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Iceberg Slim: America's Pimp Laureate

Biographical Notes For Iceberg Slim AKA Robert Beck

  Iceberg Slim, also known as Robert Beck, was born as Robert Lee Maupin in Chicago, Illinois on August 4th, 1918. He spent much of his childhood in Milwaukee and Rockford, Illinois before 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 Ellison was 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 Leavenworth and 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 Life in 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 Ice and 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 Newton and 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 the exploitation of his people for personal gain.

  Slim's books were met with great success and immediately garnered widespread attention. The film rights to Pimp were purchased by Universal Pictures following the success of The Godfather, however the project was considered "too hot" and put on hold indefinitely. However, in 1973 Trick Baby was made into a film directed 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 Pimp is now in production, with both Ice-T and Ice Cube vying for the leading role. By the way, both "Ices" cite Iceberg Slim as 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 out this article from, though since this is dated May 2000, the production may have been postponed. Here's another (undated) blurb from 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 Chicago in the 40's and 50's have a virtually universal appeal. To date, Slim's books 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 University called "The Rogue Novel". Despite his criminal trade, and his now politically incorrect attitude 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

online resources for Iceberg Slim

Complete Bibliography of Iceberg Slim

  don't forget to check out the Iceberg Slim bibliography

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

 Author: Patrick Deese

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