05-31-2006, 11:52 AM
Iceberg Slim Interview
Los Angeles Free Press
Volume 9 No. 8 (issue 397)
February 25 - March 2, 1972
PORTRAIT OF A PIMP
Iceberg Slim is, in reality, Robert Beck, an elegantly handsome black man perhaps in his late forties or early fifties. Standing at six foot three, he is lithe and loose, resembling a man in his thirties. For the last dozen years or so, after the abandonment of his former life as a pimp, he has been dedicating his extraordinary energy and intellectual prowess to "good works."
As a retired pimp, he weaves exotic tales from his past into a tapestry that staggers the mind because it is a reality. He has had four books published to date. They are: Pimp, Mama Black Widow, Trick Baby, The Naked Soul. Pimp and Trick Baby are soon to be released as films. His works repetitively expose and vilify that portion of humanity that are the street hustlers.
In the past, he was the embodiment of what is known in street jargon as "the life." Since the death of his mother, he has altered his life style totally. Now, married, with two children, he has been reborn a writer, a black artist with a social conscience. In addition he is an eloquent dramatic speaker who easily waxes poetic on the baser topics - no simple matter.
Iceberg Slim has lectured at colleges and universities, and is well received by students everywhere. He feels he is in the process of learning, in all areas, and hopes to become a positive force in the black community.
The only perceivable vestige of his former life which one can find fault is possibly in a vaguely condescending attitude toward women. This is revealed in the latter portion of the interview.
Torn by the guilt connected with his past, the loss of his mother, the guilt-love object who was perhaps the most powerful force in his life; he is now inspired to give back what he so brutally took. Robert Beck emerges a strange mosaic of a hideous past, an optimistic present and a prophetic future, a valuable man, whose life chronicles thirty years of history in Black America.
Koblin: Mr. Beck, are most pimps black?
Beck: I wouldn't know that. I would suspect though because of the disproportionate majority of white people that there might very well be more white pimps than black. But I would say that black pimps are the best because of the crucible in which they operate.
Koblin: Do pimps hate their whores?
Beck: Well, not necessarily consciously. The best pimps that I have known, that is the career pimps, the ones who could do twenty, maybe thirty years as a pimp, were utterly ruthless and brutal without compassion. They certainly had a basic hatred for women.
My theory is, and I can't prove it, if we are to use the criteria of utter ruthlessness as a guide, that all of them hated their mothers. Perhaps more accurately, I would say that they've never known love and affection, maternal love and affection. I've known several dozen in fact that were dumped into the trash bins when they were what?.... only four or five days old.
Koblin: You say you loved your mother in your book.
Beck: Of course, but underneath the threshold of consciousness, I know that I must have hated her, as demonstrated by my neglect of her through the years.
Koblin: Did you ever pursue any activities outside pimping?
Beck: No, when I was pimping, I was all pimp, unfortunately. I remember when I was a young pimp, and that's where the thrill is... when one is young enough and enforced enough and ill enough to want to be a pimp. That's where all the glory is, when one is playing Jehovah so to speak, and learning his craft.
Then oddly enough and disappointingly enough, when one learns to control eight or nine or ten women; then all the luster, all the glory is gone. It's much like learning to ski. One just does it automatically.
Then of course, all the clothes and diamonds and the cocaine, and the girls, it isn't really important. There is a vacuum that is filled by the joy of learning the intricacies of being a pimp. But it was the greatest letdown because I was reaching always.
Then I was thirty and looked like a teenager. I was most fortunate with all the debauchery, all of the horrible things I did to my body, I never really showed it. You see; it wasn't the face of Dorian Gray at any point.
So you see, my ruin was inherent in my preservation. I could go on and on because young girls, beautiful young girls related to me and found me fascinating because I was so terribly and devastatingly youthful looking. You see what I'm saying.
Koblin: Yes, and I could say that the same is still true.
Beck: Oh no, no! I'm a trillion now, you see, but then....
Koblin: You've been out of "the life" for about ten years now. Is that correct?
Beck: Longer, as I described in .... the steel casket was the last bit. When I was apprehended for an escape thirteen or fourteen years before then.... I might add a miraculous escape.... one that they had no idea as to how it had been accomplished. I just vanished like a wisp of smoke. There were no bars sawed, and no screw's head busted. I just left. But I was apprehended for a bit of stupidity.
