Flashback: Iceberg Slim

Iceberg Slim was born as Robert Lee Maupin in Chicago, Illinois on August 4th, 1918 to a single hard working single mother (who was both the owner of a beauty shop and a maid).

Born and raised into abject poverty, most of his childhood was spent in the midwest, particularly in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Rockford, Illinois.

Being abandoned by his father, Iceberg Slim never really had a strong paternal influence in his home, just various men (most not with good intentions) who drifted in and out of his mother's life.

Even without that, his mother did her best to provide the little luxuries of life to her son, having him once say that his mother's pampering helped pave his way into his future life as a pimp.

A very intelligent man (holding an IQ of 175), Iceberg Slim attended college at the famed HBCU (Historically Black College and University) Tuskegee Institute until dropping out in 1937.

He started to get involved with pimping at age 18, soon becoming rich and successful in the trade while being able to deal successfully for a period of time with the savagery of Chicago's and the Midwest's criminal underworld.

After serving some years in the U.S. Prison System for various offenses - including federal incarcartion time over the the infamous Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas and solitary confinement in the Cook County House of Corrections due to an escape that lead to 13 years on the run - Iceberg decided it was time to "square up" and go legit, retiring from street life and moving to Los Angeles, California.

Unfortunately, soon after this decision, the main family support system in Iceberg's life, his mother, passed away from complications from diabetes. The blow of this death led to his quitting his drug addiction to heroin cold turkey, which he maintained for the rest of his life.

In the early 1960s, he got a job as an insecticide salesman, making $75 a week. One day, while making a sales pitch to a college professor, Iceberg mentioned during the conversation that he used to be a pimp.

The professor suggested that he write an autobiography about his experience to spread his knowledge of what the profession really was about and it's effect not just to those in the neighborhoods, but those who are a part of that entire system, from the pimps to the whores to the average man to the police.

Through the assistance of Bentley Morris, just about all of Iceberg Slim's novels were published by Holloway House Publishing in Los Angeles, California. The first one was the book suggested to by the professor, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Written in three months and published in 1969 and became (and to a degree still is) a controversial success.

He followed with seven more novels, including works like Trick Baby: The Story of A White Negro (which was also made into a movie in the 1970s), Mama Black Widow: A Story of the South's Black Underworld, Airtight Willie & Me: The Story of Six Incredible Players and Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim: Robert Beck's True Story.

All of these books show a very bleak and harsh side of street life and crime, showing that juxtaposed between all of the monetary and material gains one could gain for a moment, there was always a negative consequence to people's actions in the end, with only the very few being able to get out relatively unscathed.

Iceberg Slim also made an excellent jazz/spoken word album in 1976 called Reflections. Produced by David Drozen, the album covered the same themes and true life stories as his books and following the vocal delivery of what some folks call "The Dozens".

It has been recently reissued by Uproar Entertainment to the public. In my personal opinion, the tracks "Mama Debt Part I" and Mama Debt Part II" are probably some of the most heartbreaking tracks ever, directly influenced by Iceberg's mother's death and his regrets.

Iceberg Slim: Reflections Tracklisting:

1. The Fall (The Game) Part I
2. The Fall (The Game) Part II
3. The Fall (The Game) Part III
4. The Fall (The Game) Part IV
5. Broadway Sam (download here)
6. Durealla (Du Fontaine) Part I
7. Durealla (Du Fontaine) Part II
8. Durealla (Du Fontaine) Part III
9. Mama Debt Part I
10. Mama Debt Part II

Mama Debt Part I & II mp3 Download (combined mp3)

Iceberg Slim died on April 30, 1992 due to of liver failure, exactly one day before the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.

One of the great ironies of Iceberg Slim's artistic works is that while the telling of his stories were an effort to dissuade future young men from getting involved with the dangers and tragedies of "The Life", throughout the years, it seems to have had the the opposite effect on some people, with folks either getting directly involved in it or glorifying it through music, film, etc.

Some of those in the Black Music genre of Hip-Hop who have been directly influenced by Iceberg Slim's books and recordings include MCs like Snoop Dogg, Ice-T, Too Short, Jay-Z and countless others.

Some Quality Resources For More Information on Iceberg Slim and His Impact:

1972 interview of Iceberg Slim (from the Los Angeles Free Press)

1973 interview of Iceberg Slim (from The Washington Post)

LCD 21: I Like Ice - A Tribute To Iceberg Slim by Josh Alan Friedman

Holloway House Publishing - Iceberg Slim's Main Book Publisher