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Iceberg Slim (August 4, 1918 – April 28, 1992), also known as Robert Beck, was an African American author of books variously categorized as urban fiction, street literature, and black pulp fiction.


Born Robert Lee Maupin into abject poverty, Beck spent most of his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker, and Rockford, Illinoismarker. His mother worked as a maid and operated a beauty shop. Beck was abandoned by his father when he was a young child, and his mother was exploited by a series of men who drifted in and out of her life. Still, it seems she was able to provide Beck with some semblance of luxury; he said that his mother helped pave the way for his life as a pimp by pampering him.

With an I.Q. of 175 according to his book Pimp: The Story of My Life, Beck studied at Tuskegee Institutemarker until he dropped out in 1937.Beck started to pimp at age 18 in the brutal Chicagomarker underworld, soon becoming rich and successful in the trade. In his writings, he later traced the motive behind and tradition of black pimping to the days when American slaves noticed their white owners' physical attraction to and exploitation of black women. Slim concentrated most of his efforts in the Chicago area, but he worked women throughout the Midwest. He served a total of seven years in jail for various offenses--including time at the Leavenworth federal penitentiarymarker in Kansas, the Cook Countymarker House of Corrections, and Waupun State Prisonmarker in Wisconsin.

During his second to last incarceration Beck was able to escape. He pimped for 13 more years before he was recaptured in 1960 and placed in solitary confinement at Cook County House of Corrections. It was then that he finally decided to "square up." In Pimp he wrote, "I got out of it because I was old. I did not want to be teased, tormented and brutalized by young whores."

On his release from prison Beck retired from street life and moved to Los Angeles, Californiamarker, where he attempted to reconcile with his mother. He spent a heartrending six months at her oxygen-tent-covered bedside, where she lay slowly dying of complications from ovarian cancer. Her death profoundly affected him; it proved to be what he needed to quit heroin, which he did over the course of three weeks.

In 1962 he got a job selling insecticide for $70 a week. He had been a natural salesman all of his life. While making a sales pitch to a college professor, he mentioned that he had been a pimp. The professor suggested that he write an autobiography. Beck wrote the book, Pimp: The Story of My Life, in three months.

Bentley Morriss of Holloway House publishers in Los Angeles worked with him on publishing all of his novels. Pimp was published in 1967, and was a controversial success. Despite Beck's efforts to dissuade young men from going into "the life," the book reportedly had the opposite effect on some.

Robert Beck died of complications from diabetes on April 28, 1992, one day before the 1992 Los Angeles Riots erupted.


Reviews of Pimp were mixed and it was quickly categorized as being typical of the black 'revolutionary' literature then being created, but Beck's vision was considerably bleaker than most other black writers of the time. His work tended to be based on his personal experiences in the criminal underworld, and revealed a world of seemingly bottomless brutality and viciousness. His was the first insider look into the world of black pimps, to be followed by a half-dozen pimp memoirs by other writers. Of his literary contribution, A Washington Post critic claimed, "Iceberg Slim may have done for the pimp what Jean Genet did for the homosexual and thief: articulate the thoughts and feelings of someone who's been there."

The book sold very well, mainly among black audiences. By 1973, it was reprinted 19 times and sold nearly 2 million copies. The book was eventually translated into German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, and Greek. The book was largely ignored by white America, and even the venerable Library of Congressmarker does not own a copy.

He wrote seven more novels. Beck has sold over six million books prior to his death in 1992, making him one of the best-selling African-American writers (after Alex Haley). All his books were published exclusively as paperbacks. Iceberg Slim also released an album of poetry called Reflections in the early 1970s.


  • Reflections (first press 1976, ALA Records); producer: David Drozen; executive producer: Louis Drozen; music: Red Halloway Quartet; photography: Robert Wotherspoon
  • Reflections (reissue 1994, Infinite Zero/American Recordings/Warner Bros. Records)
  • Reflections (reissue 2008, Uproar Entertainment)

Film adaptations

In 1973 one of his reality novels, Trick Baby, was adapted as a blaxploitation movie of the same name, directed by Larry Yust.

A movie adaptation of Pimp has been planned for a long time. There were announcements of a movie directed by Bill Duke and starring Ice Cube; that project was put on hold. In 2004 rapper Pras acquired the rights to produce a movie based on the book.

Mama Black Widow is rumored to be in production, directed by Darren Grant and adapted by Will De Los Santos. Reports have suggested that the film would feature Kerry Washington, Anthony Anderson, Rihanna, Mos Def, and Macy Gray.


Iceberg Slim was an important influence on hip-hop artists and rappers such as Ice-T and Ice Cube and Pittsburgh Slim, who adopted their names in part from reading the author. Iceberg Slim's last book, Doom Fox, which was written in 1978 but not published until 1998, contains an introduction written by Ice-T. Ice-T's third album, The Iceberg, was another major homage. Most of the currently popular references to pimp culture, for example in the work of Too Short and Snoop Dogg, ultimately can be traced back to Iceberg Slim. Rapper Jay-Z also refers to himself as "Iceberg Slim" whenever discussing his adventures with women.

Comedian Dave Chappelle often talks about Iceberg and "The Game" during his stand-up routines. According to him, Iceberg got his name by keeping "ice-cold" in a shoot-out where he stayed at the bar drinking his drink even though a bullet pierced his hat, a story told at the end of chapter 13 in Slim's Pimp. On his 2006-07 summer tour, Chappelle told a tale of Iceberg, learning of him from Maya Angelou, and relates it to why he left $50 million at Comedy Central and secretly went to Africa.

At the conclusion of Chappelle's stand up routine he compares how Slim used to blackmail his hookers and therefore forcing them to stay loyal to him. Chappelle would close his show with the saying, like Slim used to say "Don't ever leave me."

See also

  • Peter A. Muckley, Iceberg Slim: The Life as Art. Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 2005.
  • African American literature
  • Donald Goines, a writer who was heavily influenced by Iceberg Slim and wrote in a similar style


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