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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Ice Ice Baby" And Other Examples Of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity "Ice Cold" Chants And Motifs

Edited by Azizi Powell

Let me first state as a matter of fact that the title and chorus of Vanilla Ice's 1989/1990 hit Rap song "Ice Ice Baby" originated from the signature chant of the historically Black Greek lettered fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, Incorporated (A Phi A; Alphas). Here's a quote with source citations from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Ice_Baby
"Robert Van Winkle, better known by his stage name Vanilla Ice, wrote "Ice Ice Baby" at the age of 16, bas[ed] its lyrics upon his experiences in South Florida.[1] The lyrics describe a drive-by shooting and Van Winkle's rhyming skills.[2] The chorus of "Ice Ice Baby" originates from the signature chant of the national African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.[3][4]

3. Keyes, Cheryl L (2004). "Blending and Shaping Styles: Rap and Other Musical Voices". Rap Music and Street Consciousness. University of Illinois Press. p. 107. ISBN 0252072014.
4.Fine, Elizabeth Calvert (2003). "The Cultural Politics of Step Shows". Soulstepping: African American Step Shows. University of Illinois Press. p. 145. ISBN 0252024753."
-snip-
Also, Spike Lee's 1988 movie SchoolDaze includes a scene in which Alphas from Morehouse University step while chanting "Ice Ice Baby". Vanilla Ice's :Ice Ice Baby" song wasn't released until 1989.

Instead of repeating the basic fact that the "Ice Ice baby" song title is lifted from the Alpha Phi Alpha signature chant and motif, this post provides examples of Alpha Phi Alpha's use of the "ice ice baby", "ice", and "ice cold" motif. In addition, I present two statements from Alphas and my speculation about the sources of that "ice cold" motif, and what they mean.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and aesthetic purposes

Thank to all those who are affiliated with this fraternity. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post and also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

DISCLAIMER: The statements I make about Alpha Phi Alpha's use of the "ice cold" motif are in no way official. I'm am not affiliated in any way with that fraternity, except as a long inactive member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., a sorority which is unofficially considered by many persons involved with historically Black Greek Lettered Organizations to be the Alphas' sister organization.

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RELATED LINKS
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/01/origin-of-brrr-its-cold-in-here-cheer.html
"The Origin Of The "Brrr It's Cold In Here" Cheer"

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POSSIBLE SOURCES OF ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY'S "ICE COLD" MOTIF
These opinions about the sources for this motif are presented in no particular order. The numbers are given for referencing purposes only.
1. I received an email on October 8, 2012 from [Alpha Phi Alpha member] Charles K. that indicated that Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.'s "Ice Ice, baby" has its origin in the poem "Excelsior" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Charles K. quoted the first verse of that poem. Here's that portion of that poem as it was sent to me at http://www.cocojams.com/content/fraternity-and-sorority-chants:
"Excelsior! (poem)

"ICE, ICE, BABY..." | "Ever Higher", "Onward and Upward"

The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore,
'mid snow and ice
A banner with the strange device, Excelsior!"...
-snip-
According to ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excelsior_(Longfellow) "The poem [Excelsior"] describes a young man passing through a town bearing the banner "Excelsior" (translated from Latin as "ever higher", also loosely but more widely as "onward and upward"), ignoring all warnings, climbing higher until inevitably, "lifeless, but beautiful" he is found by the "faithful hound" half-buried in the snow, "still clasping in his hands of ice that banner with the strange device, Excelsior!"

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2. On July 27, 2014 I received an email from from Lawrence C. Ross, Jr., author of the book The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. In a portion of that email, he wrote "You asked if the "Ice Ice Baby" predated 1989 ... and it most certainly did. Way before. It comes from our founder Vertner Woodson Tandy talking about Alphas needing to fight, and even if hell freezes over, "We'll fight on the ice." And from there, you get the evolution to Ice Ice Baby."
-snip-
Again, the "ice" refers to the value of being coldly determined and steadfast, refusing to be deterred from one's goal (of becoming an Alpha, and by extension, other worthy life goals.

By the way, Lawrence C. Ross's book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of historically Black Greek letter[ed] fraternities and sororities.

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3. The reference to "ice cold" might have been influenced by -if not created because- the first "line" (group) of Alphas occurred on a cold December day. Here's the comment that prompted me to think about that possibility:
MissLG Taylor,* 2011
"The first Alphas probate was held on the ice cold day of December 4, 1906.. it was so cold they shook.. so they shook to show homage to them :)"
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqffhURTQEc

*That commenter also wrote "My dad is an Alpha and I find BLGO interesting". [BGLO = Black Greek letter[ed] organizations, meaning "historically Black fraternities and sororities that use three letters of the Greek alphabet".

4. The positive cultural meanings of being "ice cold" and of being "cool" may be considered as sources for the motif's use by Alphas. Read more about those cultural meanings in the next section.
-snip-
I wonder if reasons #1-#3 were thought of after the fact to fit the cultural meanings of "ice" and "ice cold" for the Alphas.

