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Iceberg Slim: America's Pimp Laureate

Biographical NotesFor Iceberg Slim AKA Robert Beck

  Iceberg Slim, also known as Robert Beck,was born as Robert Lee Maupinin Chicago, Illinois on August 4th, 1918.He spent much of his childhood in Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinoisbefore returning to Chicago as a teenager.

  His father having abandoned them, Slim's mother supported the family by working as a domestic and operating a beauty shop. He credits his mother for having prepared him for the pimp lifestyle by pampering him during his childhood.

  Iceberg attended Tuskegee Institute briefly in the mid 1930's, at the same time Ralph Ellisonwas there, however they did not know one another.

  At 18, Robert began his initiation into " the life", adopting his nom de guerre,"Iceberg Slim"and remained a pimp until age 42, predominantly in the Chicago area. He was incarcerated several times in conjunction with his crimes, including a stretch in Leavenworthand spent a 10 month prison sentence in solitary confinement at Cook County House of Corrections in 1960. It was this last stretch that finally motivated Iceberg to " square up", and take to writing about his life experiences rather than pursuing a life of crime.

  Slim moved to California in the 1960's to pursue the a normal life, and changed his name to Robert Beck, using the last name of the man his mother was married to at the time.

  He published his first autobiographical novel, Pimp: The Story of My Lifein 1969 published by Holloway House. He found his book being shelved next to other black authors of the angry 60's like Eldridge Cleaver's Soul On Iceand Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X. As the climate shifted to the more militant black political movements in the 1970's, Slim had an opportunity to meet Huey Newtonand other members of the Black Panther Party, whom he admired greatly. He considered his success as a pimp as a blow against white oppression. The Black Panthers, however, had little mutual regard for Slim, considered his former profession as little more than theexploitation of his people for personal gain.

  Slim's books were met with great success and immediatelygarnered widespread attention. The film rights to Pimpwere purchased by Universal Picturesfollowing the success of The Godfather, however the project was considered "too hot" and put on hold indefinitely. However, in 1973 Trick Babywas made into a filmdirected by Larry Yust. The cast included Kiel Martin as "White Folks"; Mel Stewart as "Blue Howard"; and Ted Lange as "Melvin the Pimp". [ NEWSFLASH : I just found out that this was recently released on video- check your local (cool) independently owned video store, or buy it.].

  There have been rumors that a film based on Pimpis now in production, with both Ice-Tand Ice Cubevying for the leading role. By the way, both "Ices" cite Iceberg Slimas an early inspiration, and paid homage to him by adopting his name. UPDATE : It looks like Ice Cube has gotten the part for the upcoming film, check outthis articlefrom, though since this is dated May 2000, the production may have beenpostponed. Here's another (undated) blurbfrom Rolling Stone.

  Iceberg Slim passed away April 28, 1992 at age 73.

Hustler's Glossary (excerpt)

One of the more entertaining aspects of Slim's books are the glossaries in the back which define key terms of " the life". These glossaries have become important sources for dictionaries of slang and studies on black English, in which he is cited repeatedly as a source.These definitions come from Pimp: The Story of My Life.

  • bottom woman : pimp's main woman, his foundation

  • breaking luck : a whore's first trick of a working day

  • chili pimp : small-time, one whore pimp

  • jasper : lesbian

  • macking : pimping

  • square up : to get out of the life

  • to pull someone's coat : to inform and teach

Subcultural Relevance

  Iceberg Slim may seem like an unlikely success, however his gritty depictions of the life in the mean streets of Chicagoin the 40's and 50's have a virtually universal appeal. To date, Slim'sbooks have sold more than 6 million copies making him one of the most successful black American authors in history.

  Ironically, despite his commercial success, and his status as a "local hero" to kids on the street, he remained an outsider in the "square" black community, leading him to comment: "I am a loner to the extent that I put my own shadow outside the door and lock it out."

  His novels, however, were included in a literature course at Harvard Universitycalled "The Rogue Novel". Despite his criminal trade, and his now politically incorrectattitude towards women, his rags to riches story remains uniquely American, full of jazz age color and character.

  His books, translated into German, Spanish and French have captured the imagination of European readers as much as they have in America.

Internal Links

  • The Biography Project's Black Powerauthor listcites dozens of great books written by angry black men.

