A mere 20 years ago, the "canon" of Negro Lit - Black American
novelists in print - seemed preposterously thin, scattered and barely
represented at mainstream bookstores. A handful of chosen authors
received literary knighthood, but no matter how you sliced it, James
Baldwin's lofty intellect landed squarely in the liberal white
establishment. The one-hit wonders, like Ralph Ellison's 1952
Invisible Man, or Claude Brown's 1964 best seller, Manchild in
the Promised Land, were grounded in the Queen's English - as was
the great Richard Wright before them, whose lean, mean prose hammered
home the Negro experience to generations of college
Iceberg Slim burst forth in 1969 as a
savagely gifted storyteller, whose paperback novels sold in
unprecedented numbers in the ghettos. Iceberg Slim was the nom-de-pimp
of Robert Beck, whose seven books sold six million copies by the time he
died in 1992, at 73. Beck briefly graced Tuskegee Institute's 1930's
college rolls at the same time as did Ralph Ellison. Beck dropped out,
having chosen his calling - for which Tuskegee offered no degree. Years
later, had it come to a streetfight of words, Iceberg's "masterworks of
pimp profanity" could have cut down Ellison's milquetoast prose in a
He wrote flagrantly in the pre-Ebonics lingo of Chicago's South Side
- which even today repels the upwardly mobile Black middle class.
Iceberg's books contain glossaries of underworld Negro slang that went
out with minstrel shows and burnt cork blackface. The Norton Anthology
of Black American Literature - newly christened by Black Harvard
professors proclaiming a breakthrough, state-of-the-art "canon" -
doesn't even mention his name in its vast index.
Like the painter Grandma Moses, Iceberg Slim was reborn an artist
after age 40. His third, and harshest prison sentence - 10 months in
steel solitary at the Cook County House of Corrections - finally crushed
the pimp right out of him. Vilifying past predatory values, he exorcised
his demons into folklore, leaving a seven-book legacy. Pimp: The Story
of My Life, contained bookend warnings against the life. But Iceberg's
masterpiece only bolstered pimp liberation amidst the blaxploitation
movie craze. In Times Square, for instance, a hundred fur-coated
Superflys lorded over a thousand streetwalkers, taking renegade control
of 8th Avenue. For them, Pimp declassified the sorcery of whore control,
became a textbook for wannabe's, and lent ethnic pride to the hideous
Pimp still holds as perhaps the greatest chronicle ever written on
male-female relations. In the flush of literary success, white
feminist-journalist types sought out interviews like intellectual
groupies. Pimp philosophy, Iceberg believed, might be adapted to
mainstream relationships. "My theory is that some quantum of pimp in
every man would perhaps enhance his approach to women," he told the
Washington Post. "Because I think it's a truism that women gravitate to
a man who can at least flash transient evidence of heelism. . . Women
are prone to masochism, anyway. I think if you are able to manufacture a
bit of 'heelism' in your nature and give them a sense of insecurity as
to whether some voluptuous rival might come along and steal you, then
you are a treasured jewel."
The thrill, Iceberg told the L.A. Free Press, came during youth,
where he described "a vacuum that is filled by the joy of learning the
intricacies of being a pimp. . .For really, what is the bedrock of all
male aspiration, if it isn't cunt and money? Now here the pimp, what has
he got? All kinds of beautiful girls, who bring him cunt and money. Kiss
and suck and love him. . . .on the surface, of course, because beneath,
they really pray for his ruin."
An underlying trait common to career pimps, Iceberg found, was a
hatred of mother. "I've known several dozen, in fact, that were dumped
into trash bins when they were. . . only four or five days old."
Pimping was a black man's hustle - Iceberg claimed he never saw a
white player in his league. Whites were rare, he explained, "Because
there's so many other areas of chicanery, which are much more lucrative,
that are open to white fellows." Iceberg referred to white women, in the
historical sense, of course, as "alabaster supercunts."
