Iceberg Slim is either a name you adore or haven’t heard of. He was a pimp in the early half of the 20th century, then went to prison, got out, raised a family, and in middle-age reinvented himself as an author. His autobiographical first novel “Pimp: The Story of My Life” became an instant underground classic and he followed it up with equally excellent and candid stories of the streets, the mafia, and conmen. He released an album (Reflections) and had his book “Trick Baby” turned into a movie. Yet, thanks to crooked publishers and literary prejudice, Slim died practically penniless.
Slim’s story has been vividly brought to life in the new film Iceberg Slim: Portrait Of A Pimp, featuring interviews with surviving family members, colleges and celebrity fans like Snoop Dog (or Lion), Chris Rock, and Ice T. The man holds special importance to Ice T who took his name from the author and produced the movie that was directed by his longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa. The director and producer made a visit to the Toronto International Film Festival to promote their new documentary and Collider got a chance to speak with them about the legacy of Iceberg Slim and the challenges of making the film. Hit the jump for all the details along with some predictably saucy language.
Collider: You guys have been working on this documentary for a few years. How did this start? Were you both involved from the beginning?
Jorge Hinojosa: What happened was that Ice turned me on to the books 28 years ago. Ever since then he has kind of quoted lines from the back to me. We have always been obsessed with Iceberg Slim in some form or another. When it came to doing a project, about 4 years ago there was a writer’s strike that was about to happen. So I was trying to think of what we could do in that time period. I was like, “Well, Iceberg Slim…” and jumped into it. Now, here we are.
Was it tough to find all of the family members?
Hinojosa: No. They actually lived in Los Angeles, which was great. I contacted the youngest daughter first, Misty, and had a meeting with her. She was like, “Okay.” She was totally cool and a normal, very attractive girl. She was like, “Look, my family is a bit kind of out there and crazy.” Then all of a sudden I started meeting everybody and she was absolutely correct (laughs).
Was it Iceberg Slim’s wife Betty’s idea that she be in a bed and smoking while you are interviewing her?
Hinojosa: We showed up and she was in and out of the hospital with emphysema. So when we showed up we had no idea what we were walking into. Misty said, “Jorge, my mom is not feeling a hundred percent. So we are just going to do it like this.” So I was like, “Oh, okay.” And that was actually the first time I met her. She had really bad cataracts and she was taking puffs of cigarettes alternating with an oxygen mask. So that was a bit nerve- wracking and we had to say, “Can we turn the oxygen off” because it was making this noise. But, yeah, she was a trip. She has a hair trigger of a temper. She is a real trip.
Had you ever met the family before Ice?
Ice T: No, I had never met the family before. I got turned on to the books when I was 16. So when Jorge started to manage me he was 19 and I am older than Jorge. So it was like a prerequisite like “If you want to work with me, then you have to know a little bit about this.” There was so much in the film that I didn’t know. I mean, all you know is the books and the record but you don’t know the person behind it. He had never written totally and absolutely about his real life because Iceberg Slim was his pseudonym. So the behind the scenes life of the writer was unavailable except through the interviews. Like people can listen to my music but fortunately now you get to interview me and talk to me about my real life. Back then you wrote a book and that was it. No one knows who you really were. So when I got to see the movie myself there were so many things that I didn’t know that I kind of blew me away.
Ice T: No, it was a cool thing. In my high school the paperback was actually part of the wardrobe some of the cool kids. They would come to school every day with the Iceberg Slim book in the back pocket of their Levis. I’m like, “What are these books that you guys are carrying around?” and it was the Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines and stuff. I finally opened it and you are in high school and you are doing American Literature. You are reading Moby Dick and Huckleberry Finn. So I opened up an Iceberg Slim book and I’m like. “What the fuck is this?! If I have to read something then I have to be reading this!” The term “turned out” came into play. “Turned out: is when all of a sudden you get into something so much that you start becoming it. You can get turned out by rock and roll or by anything. But all of a sudden shit blows your mind and it starts to take over your life, and these books did . You know I named myself after Iceberg Slim because I could quote words out of the books. These are very quotable books, you know? My friends would be like,“say more of that Ice stuff, T” And that is where my name, Ice- T, came from. It is not the drink. It is short for Iceberg. And my boys today call me Berg. So it has just been a part of the whole Ice-T thing. And if you really listen to my music my music is more like stories than party records. I never made party records. We used to intentionally make records that you couldn’t dance to. So you were forced to listen to the words.
