It didn’t take long for Ice Spice to become an icon. In August, the 23-year-old dropped the song of the summer with ‘Munch’, a thrilling drill smash that showed the world her tight raps and immediate quotability. By October, Lil Nas X was dressing up as her for Halloween.
Born Isis Gaston, the Bronx-raised rapper has tapped into the science of virality, much like her Halloween impersonator. ‘Munch’ popularised a new word in the hip-hop dialect, after all — ‘munch’ being a dismissive term for a person obsessed with you — and each new track from her brought new memes and catchphrases that all circle back to her music. “I was a typical college girl,” Ice Spice says about life before her first moment of virality, a ‘Buss It’ challenge video on TikTok. “I had never been viral before.” She’s certainly picked up the trade quickly.
Ice Spice’s debut project ‘Like?..’ entrenches us deeper into her vision of New York drill with speedy beats and ‘it girl’ rhymes about shaking ass and feeling self-assured. Every track punches in and out within two minutes or less, and that urgency carries into her calm yet sharp delivery. Aside from the familiar hits, she dives into darker, more forlorn beats with Jersey club elements (‘In Ha Mood’, ‘Acting a Smoochie’) and offers tributes to two icons in Princess Diana and the late, great Gangsta Boo: “Calling my phone but they know I don’t answer / In the hood, I’m like Princess Diana”. It’s obvious the hits won’t stop coming, and neither will the commotion she’s created.
Yet the rapper has been the subject of slut-shaming online for doing what Cardi B, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim and Gangsta Boo were doing before her: using hip-hop as a medium to transmit confidence and sexuality. However, it’s clear during our interview that, for Ice Spice, this negative attention is like water off a duck’s back. Right now, she is taking only the positives from this success – when NME asks how she is, Ice Spice replies alleviated of stress, “I’m doing so well” – and is well aware of the legacy she’s carrying on, while forging a new one for New York drill.
In our conversation, we speak on the impact of drill music on the wider music landscape, what her community in the Bronx means to her and where she sees her music being played in the future.
When did you first come into contact with drill music?
“In 2019, one of my friends showed me Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow. I had already heard Chicago drill and UK drill in the past, but that was the first time I heard drill music in New York at least. I’ve said it before but I also love Central Cee out of the UK.”
You met your producer RIOTUSA at SUNY Purchase Arts school. Why do you both click?
“All my friends at SUNY Purchase were painters, sculptors, dancers, so everybody had their own craft. I was around a lot of creative people all the time. I had other producer friends at Purchase but they wouldn’t take me seriously or saw the potential like RIOT did. I would try to ask for beats and they would never send them. It’s so funny because now they try to send them. Too late!”
You’ve caused a lot of commotion online, both positive and negative. Has your upbringing in the Bronx given you a thick skin?
“All the toughest people I know are from the Bronx. Being raised in the Bronx, it takes so much to knock us down, and I truly feel that there’s nothing people can do to get me to that point where I’m on IG live crying. I pray I never do that [laughs].”
What does your community in the Bronx mean to you?
“I miss the Bronx, I love walking down Fordham Road. Even though it was so hectic and crazy, there’s so many street vendors and people giving out free shit, it’s just so fun. There’s always music playing outside stores. There’s so many different people, so many different races and cultures. It’s a melting pot.”
Have you thought about how you might give back to your community?
“I love doing little fundraising things. I just did a turkey drive for Thanksgiving with Lil Tjay, giving a couple turkeys to families. I want to do something like that again every season. Especially around the holidays, I want to give back. I’m trying to decide what I want to do now for toy donations. It’s good karma.”
“I feel like drill is only going to keep getting bigger – this is the start of a huge era”
What’s your go-to thing to have fun and take your mind out of the whirlwind of attention you’re in right now?
“When it’s time to have fun, my favourite thing to do is be home. I’m a homebody. I have a stripper pole, so I’ve been getting into pole dancing. I’ll put music on and dance on the pole for hours. It’s so fun but I have a bunch of bruises everywhere now [laughs].”
Your dad was an underground rapper. What rappers did he put you onto when you were younger?
“He was the one that put me onto Nicki Minaj. Also French Montana, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Eminem… all the really lit rappers that were around at that time in the 2000s. I feel like all underground artists are striving to be mainstream, so that’s what they consume mostly.”
You’ve sampled two EDM songs before now, ‘Clarity’ by Zedd and ‘In the Name of Love’ by Martin Garrix. Did you grow up on that EDM boom of the 2010s?
“At a point of time in the early 2010s around middle school, I started hearing it more when it became more popular. I was hearing Zedd and Skrillex a lot. Do you remember when Skrillex was super big? That was a whole era. People went from emo to Skrillex like that [snaps fingers].”
What do you like about that particular sound enough to sample it twice over?
“The samples were just very different, you know? It sounded so fresh, and it took drill somewhere else. It became about love and feelings.”
Your love for Spongebob is known far and wide thanks to the track ‘Bikini Bottom’. What’s your favourite episode?
“I feel like everyone born in the 2000s references Spongebob a lot. He’s an icon. My favourite episode is ‘Rock Bottom’.”
Drill is one of the biggest sounds in the world right now. How does that feel being that it came from your ends?
“I feel that it’s only gonna keep getting bigger and it’s just the start of a huge era. You know when trap was really big and it became this movement? People thought it was gonna die down over time but it just became stronger and stronger. I feel like drill will become mainstream music at some point, and it won’t be so categorised. It’s already changing hip-hop, but we won’t notice until we look back.”
In the future, where do you want to hear your music being played?
“I want it to be everywhere. I really want to be one of those artists that you hear playing when you walk into stores. [I want to be] global, you know?”
Ice Spice’s debut project ‘Like…?’ is out now