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.