Musical and Lyrical Style
In the early stages of the album's development, it was promoted as an album of "high-energy hip-hop." Republic Records later described the album's musical style as "aggressive rock" in the stages preceding the album's release. Vanilla Ice referred to the album's musical style as "skate rock." The album's dark and thick sound fuses elements of heavy metal, punk rock and hip hop. Van Winkle stated that "I wanted to express myself in a very intense way, and there was no way it was going to happen with a drum machine. Basically, I'm bored with drum machines and samples and stuff. With a band, they can build the energy around me." Many critics have noticed a similarity between the style of music present on Hard to Swallow and that of bands such as Korn and Limp Bizkit. Van Winkle states that although he knew of the bands, he "didn't even listen to any of them" before he made the album, and he was not trying to imitate the musical style of the bands. "It's just we have the same producer, and some of the guitars between that and Limp Bizkit are gonna sound similar. That's what happens when you've got the same guy producing them. I had heard the Deftones more than any of them."
The album features a noticeably darker sound and lyrical subject matter than Vanilla Ice's previous albums, such as To The Extreme and Mind Blowin. The album was described by CNN as a "shrill confessional" on which the performer "flays his '80s persona, his fractured family and Attention Deficit Disorder, which he has." Van Winkle states that "A lot of people think I'm satanic now that they've heard the record, and it's so dark. But that's not true. It just comes out dark because that's the way I feel I've been treated. It's just real, man, that's all I can say about it. There's no strings attached." Van Winkle states that the album "wasn't intended to be so dark. I opened up to Ross and I told him a lot of things that happened to me in the past. It was like, really deep conversation, and he was like, you should write about that. And I was like, dude, I didn't want people to judge me for that. But he was right. It was like total therapy."
The subjects focused on in the album's lyrics include Van Winkle's abusive childhood and drug addiction. Van Winkle stated that "I wrote 'Fuck Me' 'cause I know how I've been perceived. "I can look back at the whole Vanilla Ice thing, and it was played way out. It was just an image thing. I was always real to the music. But it built a huge hurdle for me to get over musically. A lot of people didn't even want to admit they bought a Vanilla Ice record." "Too Cold" is a rap rock remake of Vanilla Ice's biggest hit, "Ice Ice Baby". Van Winkle states that he remade the song because "I wanted to let people know that I'm not running from anything. This is me. This is what I'm about. I think the music speaks for itself. If the music was whack, nobody'd even care to hear anything about no Vanilla Ice. I just think the music is so strong people are kinda comin' out of the closet. It's like, 'You know, hey, I bought it back in the day, and the new stuff is slammin'.' I think there's some hip-hop influenced, stage-diving, body piercing, tattooed white boys out there who are embracing this new sound." "Too Cold" was originally intended to be released as a hidden track or B-side.
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