Ice Spice hasn’t always been famous, but she’s always felt like it. “Just the way people would treat me, even when it came to school or being out in public, I always felt stared at,” she says. “When I was at school, I was really one of the most popular people there, so I always felt like, Okay, I could be famous because I’m so popular.”
At home in New Jersey, where she moved after becoming too recognizable in the Bronx (“I get recognized less here, especially when I’m hiding”), the rapper likes to blast her own songs and keep her own music videos on loop on television screens throughout her house.
Ice Spice, 23, grew up as Isis Gaston. (The moniker Ice Spice came from a finsta account she had at 14.) She began releasing music in 2021 while studying communications and playing volleyball at SUNY Purchase. Then this past August, she released “Munch (Feelin’ U),” a repetitious rap about unrequited love and, some may say, female empowerment. The song caught the attention of Drake, who played it on his Sirius XM radio station, and soon after made its way to TikTok. A month later, Gaston signed with Capitol Records. On January 20, she released her debut EP, Like ..? Charged with a breathy staccato, her sound is simultaneously relaxed and upbeat, like ASMR for a club rat. Her delivery is calm yet firm, capable of gently lulling you to sleep or reviving you for a night out. Her music embraces self-love, romantic apathy, and benevolent, delicious misandry. Gaston’s personal favorite, “Princess Diana,” a two-and-a-half-minute ode to her own greatness — “In the hood I’m like Princess Diana” — is a lyrical thirst trap. (Lines like “Hottest bitch out and they know what I mean” would make a supremely confident Instagram caption.) In person, she carries that same assuredness.
When I meet Gaston at an Italian spot just off Times Square, a shocking place for two New Yorkers to hang out, she’s tucked into the corner seat of a booth with a plate of seafood pasta piled high in front of her (she would later tell me it tasted “mid”). She has a crop of ginger curls (she says her secret is Miss Jessie’s Pillow Soft Curls Cream) and wears a mesh marbled jumpsuit under a black Prada puffer. Maybe it’s the diamond-studded chain clinging to her neck or the long, manicured French-tip acrylics she uses to scroll on her caseless iPhone, but even if you had no idea who this woman was, you would immediately know she was someone.
“That guy over there won’t stop staring at me,” Gaston says without lowering her (to be fair, already soft) voice. “Into my soul!” It seems she doesn’t mind if he hears us talking about him. An otherwise ordinary-looking man in a gray polo turns away. “He looked away, finally, for once!” Gaston says. She is both pleased about and wary of how her dose of fame has changed the way she interacts with strangers. It was only a couple years ago that Gaston’s regular (and, so far, final) day job was that of a babysitter for a “Jewish family upstate” in Westchester. “Shout-out to them,” she says. “They was cool.”
Gaston grew up in the Bronx with separated parents. As the eldest sister to five siblings, she was their self-appointed protector. Her favorite part about her new success, she admits, has been the security she’s been able to grant her family. “Their friends and classmates treat them really well because they know they my sister, and I love that for them,” Gaston says. “There’s been a point where they’ve been bullied — we’ve all been bullied at one point — but they don’t gotta deal with that. Like, now they GOATed.”
Until recently, the rapper was splitting time between her mother’s home and her father’s home, which were about a block apart. The New Jersey house is the first time she’s lived by herself: “I’m just discovering a lot about myself — like I love to be alone.”
She’s also discovering her personal style. Before her success, Gaston was wearing “cheap shit,” she says. “Shout-out Fashion Nova: They held it down for a minute.” Now she chooses to accessorize her outfits with “expensive shit,” though she swears to me that it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing but rather that you wear it with confidence. As she’s showing me a photo on her phone of a necklace she’s waiting to pick up from a man named Benny in the Diamond District — one with a talisman shaped like a pseudo Powerpuff Girl with massive eyes and pouting lips — to wear in her “In Ha Mood” music video, I notice her background is a photo of herself. “I love me!” she says when I point it out. “I’m a Capricorn, but I give Leo energy a lot.” Can you blame a girl for centering herself in her own narrative?
Although her first track, “Bully Freestyle,” did well when released in early 2021, the handful of songs that followed were “serious flops,” she says. “I ended up taking those down. We don’t talk about that much.” She blamed their lack of success on her desire to fit into what she thought the industry would find palatable. She decided to go back to what she felt was genuine to her when she released “No Clarity” in November 2021.
“Once I brought it back to the real me and my roots, and I put my Jordans back on, and I just wore my natural hair, and I was just really being authentic to myself, that’s when my views started going up again,” Gaston says. “I was like, ‘Let me just be me.’”
Her look is easily recognizable and imitable: crop tops and True Religion jeans that she insists she’s going to bring back en vogue. When Lil Nas X dressed as her for Halloween, Gaston was honored. “He ate me. He cleared me,” she says. “He had the orange nails. He had the puff. He had everything to a T. He did me better than me.”
While her “drip was the same” prior to fame as it is now, the brands she gravitates toward, and the proximity she has to designer goods, have influenced the way she dresses herself. No matter what she wears, she intends to present herself to the world on her own terms: “I feel like a lot of the time, stylists will not even match your energy. They’ll try to make you a new person, and I don’t fuck with that, you know?” The weekend after we met, the photographer Renell Medrano captured Gaston in the comfort of her childhood home in clothes from brands like Juicy Couture and Ed Hardy, which she felt reflected not only who she is at her core but the way she desires to be seen. Despite a soft-seeming exterior (her favorite anime movie is Howl’s Moving Castle), Ice Spice won’t hesitate to tell you when she doesn’t “fuck with” something and will happily refute anyone who doesn’t fuck with her.
Recently, a photo of Gaston during the shoot for her “In Ha Mood” video made the rounds on Twitter. There’s Gaston in Jordans, jeans that reveal a red thong poking out, not one but two bedazzled belts draped around her waist, a cropped white tank and short fur coat with a red bra peeking out of her neckline, and a red Balenciaga bag. (Red is her favorite color.) Some comments were harsh. “Ice Spice needs a stylist bro, wtf is this??” one tweet said. Gaston fired back: “u wouldn’t get it.”
The people who do get it, her fans, call themselves the Spice Cabinet, the Spice Cadets, or the Munchkins. And they call her “the People’s Princess,” a title previously reserved for Princess Diana. Gaston is young enough that she didn’t quite understand what the brouhaha around the comparison to Princess Diana was all about until she found herself bestowed with the same nickname. She figured the connection was just “someone trying to be funny,” but now she has decided to be in on the joke. “I did my research and homework, and I feel like it’s maybe ’cause she has short hair,” she says, ticking off a broad list of common attributes. “People know I’m shy, and she was also very shy. She’s a little more shy than me. But it gives.” Why deny the people a second coming?