    Archived Articleson Iceberg Slim

  • A 1972 interview of Iceberg Slim from the Los Angeles Free Press.

  • A 1973 interview of Iceberg Slim from the Washington Post.

  • An October 1992 article about Iceberg Slim from Esquire Magazine.

  • A 1992 article from The Guardian (UK) on Slim's death.

  • An undated (probably 1992) article about Slim's life from Cash Box. (A coin-op music trade magazine.)

    (Has several factual errors)

  • Draft of First Chapter of Dr. Peter Muckley's Iceberg Slim Biographyfrom Iceberg Slim, The Life as Art

    (Forthcoming 2002) , to be published by Dorrance.

online resourcesfor Iceberg Slim

Complete Bibliography of Iceberg Slim


don't forget to check out the Iceberg Slim bibliography

  • Pimp: The Story of My Life

  • Trick Baby: The Story of a White Negro

    (also on video!)

  • Long White Con: The Biggest Score of His Life!

  • Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim: Robert Beck's Real Story

  • Mama Black Widow: A Story of the South's Black Underworld

  • Airtight Willie and Me: The Story of Six Incredible Players

  • Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia

  • The Game For Squares (Unpublished. This incomplete manuscript was Slim's final project before he passed away.)

  • Doom Foxwas written in 1978 but not published until October of 1998. Glad to see this finally in print. This may or may not be a version of The Game For Squares. I have no information on this either way.




Translated Editions

Iceberg Slim in Spanish

  • Pimp:Memorias de un Chulo: 1998, published by Anagrama, Barcelona, Spain. (Trans. Eduardo Fuentes; Intro. Dr. Peter A. Muckley)

    [ review]

  • Trick Baby: 2000, published by Anagrama, Barcelona, Spain. (Trans. Eduardo Fuentes; Intro. Dr. Peter A. Muckley)

Related Secondary Texts

  • American Pimp: Hughes Brothers' documentary, supposed to be excellent, though I haven't seen it. (by the Hughes Brothers directors of Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and From Hell) Available on DVD. 

  • Pimps Up, Ho's Down: Originally, part of an HBO documentary. Available on DVD. Also check out Pimpology Uncut: The Movie.

  • Prison Writing In the 20th Centuryby H. Bruce Franklin. This contains an excerpt by Slim from The Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim, as well as dozens of other incarcerated authors.

  • That's Blaxploitation!:by Darius James:A fantastic source book on the entire blaxploitationfilm genre, including one of the last interviews with Iceberg Slim (1990) and information on Trick Baby AKA Double Con, a 1973 filmrelease, which was recently release on video.

    • Also check out our page on blaxploitationfor more books, films and information.

  • The Life : The Lore and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler: by Dennis Wepman. An ethnographic analysis of the 'toast' (now called 'rap') of incarcerated black hustlers, including Iceberg Slim, kept in print by Holloway House,of course.

  • The Pimp's Bible: Sweet Science of Sin

  • Turning Pro: A Guide to Sex Work for the Ambitious and the IntriguedWritten by an ex-hooker.

  • Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its WomenInteresting look at the life of the whores in Nevada's legal brothels.

  • Hookers, Tricks and CopsInside look at the relationship between law enforcement and prostitution, written by an ex-vice squad cop.

  • Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers and JohnsPublished by Prometheus books, known for their upfront, no holds approach, no subject too racy. In other words, buy this book.

  • The Brothel Bible: A small press "tell-it-like-is" book about the industry.

  • Red Light: Inside the Sex Industry: A fancier book, aesthetically pleasing, lots o' glossy photos. Almost too slick for the subject matter.

  • The Art of Mackin': Tariq "K-Flex" Nasheed. Apparently a bit more humorous than biographical.

  • The Pimp's Rap: A True Story: by The Master Pimp. Well, the coverlooks enticing.

  • Trickshot: The Story of a Black Pimp: A tell-it-all book by Randolph Harris, originally published in the early 80's.

  • Black Players: The Secret World of Black Pimps: by Christina Millner. Black Players is an out of print book which I believe has a section devoted to Iceberg Slim in it, at any rate it is of corollary interest. I've never been able to find it.

  • Too Short: Shorty the Pimp at the Player's Ball (1992) : Rap star Too $hort, live at the Player's Ball.

 Author: Patrick Deese

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