What is the first quote that comes to your mind today?
Ice T: Oh, my god. I can quote entire passages. “I need a three way wench. Did a play pm Jasper in the stench and take him around the horn. No Gene or John this hope putting con because that trick was never born. She will be a good shot broad, an acid fraud, and drags your play like a bet. She will stuff you like an ace, never lose a case, and put many a mark in bed. She will be rated the best in the East and the West when the boosting hand goes down. She will stuff like an ace and never lose case. This bitch stole out many a town. Now I’ve heard hoes cry about the winds being high and the law being on their tail. About snow and sleepy and asshole beat and their tricks can go to hell. And some greasy spoon or juke saloon you’ll find them killing their time. Singing hard luck tears and sucking up beers and their pimps aren’t getting a dime. Turning half dollar tricks just to get a fix because their pussy is doing the pimping. It is ruining their name with a hell of a game because their pimps is doing the simpin’.” Now I am saying that at 16 years old to girls. I am popular as a motherfucker and I’m quoting a 50-year-old man. So, you know, this shit is intoxicating, but who writes like that? It is poetry before rap. That is why I took the hook.
Ice T: You gotta get it. It was called Reflections.
Hinojosa: It was four songs and they were classic toasts that had been passed down. Three of them were really well known. Like “Durealla Du Fontaine” is really well known. But he wrote one called Mama Debt himself. That was released a really long time ago and then re-released by Henry Rollins.
Ice T: It’s available on iTunes.
Hinojosa: There are 4 songs on it and they are like 7 minutes long.
Ice T: It’s crazy.
Hinojosa: That is where you have “The jungle feed is the strongest feed at any prey they can have. I was branded a beast as I sat the feast before I became a man” and “we had humming bird hearts and other rare parts and we sat…” It’s like…
Ice T: “An hour was spent over creamed it meant. We ate bumblebee wings and other fly things.” It is just heavy shit! You’re like, “waaaaaaah!!”
Hinojosa: “I was stocking hoes in the center of town.” The thing is that over the years you always go back to that. You always like…you meet somebody and you say, “Iceberg Slim” and they are like “Iceberg Slim?” and you’re like, “Oh, dude. You have to check this out.” And then you get back into it again and start remembering it.
Ice T: A toast with the players…the players would hold a glass up and we would toast. But they would say these little rhymes like “When I die don’t nobody cry. Send me out in style. Bathe me in milk and put on my grey silk and line the Cadillacs up for a mile. Cheers.” So these are toasts and they just started to get longer and longer. It is part of the tradition and part of the underworld.
Ice T: I went to Crenshaw high school, which is actually a block away from where he ended up on 48th, Crenshaw is on like 50th.
How different is it these days from when you were in high school?
Ice T: The thing is that when I go back there I am staying in Beverly Hills or I am staying in Hollywood at a hotel. I don’t have a residence where I grew up. So if I roll through the hood… I mean, it’s the same but it is just different characters. It is much more dangerous for me now because I don’t have the connections that I did when I was a kid. The ghetto is something that if you are not really there daily, then you don’t really have the pull. You need to be there on a daily basis to know all of the players and have those connections. If you leave, there is a whole new crew of people who probably don’t know who you are. I still have a lot of diplomatic immunity and pull, but it is not the same neighborhood. For anyone who returns to their old neighborhood you are in a new place and there are new people there and you have to be aware of that. You know, “I’m Ice T and I used to live here…BLAM!” [laughs]
Where did the idea for the animation in the film come from?