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SPECULATIONS ABOUT THE MEANING OF ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY'S "ICE COLD" MOTIF
Here's the second meaning of the English idiom "being cold as ice" as given in http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ice-cold
"ice-cold
adjective
2. without warmth of feeling or manner; unemotional; passionless: an ice-cold reception."
-snip-
I think that meaning is the essence of the Alphas' use of "ice" and "ice cold", i.e., being "cold as ice" encapsulates the high value in African American culture of being stoic in the face of difficulties, being "cold blooded" in the positive sense of that word. In African American Vernacular English terms, we say "not letting anything "phase" you"(not letting anything negative bother you).

Men striving to become Alphas place a high value on having the dedication, will, courage, and fortitude it takes to persevere in spite of difficulties, until you reach your goal of becoming an Alpha; an Alpha can not be deterred if difficulties occur.

I believe that the this "ice cold" approach and motif that is promoted by the Alphas is reflected in and closely related to the "it bes that way sometimes" approach to difficulties that is valued among some African Americans, and some other people of African descent. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2014/07/nina-simone-it-bes-that-way-sometimes.html for a pancocojams series on African American and Caribbean "it bes that way sometime"/"such is life" attitudes and songs.

2. I believe that the positive interpretation of the word "cool" (meaning "hip", and other positive colloquial meanings) may also factor into the Alphas use of the word "ice" and cold", if so I think those are add-ons to the main and earlier meanings of those words.

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EXAMPLES OF CHANTS
1. WE ARE THE BROTHERS OF A PHI A

We are the brothers of A Phi A
Ice, Ice
We're going to make yo-a-a-ll say
"Ice, Ice"
And when you see the Black and Gold.
Ice, Ice.
you know it's gonna be
a heck of a show (normally helluva but censored for the festival)
Ice, Ice,

We're too cold,
we're too darn (damn) cold.
Ice, Ice".
We are the brothers of the Black and Gold
Ice Ice (twice)

Source: quoted in Elizabeth fine's 2003 book Soulstepping: African American Step Shows, p. 123.
This book is another must read for those interested in BGLOs.

*crack= insult, diss
-snip-
That example was given in this passage about p. 123 as an example of "trade" or "signature steps".
"Trade or signature steps. while based on a traditional core, gain power and appeal through variations that reflect an ability to adapt to the audience and theme of a particular occasion, Thus, Alpha Phi Alpha's well-known trade chant "Ice Ice" (which inspired the white rapper Vanilla Ice's national hit of 1990 "Ice, Ice, Baby") can be used to crack*, or to boast, or for more serious purposes. Alpha Phi Alpha, for example, used "Ice, Ice" to boast during a show at the Dance Heritage Festival at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City in 1991".
-snip-
Elizabeth Fine goes on to quote another example of "Ice Ice" which was used by the Alphas in another venue.

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2. ICE ICE ICE TOO COLD TOO COLD

I said “Ooh it's cold in here”.
I said “There must be some Alphas in the atmosphere”.
I said “Ooh it's cold in here”.
I said “There must be some Alphas in the atmosphere”
It’s like ice ice ice,
too cold too cold.
Ice ice ice,
the black and gold
Ice ice ice,
too cold too cold.
Ice ice ice.
Ice ice ice,
too cold too cold.
Ice ice ice,
the black and gold.
-transcription from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EajhKrRrlpk, Alpha Phi Alpha stepping , video uploaded in 2009 [given as Video Example #1 below]

The "black and gold" refers to that fraternity's colors.

3. WE ARE THE ICE COLD BROTHERS OF A PHI A

We are the
ice cold brothers of-ah A PHI A.
We rock * that black and gold until the day we die.
So when you see us in the street
Expect to be holified.
Ice ice baby,
WHAT!
Too cold too cold.
IT’S LIKE

Begin step routine

Aaaah
ICE!

do another step

Aaaah
ICE!

do another step

Aaaah
ICE!
- transcription from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EajhKrRrlpk Alpha Phi Alpha stepping , video uploaded in 2009, given below as Example #2

* I'm unsure of this word

"Holified" is a made up word based on the word "holy". In the context of this chant, it probably means something like "amazed".
-snip-
A third member of that fraternity speaks to the audience and says “We are the ice cold brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity inc. Alpha Phi Alpha was founded on an ICE COLD Tuesday of December 4, 1906 at Cornel University,,, [the step team does a head down step move when saying "Ice cold"]

At the completion of the show the step team end with a routine and end by saying “ We are ice cold!”