Black pimps of yore (denied entry into the corporate death culture
they enjoy today) chose to use their superior intellect to enslave
women, avoiding the sucker's work-a-day world. But controlling 10 women
at a time could really fray a fellow's nerves. One must summon endless
schemes and deceptions to stay one step ahead of his treacherous
charges: "A pimp is happy when his whores giggle," Iceberg wrote. "He
knows they are still asleep."
One wrong turn, and Candy Man Dan could "blow whoreless."
Iceberg told the Washington Post he retired from the life at age 42
"because I was old. I did not want to be teased, tormented and
brutalized by young whores." Girls raised on TV, brainwashed by its
tease of material wealth, could no longer fall for the cheap glamour
once utilized by Iceberg's generation of pimps. (In those days, a pimp
could tack upon his hotel walls yard rolls of satin from the fabric
store, and dazzle the bitches.)
At the age of 55, with four young children, he said, "Now my ambition
is to be as good a father as I was a pimp." Anxious to feed those four
hungry beaks, as well as cushion their future, the middle-aged Dad
wrote, gave lectures and stayed square. It was tough adjusting from Big
Daddy to just plain daddy. At first, his infant daughters were like
"little whores," he said. He had a morbid fear of being kissed by them,
and would only pick up his kids with their backs toward him. Through
grit and determination, and the aid of his new wife, Iceberg eventually
fit in - comfortably niched in Los Angeles halfway between Ward and
His second novel, Trick Baby, abounds with the preposterous racial
torments that Blacks and whites alike once rained upon the poor mulatto
or octoroon. Any such person, it was once assumed in the ghetto, must
surely be the offspring of a black prostitute and a white trick, thus
the title Trick Baby (talk about your snap judgments!).
Iceberg Slim's second novel is the story of his prison mate, the
great Chicago con man Johnny O'Brien, of Irish-African blood - known as
"White Folks" to his friends, "Trick Baby" to his enemies. Looking like
the twin of Errol Flynn, Folks could have entered white society, but
spent his early career on Chicago's South Side, preferring to flimflam
his own people. Folks fell insanely in love with a white blueblooded
"Goddess."For the wrenching scene in which she discovers his darkest
secret, read on:
The lovely rose-tinted face stripped itself barren of color, beauty
and its fictitious youth. The twisted, stark-white face of a stranger, a
popeyed thing gritted its fangs and hurled itself toward me in the half
darkness. It stared into my eyes evilly and silently.
Then it chanted in a throaty whisper, "Mr. O'Brien, don't you ever,
ever, ever let any, any, any insult to Bradford Sherry reach my ears. I
could kill you. You miserable coon-loving tramp, white trash. I was
insane to let you touch me. I'm going to abort this little bastard
inside me. My advice to you is to see a psychiatrist and get treatment,
and the reason why your stupid mania for coons.
"Never come in my direction again. Find a putrid coon girl and live
unhappily ever after. Now, bum, I'll take you to your car."
She ripped the ruby and platinum necklace I had given her from her
throat and rammed it into my shirt pocket.
She savagely twisted the key in the ignition. She thundered the
engine and shot the Jaguar into screaming reverse.
My head was in a spinning roar of anger and humiliation. I was silent
until she stopped beside my Buick on Lake Street. I got out and slammed
the door. I reached in and took my topcoat off the back seat.
The Goddess was grim faced, staring through the windshield. I stooped
down and stuck my head into the sedan.
I said slowly, "Mrs. Costain, I really shouldn't hurt an elderly
broad, but I'm going to deliver unto you one of your ineffably wonderful
maims of the soul. You want to bet it won't thrill you?
"I don't have to go to a headshrinker to find out why I love Niggers.
I got the sanest reason there ever was. Mrs. Costain, a Nigger has been
fucking you in your ineffably white, Anglo-Saxon pussy for months now.
"You've licked the coon like a lollipop. And you've loved every
minute of it, haven't you, Mrs. Costain? Mrs. Costain, you have a
bona-fide bastard nigger baby in your sacrosanct guts.
