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Vanilla Ice could’ve become a punch line.

The married father of two, 45, who dubs himself "the first white rapper," shot to fame in 1991 with the ditty Ice Ice Baby. He dated Madonna, had a role in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II movie, took on a feature film in Cool As Ice and faded into obscurity. Or did he?

The rapper, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, invested wisely in real estate, and is sitting pretty on a huge fortune of pricey real estate. Plus, he found a new passion in renovating homes with his signature “smart house” design. Although his music lives on with shows like X Factor (with Britney Spears busting dance moves) – and even bartenders at this week’s Official Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C., couldn’t resist a tribute, asking for “ice ice baby”  — he can now be seen on The Vanilla Ice Project, which kicks off its third season tonight at 10 p.m. ET on DIY Network.

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Sure, the chatty, thoughtful, wise rapper had some difficulties after the spotlight faded.

“I had a weekend that lasted a few years back in the day [laughs], and I can say that laughing, but at the time, it was me not knowing what direction I’m going,” he tells me. “I had a huge success — I sold 160 million records. By the time I was 19, 20 years old, I was just lost because I wrote Ice, Ice Baby when I was 16. After a huge success, where do you fit in, in life? What is your purpose in life? Who am I now?”

He continues, “Now that you’re thrown back into the world, you’re like ‘I’ve got to figure it out.’ That’s the whole thing – I had a hard time figuring it out. It took me three years, but I’m so happy that I did go through that now, even though at the time I hated it, but now I can look back at it and go ‘we are who we are because of who we were, and that’s what makes us who we are today.’ I appreciate everything because I’m so happy today. I appreciate going through the trenches and facing adversities — that’s just life. That’s who we are today. Positives and negatives? They’re all positives for me.”

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Hm, what does he mean by a weekend that lasted three years?

“Just lost, no direction, like ‘who am I?’ I know I’m Vanilla Ice, but who is Rob? Where is Rob? We’ve got to find him again, we’ve got to find him a few years after. Five, six years later, you’ve got to find out who the Rob is then. You had the Rob before that was Vanilla Ice, but who is Rob then? You have to figure out who you are.”

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He sees a kindred spirit in Justin Bieber, 18, who recently weathered a breakup with Selena Gomez and drug scandal when he was photographed holding a marijuana joint.

"I hate to see what he’s going to go through, but there’s going to be a transitional period there that they’ve got to go from being a kid to being an adult,” he says. “When the whole world is watching, it’s a lot on your shoulders. It’s very entertaining to everybody watching when it doesn’t go very well. [laughs] But it’s awesome and entertaining on the opposite side after that to pull for that person, and see them do good.”

He gives his top tips for Justin.

1. Stay humble.

“Just keep your feet on the ground. That’s easier said than done. It’s hard to keep a level head — I’m sure he’s already been corrupted by the industry. The amount of success will get to you at a young age. You don’t know how to train yourself.”

2. Learn from your mistakes.

“For me, it was really hard because I was the first white rapper to come out there and do what I did. There was nobody before me to learn anything from, so I had to tread that water on my own. It wasn’t easy. There were a lot of regrets.”

He continues, “I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of regrets, a lot of things said and done in his life that either he will learn from them and make himself a better person from them, or keep falling into that trap. Some people can keep doing the same mistakes and can’t ever figure it out, and some people make the mistake and learn from it, and say ‘I’m not going to do that again. That was the wrong path. I shouldn’t have done that. I should’ve done this.’ And they learn from that. Some people never learn. Hopefully he’ll learn.”

3. Take responsibility.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to him. Nobody around him — because once the machine has set in like it does, nobody has to deal with it like they do. The only one who’s going to be able to figure it out is yourself.”

He adds, “That goes for Lindsay Lohan, too. Nobody’s going to be able to control her or straighten her out but herself. Out of all the clinics and people and concerned parents and OMG people — they’re not going to be able to do anything for her. She’s got to do it herself.”

Catch The Vanilla Ice Project, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET on DIY Network.

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