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Ice Spice – spring 20234
All clothes worn throughout TOMMY JEANS SPRING 2023, all jewellery and accessories worn throughout Ice’s ownPhotography Brent Mckeever

Ice Spice: The people’s princess

Born on January 1, 2000 with a superstar’s sense of immaculate timing, Ice Spice is the new people’s princess twerking the pain away with her fluorescent spin on the Bronx drill scene

Taken from the spring 2023 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here.

To us normies, being born on January 1st seems like an airtight affirmation of chosen-hood. The New Year starts with you, you set it off, on the least likely of all the holiday-birthdays (which all feel unlikely), and experience the surreal ceremony of the entire world counting down to the day you arrived. Anyone born on that day might have a sense of self-importance, one figures. But on a mild January afternoon between video shoots, Ice Spice offers up a more droll reality. “That’s so funny that that’s what people got from it,” she says, when I ask about the flurry of jokes that ran online on New Years Day, when fans realized it was also the 23-year-old rapper's birthday. “Having a birthday on New Years is so crazy because everybody is celebrating their New Years, but it’s your birthday,” she says with a laugh. “That’s always been my issue with that. And usually, my Christmas gifts are also my birthday gifts." But isn’t a baddie gon’ get what she likes? Maybe sometimes she has to wait. “Now,” Spice says, post her ascent to a star-status that has all of hip-hop transfixed, "it makes sense.”

Ice Spice’s given name wasn’t revealed for some time after she broke out in the summer of 2022. But if you watched her video for “No Clarity” closely, you might’ve spotted a nameplate worn around her neck that read “Isis.” That video, released in November 2021, quietly knocked around the emerging Bronx drill scene in New York, and its star-making elements were already apparent. Spice, born Isis Gaston, balances a brash Bronx-bred audacity with glimpses of vulnerability rarely displayed in today’s strain of alpha-female rap. Commenters on the “No Clarity” video comically deemed it “Bouncing ass to her struggles”—Spice, in around-the-way-girl garb of Jordan 4s and a brick-orange Moncler coat, wiggles and wobbles defiantly while recounting an ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, all in front of a corner store soda fridge. On her “On The Radar” freestyle, she’s even more intriguing, spitting from her deepest core about a complicated relationship the way male drill rappers rhyme about besting their opponents in the street. One of her signature catchphrases, “Graaah,” mimics a gun sound, but it often punctuates her bars about matters of love, lust, and broken trust: “After all that, you should’ve told me,” she raps on “No Clarity.” “Fuck that, I’m by my doly. Fuck that I’m going O.D. Would violate, but that was the old me.” For Spice, and the girls who hear their own inner monologues in her lyrics, opening up to someone really does carry stakes of life or death.

The New York drill scene that produced Spice is fundamentally about violence. It’s left many New York hip-hop fans conflicted: the excitement around and strength of the music is undeniable, but it also highlights, and seems to encourage, the saddest parts of life as a poor young person in the city. The scene’s first true break out star was the late Pop Smoke, from Brooklyn, and the speed of Spice’s rise and crossover might resemble his most closely. There are moments in her music when you can almost hear his trademark rapid-fire delivery and bellowing breathiness. “I love Pop Smoke. He’s goated,” she says. “I was definitely bumping him every day. That was even before I started making music seriously, in the studio. I was already rapping on some fun shit. But before I started recording, I was bumping him a lot. Sheff G too, of course. Sleepy Hallow. Bizzy Banks. It was a lot of people in the drill scene.” 

The drill sound was nurtured out of off-the-map Brooklyn enclaves like Canarsie and Flatbush –“back blocks” as Sheff G calls them. There was, of course, the sonic exchange with London as well: Brooklyn imported UK drill’s rolling bass sounds, and first-generation Caribbean parlance gave the cities’ respective Black youths a common language. But when the sound snaked its way up to the Bronx, a wholly self-contained style of New York drill emerged: faster, funnier, scarier, more raspily urgent, laden with samples, and more finely tuned to New York’s rawest and least-compromised borough. “When I started hearing about DThang and Kay Flock, and the Bronx started getting more attention and started having more artists come out, I was already recording by then,” Spice remembers. “By the time the Bronx started popping up, I was already in the booth, plotting. But hearing them was definitely more of a motivation too. Just knowing that now we have a spotlight in the Bronx. I feel like when there’s an artist buzzing out the Bronx, that gives other people a chance to shine too.”

Many great Ice Spice songs lace in colourful sped-up pop samples courtesy of her producer Riot, a relatively recent innovation to the sound. But Spice’s first proper hit, “Munch (Feelin’ U),” is straight and uncut; all sub-bass and firecracker high-hats, a menacing sound perfect for shaking a dude down to size. The week of its release, Drake reached out; that nod, combined with a video shot by drill video director George Buford was enough to send “Munch” darting through meme-aggregator pages and up and down feeds. The lore of hip-hop starting out at park jams in the Bronx sprung back to life before fans’ eyes in a post-lockdown 2022, where kids who’d been locked at home on remote learning laptops for two years could finally spazz out together again, in the flesh. “I shot that video in the park that I would go to every day growing up after school,” she remembers. “I would be there all the time. The people in the video are friends, and it was a vibe, it was a fun summer day.”