Hinojosa: There are two things. There is animation and there are after effects. The animation where you see him in prison and stuff like that. That was a girl named Carly Veronica White who I met. We worked very hard on that animation and went over and over it a bunch of times. I had an idea of what I wanted it to be and then she kind of put her creativity into it and that is how we came up with it. The after effects are when we take the pulp fiction books and cut them up. That came from Dr. Justin Gifford who is interviewed in the movie. When he came to Los Angeles from Nevada he said, “Oh I brought my collection of pulp fiction books.” And I started to looking at all of these books and he had over 200. I was like, “These are great. Let me scan the covers” not knowing what I was going to do. So then I scanned them all and I was sitting there with my editor going “How the fuck are we going to animate or do something with the passages of the book” because I can’t…it was way too expensive to do strict real animation. So what we did was we digitally cut up the books and then had him do all sorts of movement on them. Then that was the way that it was born and it really fits the tone and the time of the books when they came out.
Hinojosa: Jay Z calls himself Iceberg Slim on occasion and people name check him all of the time. But he was a pioneer in doing what he did. You know what I mean? Taking a street story and putting it in literature. Ice basically took the same concept and did it for music and it was called Gangster Rap and that still lives on today. So when you look at 50 Cent and all of these other guys, the trail always comes back to Ice. I was speaking to Scarface the other day and he goes, “Man, I was up at Ice-T’s house when I was 17 and that blew my mind and that set me on the trajectory that I am on right now.” So you can trace that all back to Iceberg Slim.
Ice T: I think also when you see the movie he is somebody that just bettered himself. A lot of rappers, you know, they come from rough backgrounds. I mean, now a lot of them don’t. They claim they do, but a lot of us really started out with rough lives. I was the one that said, “You know, instead of talking about a party let me translate this rough life into music and see who bites.” The whole world went for it and they wanted to know about it. Now, kids that don’t really have that background fabricate that background because it is intriguing to know people that had it rough. But then also somebody like Jay Z or myself had to elevate and continually transform, which Iceberg Slim did too. He started out the wrong way, which we all did, and then he had an epiphany in prison. He came out and next thing you know he is a writer. Well next thing you know I am a rapper. Who would have thought I would be a rapper? Honestly when I started to rap I didn’t think that anybody wanted to hear my stuff. Like he [Hinojosa] said, “People want to hear this.” I’m like “the stuff you take for granted entertains people” When I found out that people wanted to hear this crime shit I was like, “I got a stockpile of this shit!” So you take someone like Jay Z who sold drugs before. I never sold drugs before, but he did that and now he is a big fortune 500 type cat. This is inspirational to the kids in the street. Not necessarily staying in the street, but making this evolution and evolving. I’m watching Iceberg Slim and I’m like, “Man, there are so many parallels.” Like he started writing books after he got out of crime. Well I started writing records after I got out of crime. He stayed in the room and started preaching to his girl. I get Coco up and I am telling her these wild fucking adventures from my past and she is like. “Really?” and she can’t believe it because I am such a different person now. She will tell you “I don’t think I wanted to know you back then.” I’m like, “It probably wouldn’t have been a good time.”
Ice T: When I came out rap…the problem was in those days everything you said had to be validated. You couldn’t come out and check all of this stuff because people would check you. And I came out rapping out of L.A. and the gang culture. So if I was talking this gangster stuff and it wasn’t real somebody would have snatched me off of the stage. But being able to represent L.A. and have L.A. by me? That was because “Is that Ice-T rapping? Fuck him. Oh, that is them? Those are the guys that did that back then? Oh, alright. That is alright.” So I had the background to back me in the same sense of Iceberg Slim writing these books. He would have been discredited if he hadn’t really had been a pimp. People would have been like, “Oh, he has no right writing those books.”
Hinojosa: It’s the pedigree.
Ice T: It’s off the rise. It’s okay. It’s the truth. I just think that hip hop is really an art form that comes from hardship and translating hardships into success. And that is the story of Iceberg, me, and a lot of other people.
What do you hope to get out of this movie? I know you are here promoting and it is almost like a message that you are here to deliver.
Ice T: When you make a movie or any piece of art, you just kind of do it the best you can and you throw it out there and see what happens. People get inspired by your art and they take it wherever it is going to go. So it is kind of like Jorge has made a great film and this is just going to give it wings. This is the first place where it is being seen. Now what happens? You can’t control that.