"My father is white. My mother is a coon. I can furnish proof if you
think I'm a liar. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri on January
fifteenth, Nineteen-hundred and Twenty-three in a nigger pigsty just a
stone's throw from 14th and Vine Streets.
"Check out the records if you doubt it. I don't want you to miss the
full bang of the maim. But then, you don't look thrilled at all, Mrs.
Costain. What's wrong? Have you lost your taste for screwy thrills?
"You look like you just heard that dear old Daddy had croaked. Which
reminds me. You might tell him that nigger Johnny O'Brien spat in his
face in the Pump Room. Goodbye Mrs. - "
I didn't finish. I had seen her knuckles glowing whitely on the
steering wheel. Her head had been shaking on her trembling shoulders
like a broad with Parkinson's disease.
It should have warned me. She stomped on the accelerator. The Jaguar
had hurtled forward and flung me to the street like a rag doll. I
bounced and tumbled for fifteen feet.
I was lucky Lake Street had no traffic at the late hour. I lay with
the breath knocked out of me, and watched the Jaguar careen and weave at
suicidal speed down Lake Street.
White Folks suffers an alcoholic nervous breakdown over the Goddess
breakup, but recovers to leave the black ghetto. After his childhood
mentor, master con man Blue Howard dies, 'Folks leaves his side of the
tracks to practice con in the high-finance white world. Iceberg
continues the story of Trick Baby in his novel, Long White Con.
Iceberg's prose did indeed grow loftier in sophistication as his
success increased. One of the journalistic sketches collected in The
Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim, shows him humbled before the Black Panthers:
"Nigger, you kicked black women in the ass for bread. How many you
got now?" comes a young Panther. Rather than chop him down with his
"still-remembered masterworks of pimp profanity," Iceberg admits to
himself that the Panthers are "superior to that older generation of
cowards, of which I am part." He leaves with "genuine tears rolling down
my joyous old nigger cheeks."
Holloway House, the independent Black publishing group in Los
Angeles, which has published Iceberg exclusively in paperback, since
1969, features Iceberg's seven novels as its flagship titles. You won't
likely see Pimp on Oprah's Book Club, which bestows instant best-seller
status. But Holloway House says Pimp has sold 2 1/2-million copies to
date, and is currently under option to Island Films, with Quincy Jones
as producer. Trick Baby, an early 70s blaxploitation flick, is currently
being remade by Universal, it's original studio, according to Holloway.
Holloway spokesman Mitchell Neal brazenly states books by black
authors were unavailable during the 60's - not only dismissing black
establishment writers of the era, but poets (Leroi Jones), playwrights
(Ed Bullins, Melvin Van Peebles), show-biz bios (Sammy Davis 'Yes I
Can!, Pigmeat Markham's Here Come Da Judge!) and numerous political
manifestos. Holloway represents an alternative Black literature in
paperback - Iceberg Slim is its flagship author, followed by the oeuvres
of Donald Goines (16 titles), Odie Hawkins (16 titles), Joe Nazel (10
titles), Rae Shawn Stewart (five titles), and a spectrum of black
westerns, mysteries, crime sagas, biographies. A half-dozen different
pimp memoirs, for instance, followed on the heels of Iceberg - who
remains America's true pimp-laureate. Be prepared to wait months if you
order direct from Holloway's catalog - they operate at a snail's pace,
far removed from credit card orders or the Internet. (Write for catalog
to: Holloway Publishing Co., 8060 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046)
A good pimp doesn't get paid for
screwing. He gets his pay-off for always having the right thing to say
to a whore right on lightning tap. I knew my four whores were flapping
their ears to get my reaction to this beautiful bitch. A pimp with an
overly fine bitch in his stable has to keep his game tight. Whores
constantly probe for weakness in a pimp.
I fitted a scary mask on my face and said, in a low, deadly voice,
"Bitch, are you insane? No bitch in this family calls any shots or
muscles me to do anything. Now take your stinking yellow ass upstairs to
a bath and some shut-eye. Get in the street at noon like I told you."
