Over the years, we’ve all come to learn that it’s hard out here to be a pimp, and that pimping ain’t easy. These informative colloquialisms are derived from the unprecedented articulations of the late Robert Beck, a former street hustler who, under the nom de plume Iceberg Slim, wrote about his sordid life in popular books like Pimp.
Though Slim has been referenced in hip-hop and other media before, his story has never been told as comprehensively as it is in Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, a new documentary screening at TIFF on Sunday, Sept. 16.
Featuring interviews with fans like Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg/Lion and Quincy Jones, directed by first-time filmmaker Jorge Hinojosa and produced by hip-hop icon/actor Ice-T, the film is a surprisingly inspirational tale about a dynamic, intelligent man who wants to de-glamorize the gritty world he was once a part of.
“People take the word 'pimp' and take the fun side of it, not the dark side,” Ice-T explains on an afternoon in a closed Toronto bar on King West. “It’s a word that’s thrown around loosely and doesn’t have the negative connotation that a real pimp has. Like, they say a pimp is the most hated person in the underworld.”
Beck's books are a fascinating study because, even though he wrote them as cautionary tales about his pimp life, they sold well. The books resonated because people were so intrigued to read about the gratuitous violence and sex, and the money Beck made to buy slick clothes and cars.
“I’m named after him,” Ice-T reveals. “When I was in high school, I used to quote him. My name is Tracey and people used to say, ‘Say some more of that Ice stuff T.’”
In the end, Beck’s tale is a complex, unlikely scene from "the American Dream," as it were. Pushed around by life, looking to survive and provide for his family, Beck finally succumbed to suggestions by his wife Betty that his crime stories were worth telling and collaborated with her to bring them to the page. It’s Beck’s unlikely journey (he died in Los Angeles, a day before the L.A. riots of 1992) that makes Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp so compelling and inspiring.
“Before you can win, you have to believe you can win,” Ice-T says. “Someone has to push you. I’ve done so many things and I never thought I’d be able to do any of them. It’s all perspective and, once I got that jewel, I realized I could do anything and it would be Ice-Tish.”
See Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp at TIFF on Sunday, Sept. 16.
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