, RIOTUSA (who goes by Riot), on a private jet to his annual festival in Toronto, OVO Fest.

A few days after the event, she released “Munch (Feelin’ U)” the song that would become her true breakout, inaugurate a delicious new piece of slang, and establish her signature visual identity: golden curls, bold outfits, intense eye contact.

“We slept on that record because that was the only song we had that didn’t have a sample,” said Riot, whose father is DJ Enuff, an influential New York radio figure. At the time, the dominant sound of New York drill relied on familiar samples; earlier, they had released “No Clarity”, based heavily on Zedd’s decade-old trance-pop hit “Clarity”.

But the originality of “Munch” turned out to be a blessing — a hit reliant upon an older hit can feel contingent, saying less about the new artist than about the durability of the older one. “I’m happy the first song that ever really blew up for me like that was an original song, with an original word,” Ice Spice said. “I’m just so proud of that.”

The reactionThe response, fueled by social media, was instant. “I remember the week ‘Munch’ came out, I had went to the mall, right?” Ice Spice said, characteristically unperturbed. “And a bunch of kids started running up to me like, ‘Yo, are you the “Munch” girl?’ And like, taking pictures of me and recording me.”

Before stopping at New Capitol diner for an M&M cookie, she popped by St. James Park, where the “Munch” video was filmed, hoping to use the bathroom — it was locked — and quipped, “They should name it Munch Park.”

In the wake of the success of “Munch”, Ice Spice signed to 10K Projects/Capitol Records, and had her first taste of financial success — “I got 2 milli for using a mic”, she posted online at one point. But riding down the blocks where she grew up, making the trip back for the first time since handing out Thanksgiving turkeys alongside fellow Bronx rapper Lil Tjay, she expressed a little exhaustion. “People won’t ask you directly, like, ‘Hey, can you buy me a house?’ I mean, they will actually,” she said. But she was even more frustrated about the things she could not yet do: “It’s just weird now being at a certain place and not being able to just help everybody that you want to help.”

The journeyBorn Isis Gaston to a Black father and a Dominican mother who divorced when she was a toddler, Ice Spice has five younger half siblings. She had written poetry and raps since childhood, and her father routinely encouraged her to freestyle with him. (“We would be walking to school and he would be trying to get me to rap about my day,” she recalled.)
“It’s just weird now being at a certain place and not being able to just help everybody that you want to help.”
She did not begin writing full songs until 2019, inspired by the breakout wave of Brooklyn drill rappers that included Sheff G and Pop Smoke, and did not record any of them until 2021, after a video of her doing the #BussItChallenge gained traction and she had a brief flirtation with extreme virality.

“Once that happened I was like, ‘Oh, if I could do it one time, I’m pretty sure I could do it again,’” she said. “That’s when I knew I could be an artist.” Sensing an opportunity, she rushed to complete her first song: the squelchy, tough-talking, Brooklyn drill-esque “Bully Freestyle”. She began recording more tracks, and documenting the process, eventually releasing promo trailers for each to gin up attention and enthusiasm.

In perhaps the ultimate indication of pop culture absorption, Lil Nas X, the effortless channeler of virality, dressed as her in the “Munch” video for Halloween, sporting a neon tank top and a wild wig.

“The hair is definitely iconic,” she conceded. “When I was in high school, I was straightening my hair, trying to be something that I’m not. Now it’s flattering seeing a wave of Afros. I enjoy that. I feel like that’s great for Black women especially, making Afros more like just a normal staple look, you know?”

The futureRacine, of Talk of the Town, said, “She’ll make the sexy drill mainstream, she’s just gonna open more doors.” But drill, the aesthetic that has delivered Ice Spice’s first dose of fame, may only be a convenient way station.

“She’s a pop star,” Riot said. “People say drill just to box people in.”

Ice Spice agreed that her aspirations stretch beyond that sound. “For me personally, I think I have passed that,” she said. “I do want to be a mainstream artist. I want diamond records and plaques and Grammys. So I think in order to get that, you do have to surpass just one subgenre.”

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