Spice's appeal across demographics within the burgeoning Gen Z—the hardest drill fanatics and softest make-up enthusiasts—made her the talk of the town by the end of the summer. Cardi B and Meek Mill teased freestyles, she popped up on streamer Kai Cenat’s channel for one of her first extended interviews, and labels raced uptown. Spice signed a deal with Capitol/10K, and on her follow up TikTok trender “Bikini Bottom,” she bragged about making “two milli for using a mic,” a requisite first-flex for every newly-crowned king, or queen, of New York. Pretty soon, she was rocking an iced-out cartoon bust of her own face, curly crown included, and new her video sets were much bigger than the local basketball court. “It feels like a movie now, making some videos, depending on what we’re really going for,” she says, fresh from shooting a video for her first official Capitol release, “In Ha Mood.” “For that video, it did feel like a little movie set. People was yelling ‘action,’ it gave that. It was cute, I love it.”

“I see the Bronx as being very true to its core, no matter what. I want every Bronx native to be successful and follow their dreams” – Ice Spice

No longer just sampling bright pop sounds from far outside the Bronx, Spice is now fielding requests from those artists too. PinkPantheress reached out for a remix of her single “Boys a Liar,” and the two young artists were soon shooting Gen Z’s first true cinematic star crossover. “I’m so excited to be collaborating with her, because I’m really a huge fan, ever since I first heard of her I’ve been a fan,” Spice says of PinkPantheress. “So for her to ask me to hop on ‘Boy’s a Liar,’ I’m really excited. And the video is fire too. It’s unexpected, but we still have a correlation to each other somehow. Even before the record, fans really wanted it. There was already requests for that.” The two met for the first time in person on set, and discussed, as Spice puts it, “confidential things.” “We definitely spoke about being new artists and just how crazy it is, having to develop and stuff so fast,” Spice says. “But we both was just so happy to be there on set, and happy to be getting this collab done. Like, ‘Boys a Liar,’ it’s fire, ‘Boys a Liar Pt 2’ is fire. Obsessed.”

In our interview, Spice is poised and polished. She seemed to show up to the rap game camera and interview ready, giving responses with a non-committal grace that resembles the kind of beloved royal she is jokingly compared to, Princess Diana. But there is a seriousness and intentionality to her posture as well. She seems to know what to say and what to not. Her comments are always positive, even about the occasional ambiguity like that Cardi B “Munch” remix, which was teased but ultimately never released—“It was a moment,” she says about it. “I appreciate Cardi for even putting that out.” She, by her own admission, is acutely aware of tone: on her debut EP, “Like…?,” you can hear the versatility in phrasing and delivery that rappers-turned-pop stars often master. Spice at times gives hints of Nicki Minaj’s ability to strike totally different characters through simple inflection shifts. On “Gangsta Boo,” for example, Spice’s Fordham lilt gives way to something softer, sounding a little bit more like someone who might’ve played on her Catholic school’s volleyball team before heading off to college: “Got a place we can stay for the night, but I’m too shy to invite you,” she blushes, the “shy” hitting straight up and high, not stretched off the to the side the way a New Yorker might say “You know the vahbes.” Of course, kids from the hood contain multitudes. “It’s really the tone or the mood that I’m trying to give off that subconsciously affects how I’m delivering,” Spice explains. “I feel like everything is about tone, that can just tell you a lot about the feeling of a song. I just go with the flow really. The beat usually lets me know what type of feeling I’m supposed to be in. For ‘Gangsta Boo,’ it was giving me happy vibes, lighthearted, crush, cute, happy, butterfly stage. That’s how I felt about it,” she says. “So I hope I gave that.”

“Giving” is a new bit of slang, meaning what something seems like, what its appearance implies. What something “gives” can be just as important as what it actually is, and can help launch a career in an era where flawless aesthetics are a supreme to be aspired to. Ice Spice’s world gives a lot, but what it is remains deeper and  more complex. As the “real New York” ebbs and flows into something only recognizable in snatches, the borough Spice represents is at once warmly familiar to natives, and a bit of a catch-22. It’s left to its own devices, but also lacking in the new opportunity (or at least new facades) that define Brooklyn’s changes over years. No one is encroaching on the Bronx, it seems, and thus it still has the breathing room to produce voices as full and authentic as Spice’s. But no one is rushing to improve it either, and the harsher sides of the music and lifestyle she represents still come with casualties; wasted potential. Can one imagine a future for the Bronx that doesn’t depend on transplants shifting culture, but still offers something new to those born and bred? It’s a heady question a young Spice can’t quite answer just yet. “I see the Bronx still being very authentic, and true to its core, no matter what,” she says. “I want every Bronx native to become successful and follow their dreams and them come true. I want that for all my Bronx people, for real.” She still has close ties back home, that mean the most. “I have my people in my corner, super supportive, I only keep supportive people around me, motivated people around me.” 

For now, it's time to see what lies beyond her hometown. “I’m excited to hit these festival stages and put out more singles leading up to my album,” she says when asked what the actual New Year holds for her. “I’m excited to do more collaborations with different artists from different genres” — she drops Tokisha, The 1975, and Rosalia as acts she’s bumping in her Liked Songs playlist, and was stoked to meet Spice (the dancehall artist) on the BET Awards red carpet. She celebrated her birthday in Mexico, but otherwise hasn’t been out of the country much; she expresses genuine excitement at expanding her horizons in all senses.” I’m excited to see the world and travel more,” she says. “I feel like 2023 is gonna be goated.”

Hair KADIJAH, styling assistant CHARLES BARBARY, make-up assistant AXEL KAMALI, lighting assistants VANESSA RAMIREZ, SOJO TRAVIS, production VIEWFINDERS, special thanks MYLES XAVIER, KAYLA VEGA