The bitch just stood there. Her eyes slitted in anger. I could sense
she was game to play the string out right there in the street before my
whores. If I had been ten-years dumber I would have leaped out of the
'Hog' and broken her jaw, and put my foot in her ass. The joint was too
fresh in my mind.
I knew the bitch was trying to booby-trap me when she spat out her
invitation. "Come on, kick my ass. What the hell do I need a man I only
see when he comes to get his money? I am sick of it all. I don't dig
stables and never will. I know I'm the new bitch who has to prove
herself. Well Goddamnit, I am sick of this shit. I'm cutting out."
She stopped for air and lit a cigarette. I was going to blast her ass
off when she finished. I just sat there staring at her.
Then she went on, "I have turned more tricks in the three months I
have been with you than in the whole two years with Paul. My pussy stays
sore and swollen. Do I get my ass kicked before I split? If so, kick it
now because I'm going back to Providence on the next thing smoking."
She was young, fast with trick appeal galore. She was a pimp's dream
and she knew it. She had tested me with her beef. She was laying back
for a sucker response.
I disappointed her with my cold overlay. I could see her wilt as I
said in an icy voice. "Listen square-ass bitch, I have never had a whore
I couldn't do without. I celebrate, Bitch, when a whore leaves me. It
gives some worthy bitch a chance to take her place and be a star. You
scurvy Bitch, if I shit in your face, you gotta love it and open your
The rollers cruised by in a squad car. I flashed a sucker smile on my
face. I cooled it until they passed. Kim was rooted there wincing under
I went on ruthlessly, "Bitch, you are nothing but a funky zero.
Before me you had one chili chump with no rep. Nobody except his mother
ever heard of the bastard. Yes, Bitch, I'll be back this morning to put
your phony ass on the train."
I rocketed away from the curb. In the rear-view mirror, I saw Kim
walk slowly into the hotel. Her shoulders were slumped. Until I dropped
the last whore off you could have heard a mosquito crapping on the moon.
I had tested out for them, "solid ice,"
I went back for Kim. She was packed and silent. On the way to the
station, I riffled the pages in that pimp's book in my head. I searched
for an angle to hold her without kissing her ass.
I couldn't find a line in it for an out like that. As it turned out
the bitch was testing and bluffing right down the line.
We had pulled into the station parking lot when the bitch fell to
pieces. Her eyes were misty when she yelped, "Daddy, are you really
going to let me split? Daddy, I love you."
I started the prat action to cinch her when I said, "Bitch, I don't
want a whore with rabbit in her. I want a bitch who wants me for life.
You have got to go. After that bullshit earlier this morning, you are
not that bitch."
That prat butchered her. She collapsed into my lap crying and begging
to stay. I had a theory about splitting whores. They seldom split
without a bankroll.
So, I cracked on her, "Give me that scratch you held out and maybe
I'll give you another chance."
Sure enough she reached into her bosom.
She drew out close to five bills and handed it to me. No pimp with a
brain in his head cuts loose a young beautiful whore with lots of
mileage left in her. I let her come back.
After Iceberg Slim became the American ghetto's best-selling author,
he released a masterful performance album of poetry called Reflections
in the early 70s. The timbre and meter of his voice is so hypnotic, it
takes no stretch of the imagination to see how he sweet-talked hundreds
of wavering females into the world's oldest profession. Such a
demonstration, in fact, is reenacted for your listening pleasure on the
opening vignette, "The Fall."
We can only speculate that Iceberg's literary education in prison
included the discovery of poet Robert W. Service, whose meter he
emulates. Service wrote doggerel epics at the turn of the century, like
"The Cremation of Sam McGee." As Service wrote of what he knew - the
Klondike and the Gold Rush - so did Iceberg write what he knew, using
the form made popular by Service.
Josh Alan Friedman is the author of the
seminal Tales of Times Square (Prometheus Press). His new CD, Blacks &
Jews, is distorting minds everywhere...