The subway was packed with sweaty bodies as we rode north into the Bronx. When we arrived, we were greeted by chaos that seemed entirely normal. Latin music blasted out of the speakers. Pedestrians cursed and spat freely. Sidewalk hustlers sold dingy gold chains off doormats. A pair of dope boys in white tees puffed thick blunts outside their car.
To Ice Spice, an emcee emerging from New York’s newest drill wave, this environment is second nature. We joined her at the crosswalk of Fordham Road and Davidson Avenue, right outside of the McDonald's where her parents first met. Dressed in black biker shorts and a pastel orange crop top, she pointed at a brick building to the right of us: “That’s where I lived with my mom and Abuela.” She pointed at another to our left: “And that’s where I would stay with my dad and other grandma.”
Ice, half-Dominican and half-Black, is a Bronx woman through and through. Growing up, her entire world existed between those two buildings. As a kid, she spent most of her time indoors due to the high crime rates in the area. As a result, she immersed herself in television and YouTube, dreaming of one day becoming famous herself.
At first, Ice Spice wanted to be an actress. Then, after playing volleyball in college for a year and deciding it wasn’t for her, she planned on going to beauty school. Music didn’t enter her foresight until she met RIOT, her in-house producer, friend, and fellow Bronx native.
In March 2021, the two released their first song, right after Ice went viral for doing Erica Banks’ “Buss It” challenge. Since then, they’ve dropped four more tracks and have garnered a significant buzz very quickly; some skeptics have even deemed Ice Spice an industry plant. But after seeing where she grew up and studying her appeal, I can assure you she’s not. Ice Spice simply has all the tools for success and knows how to use them.
The 22-year-old pairs her appearance with the cleanest and catchiest production coming out of the Bronx, grabbing listeners' attention before she even speaks. (She and RIOT found a formula in “Name Of Love” and “No Clarity,” sampling popular EDM earworms to soften the traditionally menacing drill production.) Once her vocals come in, listeners’ interest is solidified—she’s a natural who raps with an attitude shaped by the bustling borough she was raised in. She walked us through her old stomping grounds, leading us to the steps of her childhood apartment complex so we could speak in the shade.
This is my first time in the Bronx. What are some things I need to know? The rules of thumb, if you will.
Mind your business, that’s number one.
Number two, you gotta really stay on your toes, you always gotta look over your shoulder—just be very aware. Don’t always be on your phone; look behind you, look around you.
Third, don’t be too flashy, unless you’re ready to fight or tryna get robbed.
And lastly, you gotta be tough. You can’t be pussy. You gotta just put on your gangsta face, especially if you’re by yourself.
“Bully” is the first song you dropped. Was it also the first song you ever recorded?
Yeah, so actually it was both. I got the beat from my producer RIOT. We met in college and he had been giving me beats for a while, but I wasn’t feeling them yet. But once I heard the beat for “Bully” I was like, “Nah, this is the one.” I listened to it for about a month before recording to it. I was just trying to find the vibe, just waiting, waiting.
But then, I did the Erica Banks “Buss It” challenge and it got a million views. So after that, I was like, “Nah, I gotta hurry up and put this song out.” So we recorded and finished the song the same week that it went viral, then we released it a bit later in the month. So I waited until I had a little moment to put it out.
Since then, you’ve built a pretty big buzz with just five songs. Did you expect things to move this fast for you?
I expected things to move faster, to be honest. I just believe in myself so much. But I think things are moving at a good pace.
Your dad was a rapper, right?
Yes, but he was an underground rapper. I wanna make that clear, ‘cause they tryna say that I’m a plant, and I’m not.
Has he given you any wisdom about the game?
He just basically tells me to continue to be myself and to be careful, ‘cause it can get grimey.
Why do you think Bronx drill is so hot right now?
Because Cardi B put the Bronx on the map AGAIN, especially for females. But also because it’s the last authentic borough. I think people are interested in how it truly is, in how everybody from here is really from here. Our parents are from here, our grandparents are from here, you know? People are just really interested in our culture. They’re fascinated by how raw it is.
Other than drill, what types of music do you wanna explore in your career?
I wanna do Latin music at some point. I’m actually working on some Spanish songs right now. I wanna get into more pop stuff, just fun vibes, but later on down the line when that makes more sense.
What would you say to the people who think you’re a plant, or are just riding the drill wave?
That I don’t really care, ‘cause I know what it is. I know what it took to get me here, and I know how much work I’m putting in. I also feel like when they say stuff like that, they don’t really mean it. I truly feel like they know I’m not a plant. I think they just say stuff like that ‘cause they’re mad that I’m going up faster than their fave… If anything I would say stream your fave more.
What have you learned since becoming an artist?
I’ve learned that originality is really important and that a lot of people will try to copy you, but you can’t put too much focus on that. You’ve just gotta focus on making yourself the best version of YOU. I’ve already seen people try to copy me, and it makes me say, “Damn, that’s crazy. I must be doing something right.”
By Millan Verma for Audiomack