Iceberg Slim’s idea that there’s such a thing as a reformed pimp, if taken at face value, would only have the unworldly convinced. But, with lyricists like Jay-Z, Ice-T, and so many others, one realizes pimps are immortal. We can never get enough of the hustle because our appetite for the wisdom of the trade is insatiable. Morsels of game are regurgitated daily by Tea Partiers, in news reports, in sermons, like “mitt man”* Harold Camping’s rapture “prophecy,” and in rap lyrics like “Big Pimpin'” and “Somebody Gotta Do It (Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy!!!).” From journalists, politicians, preachers, CEOs, rappers, team owners, your mate, and the list goes on, somebody is pimping or getting “Georgiaed.”*
The bible on the game of pimpin’ is arguably Robert Beck’s (aka Iceberg Slim’s) book Pimp: The Story of My Life. It’s the godfather of the urban street lit autobiographical how-to, which we’ve had for our consumption since 1967. This month, in partnership with Iceberg Slim’s heirs, Cash Money Content and Atria Books will re-release the bestseller, a first-ever look inside the underground world of black pimps from the ’30s-’50s, one that’s still alive and well today.
Beck was one of the savviest hustlers on the streets of Chicago’s south side whose life, fortunately, didn’t end tragically or doing a long-term “bit”* in prison. His second wife, Diane, and daughter, Misty, are basking in the glory after winning a settlement for the rights from the original publishers. Here, they discuss the softer side of the man with a superior IQ of 175 who was a loving husband and caring father to them, but, to us, was the greatest pimp of all time who was at the top of the game.
What impact will the re-release of Pimp and the other titles have on readers today? What’s the benefit?
Diane: Slim always told the truth, and I think that the [re-release] is great because he wasn’t given his due. The new generation will learn about him and keep his name alive. He’s much more appreciated and understood; it’s not just making money. Some of the books are in many universities and can be found in several languages. We thank all of the young fans for taking an interest in him.
Misty: I think his work was held back because of the times. He didn’t have the benefit of what Cash Money is trying to do. They’re really promoting the re-release of the book. Holloway House never updated the book or did many press releases; it looked the same as it did in the ’60s. Things were kept under wraps for years. Pop culture has definitely changed over the years. This is the time for his work to be appreciated by a new audience and by his old fans as well.
What type of husband was he?
Diane: He had mellowed some. He never lost his touch to solve problems. At the drop of a hat, he could solve any family member’s problems. He had the ability to make me laugh a lot even when I was sad about his failing health. He was a good person and always gave you the truth.
How did you meet?
Diane: I read all of his books. I decided to write him and thank him. I really didn’t expect a response. We married in 1982.
Misty: She included a picture of herself, and she is really gorgeous. So, it helped.
What kind of father was he?
Misty: I am the youngest of three daughters. My mother and father split when I was about 6-1/2 years old, but I was a teenager when we reunited, and I was dating someone in prison, which made our reunion difficult. My father, knowing that life and the pimping lifestyle, didn’t think this guy was worthy or should be in my life, so there was a little turmoil. I was a little rebellious, but he did offer very good advice to me and my older sisters, Melody and Camille. He was extremely smart and a great father. One of my regrets is that my appreciation for him came late. He died in 1992 when I was 22. It’s touchy to talk about. I still remember things that he told me, I wish I would have listened. He was right about everything he told me. He told wonderful stories that were pretty intriguing.
What would Iceberg Slim have to say about the misogyny in rap videos?
Misty: Don’t get in those videos [laughs].
Diane: He always had an understanding and didn’t have to like something to understand it. He wouldn’t have liked the videos. I remember seeing him watch someone on TV that was so conservative and horrendous, and I would ask him, ‘How could you watch that?’ and he would say, ‘I like to know what the enemy is doing.’
If you had to compare him to someone today, who would be his contemporary?
Misty: Donald Goines
Diane: Donald. They only talked on the phone. They never met. He would have liked Tupac.
Misty: My dad and Barack Obama have the same birthday. Ice-T is a really big fan.
Diane: He really liked Ice-T’s work. He would be proud as hell about Barack Obama.
The ladies also shared that Iceberg Slim was humorous, open-minded, a wonderful storyteller and easy to talk to. He would spend hours with friends like boxer Mike Tyson. His protege, Ice-T, is currently developing a documentary on his life. The new re-release of Pimp deserves its place on your bookshelf in between Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. –yvette caslin
Terms with asterisks are urban slang used in Iceberg Slim’s day and throughout his book:
*Mitt man – A preacher who bilks people out of money
*Georgiaed – A person allows herself to be used for sex for nothing in return
*Bit – A prison sentence
All photos courtesy of Misty Beck