Hinojosa: The thing is like when Iceberg wrote these books, he really had no reason to believe that they would sell because no one was writing books like this. It’s just like, “What?” and on top of it they were paperbacks. So the nature that they weren’t hardback meant that they weren’t at the top tier of the literary world. So what the fuck? When I started doing rap records nobody had bought a car or had made a lot of money doing it. So there was no reason to believe that Ice would have a career from doing it. So it is kind of like you do it and you plant that seed and if it’s going to grow, it’s going to grow.
Ice T: The biggest mistake would be to try and make a movie with content like this and try to aim it at success. If you aim it and say, “it has to be positive,” you will fucking dilute and destroy the story. So you have to make a raw piece of work and hope that people understand the artistry in it. And it is going to do what it is going to do, you know? Who the fuck knows.
Hinojosa: People are going to criticize whatever they are going to criticize. When Iceberg’s books came out they thought they were total filth and they didn’t understand it and they didn’t respect it. And it took time for people to appreciate it. When Ice’s records first came out people were fucking aghast. They thought it was the most vile shit in the planet and then you have a segment of the population that thought it was incredible. Then what happened was that eventually people just woke up and realized, “Holy shit. This is really worth listening to.”
Ice T: I think if you go at something pop then the intention right out the gate is to go to the masses. So if all of us right now were going to make a movie and our intention was to go pop, then we would write a pop movie. We would say, “Well, it has to do this. We have to get the box office. We have to get the women in there and we have to get kids.” This would be all thought out before we wrote out the story and put the story together. Something like this, you can’t work it like that. You just have to make it and what you do is what you don’t spend a lot of money. You make it so that it is done at a point where it will do what it will do and it is not about the big end at all. You don’t put a hundred million dollars in a movie like this because you are not going to make it back. You spend a few dollars but you make it and then you hop and see what happens.
Hinojosa: And you connect it to cats that have credibility because it is like who has more credibility than Ice, Snoop, Henry Rollins, and Quincy Jones? These are all guys that are pioneers in their own right. They are not…you know Chris Rock is not X meets Y. He is his own man. You look at a lot of these other people and its like “Well he is kind of like a West Coast Ice-T” or “He is kind of like a Snoop Dogg but he is from Miami” These guys are all individuals. That in itself speaks to the credibility of this project. So that respect is what is going to help propel this to make people want to see it.
Ice T: When you try to make a movie about something that is controversial, especially something like a pimp, it is touchy. But people do movies about serial killers. They have done movies about Idi Amin and they have done movies about Hitler. This is just one of those things. Our objective was to be fair. It wasn’t to make him look like an angel. It was just to be fair and that is all I hope. If I die and someone writes a story about me, just be fair and tell the truth. You don’t have to make me look like an angel. Just tell the truth. That is all anybody forgets. Just don’t angle it in any way. So when you finish watching the movie and you’re like “I hated this motherfucker’s guts for the first 40 minutes of this film and in the end I kind of liked him. He was trying to take care of his kids and he changed.” That’s the truth. I think even his kids have understood it. It’s like “Yo, it’s my dad and my dad is who he was and was how he was.” And then when you get to the beginning of the story and you see where he came from with his mother and all of that. You’re like, “there are reasons.” I think human beings are empty discs and different things that happened to you really made you and made me. It is all of these different occurrences. So we are all victims of circumstances in some form or fashion. Until I started meeting square people and honest people, I was destined to stay down that dark road until I met somebody that was like “Maybe you can do something else.” If that is all you know that is all you know. You can’t get mad at somebody for that.
I have to ask, have you ever heard Paul F. Tompkins’ impression of you?
Ice T: Who?
Paul F. Tompkins. He is a comedian who does an impression of you.
Ice T: There are so many people who do impressions of me. I always tell them “Don’t get me in trouble. Don’t call anybody up and get me in trouble saying ‘Yeah, I understand that you have money…’” I hear a lot of people do. Some do good ones and some do bad ones. The guy on Saturday Night Live does some bullshit. [laughs]