Show & Prove
Interview: Kemet High
Editor’s Note: This story will appear in the Winter 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
It’s been impossible to get on the internet over the last six months and avoid the sights and sounds of Ice Spice. Timelines are flooded with her lyrics, snippets, Instagram clips and look-alike memes crafted with a combo of her skin tone and curly, ginger-colored hair in mind. Her blooming celebrity status came quickly, but the Bronx-bred talent is not at all surprised by that. “New York is full of stars, for real,” the 23-year-old artist says. “So, it’s just like growing up around a bunch of stars, I feel like I became one.”
Her popularity traces back to last August when Ice released “Munch (Feelin’ U),” a jamboree drill record that quickly garnered attention on social media. The song has since amassed more than 30 million Spotify streams, and an additional view count upwards of 21 million on the music video. From the lyrics “You thought I was feelin’ you?” to her twerking sessions, she’s grabbing everyone’s attention, including established rappers. Diamond-selling artists Drake and Cardi B have saluted the budding talent, Lil Nas X and 24kGoldn dressed up as her for Halloween and NLE Choppa dropped a song named after her. Ice is taking the industry by storm, just like she envisioned as a kid.
Her childhood existed on the parameters of one block in the Fordham Road neighborhood of the Bronx, where both her parents and grandparents had homes. Born Isis Gatson, Spice was raised by a Dominican mother and Nigerian father. “The Bronx definitely made me tough,” Ice declares. “And it definitely allowed me to read people.”
The eldest sibling out of six kids, attention came early for Ice. “I was always the topic of discussion,” she remembers, mainly for always being late to school. By age 7, she was captivated by music and their videos. It also helped that her dad was a local underground rapper. His car was decked out with hefty speakers and TV screens that Ice would watch music videos on all day. “He likes his privacy,” Ice says, when asked about his rap name.
Ice Spice had an affinity for rappers Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj growing up as well as pop artists Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Ed Sheeran. “When I saw Nicki, I was so mesmerized,” Ice shares. “She’s the first female rapper that I seen. And ever since then, I was kinda set on what I wanted to be.” While Spice didn’t actually start recording any music until last year, she came up with her rap moniker as a freshman in high school. “And that’s when I definitely started growing into myself way more,” she maintains.
Ice would write lyrics in the notes section of her phone, sifting through instrumentals and rapping out loud to them. Elsewhere, she hustled as a cashier at Wendy’s and Gap. She also got busy on the volleyball court, where she played back row. “I feel like I had the most fun doing that,” Ice tells.
An 18-year-old Ice carried that passion into her first year of college at SUNY Purchase in New York, where she studied communications, but dropped out around her sophomore year. “I left because I felt like I was in the wrong place,” she explains while also noting the strenuous commute. Ice didn’t live on campus because it was more feasible that way. Her time at the university did connect some dots, though. She met Bronx-bred producer RiotUSA through a mutual friend. Ice started sending him freestyles to gully tracks like Sheff G’s “No Suburban.” Then Riot cooked up a new instrumental for what would become Ice Spice’s very first song, “Bully Freestyle,” which was released on SoundCloud last April. It was up from there.
“The first day I dropped it, it got playlisted on a pretty big playlist,” Ice claims, referring to Apple Music’s The New New York. “So, I was just excited and I just felt motivated.” With the wheels turning, Ice began building a catalog with Riot’s beats. They ended 2021 with the November release of “No Clarity,” which has since garnered over 2 million Spotify streams and over 5 million YouTube views. In early 2022, they also came through with shuddering records like “Name of Love,” “Be A Lady” and “Euphoric,” which all showcase a blend of drill’s rigorous production style and atypical lyrics about relationships.
Things really started to heat up for Ice this past summer. Her freestyle on YouTube’s On The Radar took off last May, but it was the following month when she really entered the spotlight. “Munch (Feelin’ U),” a track that only took an hour to record, went viral upon its release. “You thought I was feelin’ you?/That nigga a munch/Nigga a eater, he ate it for lunch/Bitch, I’m a baddie, I get what I want,” she spits on the latter with her signature “like” ad-lib nestled within.
The song spawned unofficial remixes from artists like Meek Mill, Kali and Cardi B, who also referenced the smash on GloRilla’s Billboard Hot 100 top 10 entry “Tomorrow 2.” Drake was also getting hip. He flew Ice to Toronto for OVO Fest last August. Drizzy, considering his G.O.A.T. status, offered some simple advice to the rising artist: “He just basically told me to keep working hard, do what I gotta do and to stay smart.”
The masses were talking again with the release of “Bikini Bottom,” a sample-free track that’s reminiscent of the transition music on SpongeBob SquarePants, last October, thanks to Riot’s production savvy. Riot, whose father is veteran Hot 97 radio personality DJ Enuff, has produced all of the rhymer’s music so far. “I think the best thing is how we trust each other,” Riot says. “We just collaborate to the fullest extent and I think that’s what you need when you’re working with somebody.” Looking forward to 2023, their chemistry will continue to be on display.
“Munch (Feelin’ U)” and Ice Spice’s movement led to interest from several record labels. She ultimately signed with 10K Projects/Capitol Records last November. James Rosemond Jr., the son of former music executive James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond, also serves as her manager.
Ice Spice’s music is already speaking to generations younger than hers. “All my siblings tell me how they just see me all over [TikTok’s] For You page,” she adds. “And all their friends be singing my song and stuff. It’s crazy.” The rapper is currently working on her as-yet-untitled debut EP. Still, Ice acknowledges that the job is far from done. “I just started my career so I got a long way to go before I’m satisfied. But I want to be remembered for all the things I didn’t get to do yet.”
Just wait on it.
Buy the winter 2022 issue of XXL magazine on newsstands now or online at the XXL store.
Read Ice Spice’s interview in the winter issue of XXL magazine, on newsstands now. Check out additional interviews in the magazine, including the cover story with Pusha T as well as conversations with Chance The Rapper, Ab-Soul, Freddie Gibbs, G Herbo, DaBaby, EST Gee, Murda Beatz, Morray, Ice Spice, Jeleel!, Armani White, Destroy Lonely, producer Dez Wright, singer Kiana Ledé, actor Shameik Moore, plus a look at hip-hop’s love for wrestling, a deep dive into how new artists get on in hip-hop these days, the ways in which women in rap succeeded in 2022, the rapper-run podcasts the game has grown to love and a tribute to rappers we lost in 2022.