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ADDITIONAL TEXT EXAMPLES OF THE USE OF "ICE" OR "ICE COLD" IN REFERENCE TO ALPHAS
Comments from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqffhURTQEc Alpha Rho, Alpha Phi Alpha Morehouse College Fall 2011 Neophyte Show
Morpheus, 2011
"Well done brothers.........very well done. Ice cold salutations....... #4, Fall '06, Mighty RHO, "Morpheus""
-snip-
"Might Rho" is a referent for the Alpha Rho chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. That chapter was founded at Morehouse University in 1924. A step team from that chapter is featured in Spike Lee's School Daze movie. That scene from that movie is given as Example #2 below.

**
Alan Ferguson Sr, 2013
"So Proud of my Ice Cold Brothas!!! OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO6!!!"
-snip-
1906 was the year that Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. was founded.

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Comment from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkiw_VDRQGk
kwamkong766 years ago
"Whats so ICEY about this is OUR pledge club, the sphinxmen in the background holding the ICE ICE BABY sign. Spring 1996 right here baby! But yeah, Fall 82, etc...whew... 6-NS-96 (6 as in Sphinxman #6) Sadistic"
-snip-
This comment refers to the brief scene of the Alphas stepping to "Ice Ice Baby" in Spike Lee's 1988 movie School Daze.
-snip-
"Icey" here is a made up word that I believe means "hip", "cool", and other similar superlatives.

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VIDEO EXAMPLES OF ALPHA PHI ALPHA FRATERNITY'S "ICE COLD" CHANTS
These examples are presented in chronological order based on their posting date on YouTube with the oldest dated posts presented first.

Example #1: Alpha Phi Alpha stepping



sarkazm69Uploaded on Mar 19, 2009

Alpha's from Mu Chi, Gamma Xi and orgs. from Dominguez Hills spoke about college, education and the future to H.S. students.
-snip-
Examples #1 and #2 above are from this video.

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Example #2: Ice Ice Baby . . . . The Black & Gold



C. Allen Johnson, Published on Jul 3, 2014

Ice Ice Baby . . . . The Black & Gold

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
credit: school daze
-snip-
This same video clip was posted to YouTube in 2008 with the title “Step for real” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkiw_VDRQGk
that was published on YouTube in 2008.

I used the 2014 video instead of the 2008 one because it's visual quality is much better. However, the 2008 video has some comments that are interesting from a historical/cultural perspective.

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Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitors' comments are welcome.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks SO much for this. It is a fun read for Alphas and anyone who has questions about whether or not we stole the chant from Vanilla Ice. You can only imagine how frustrating it has been for me (having been initiated into A Phi A in 1989) to have heard that question from people, namely those outside of the Black Greek system, all of these years. Very cool stuff and, again, thanks. So, can we do a little research on Lil Jon's "To the window" chant? That's an Alpha party chant I first heard in '88. :-)

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    1. Greetings, Eddie Francis.

      You're welcome.

      I appreciate your comment and hope it will help clear up any doubt that this was an Alpha chant before Vanilla Ice took & and ran with it.

      As to Lil Jon's "to the window to the wall" chant in his "Get Low" record, thanks for sharing that it came from an Alpha party chant that you first heard in 1988. It's always good to have information like that for the folkloric record (In my opinion, fraternity & sorority chants & songs are part of folklore).

      The only other thing that I can say about that "to the window/ to the wall" chant is that it reminds me of "in the river/on the bank" line that is featured in Elephant Man 's - Pon De River Pon De Bank song. That dancehall record came out in 2003 but I first learned "In the river/on the bank" in the late 1950s from an African American-not Caribbean that I know of) Vacation Bible School teacher in New Jersey. She said she learned it when she was living in North Carolina.

      Here's a link to a post on that game: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/09/in-river-on-bank-game.html .

      Btw, pancocojams has a number of other posts on Alpha chants and other BGLO (historically Black Greek Letter Organization) chants and stepping videos. Any comments about those post would be appreciated.

      Delete
  2. Being someone who frequently went to step shows in the late 80s early 90s it surprises me that the Alphas question ever comes up. If you watch School Daze which was around before Vanilla Ice, you will see Alphas holding up signs saying "Ice, Ice, Baby" and hear them chanting "Ice, ice, baby too cold, too cold. Ice, ice baby, the black and gold." Video proof of who was first!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous.

      I totally agree that there should be no question that the chant "ice icee baby, too cold ,too cold" came from members of the historically African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. However, in general, Americans in general aren't known to have a good grasp of history. And that is particularly the case when it comes to Black history.

      Delete
  3. "We rock * that black and gold until the day we die."
    You said you were unsure of the usage of "rock" here. Basically it is saying they will wear the colors forever.
    Example: "I am going to rock that hat tonight." - I am gonna wear that hat tonight.
    Used hear and basically saying they will always be an Alpha and will represent them until the day they die.

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    Replies
    1. here*
      Whoops quick typing failure by me.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous May 20, 2015!

      It surprises me that I didn't understand what "we rock the black and gold until the day we die" means. But I'm glad you broke it down the way you did.

      Delete