I had been convinced by a hustler, an ex-pimp, a really terribly ancient old man, who had stopped pimping. To earn his bread for sustenance, he sold whorehouse costumes. He had a list of whorehouses throughout the United States where he would go to sell his wares; you know, the little diaphanous costumes that are prerequisites for whorehouse girls to wear.
Koblin: Do you miss "the life"?
Beck: No, but after all, after you have been a pimp, and it's the bedrock of all male aspiration, if only in fantasy. 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.
So you see how utterly poisoning and trapping it all is. Once anybody has pimped he is in trouble because this is what the male aspiration is.... whether he is the president of a white corporation, of General Motors for example. It all boils down to the same thing.... Power.
Koblin: Did you handle mostly black women in your stable?
Beck: In the book Pimp, I do not mention any white women that I handled, but the truth was that when I was young, I was absolutely irresistable to white women. But they were brittle, absolutely brittle.
Koblin: Are you saying that they weren't marketable?
Beck: Oh, yes tremendously marketable, but they wanted to be petted and pampered. I was in the street, and I didn't have the face to do this. I was all pimp. There wasn't one scintilla of gigolo in me. I was uncompromising, absolutely uncompromising.
White women coming from the white world were fascinated with me. They had perhaps seen me in cabarets, or in Marshall Fields. Then they would smile at me and then we would talk and then they would follow me like little pastel puppies to where ever I wanted them to go, because I was sick and ill and a monster. But I was Svengali, or Rasputin, if you wish, so what could they do? But then they were introduced to the harsh reality of a sixteen-hour day with no days off....
Then there was that horrible thing of the family of whores, particularly my bottom woman who had incensed hatred for the so called alabaster supercunt. (Bottom woman is that whore most trusted and relied upon by the pimp- the favorite in an intellectual sense.)
You know, black women have always felt overshadowed by the white woman, and justifiably so, because the economic and sociological pyramid in America has the white man at the apex, then the white woman, then the black man.... and there down in that abyss of frustration and trauma is the black woman. So you see, it set up so much negative dynamism in the stable.
I was always bringing some luscious white woman into the stable and saying 'Well here is Patricia; here is Diane.' And tell my "bottom women", 'You show her!'
You see, I never went into the street and showed anybody anything. I never lived with no whores. There are bums you know that live in some house with a bunch of whores, but I always held above it.... high up above them there, a perpetual puzzle like God Almighty Himself, and I sexed more with conversation than I ever did with my penis or my tongue.
Here again, I was using hypnosis and Power, Power. I used to laugh, when I'd see some fellow who was all tired and fatigued, and maybe he had three little girls and he was trying to sex them all physically.
Koblin: Then pimping is really a psychological adeptness?
Beck: Well, if you know how to pimp. If you're just some fellow with dimples, and your hair springs from your scalp in great voluptuous waves, and your pretty, well then your gonna rely on your beauty instead of your skull.
I was never the best looking, nor the best pimp. Among my contemporaries, there were fabulous people.... young, black pimps, well, hybrids really, racial hybrids, who were beautiful. And I had to have an edge. My edge was always class. Even though I used drugs, I would never stay out with the pimps till 6 or 7 in the morning. I'd drink a quart of milk, no cocaine.... you see, I was about to go to sleep.
Koblin: What about a black pimp? Isn't he primarily interested in money?
Beck: Yes, but a black pimp is so filled with hatred that he is never sweeter than the money. It is kick, kiss, kick, kiss, kick, kiss! He takes everything and gives up nothing, and women need love. I don't know anything about the anatomy of love.... but I would say an element of concern and compassion would be included.
Koblin: However, when you became a pimp, didn't you have the same thing in mind as the white man.... money and power?
Beck: Yes, the end result was, but....
Koblin: You mean that was not your goal?
Beck: A black young man does not have the premeditated conscious insight as does a white young man when he sets out to destroy people to become a millionaire. It is for the black man, a survival. It is a ghetto kid, deprived of fatherhood, raised by his mother who has no father either. He searches for his father image and sees Dandy Bill or Lovely Louie and these are the people in his environment whom he wants to emulate. And Dandy Bill is a pimp.
Koblin: Do you socialize with other people in the ghetto?
Beck: Oh, yes, whenever I come out, all kinds of young black studs converge upon me. Some of them are ill. They want to pick my brain for the treasures they think are buried there, like how to pimp. I always dissuade them.
Koblin: How do you prevent other young people from going into "the life"?
Beck: Well, first of all, they admire me almost universally now, in black America. When I appear before a group of young people, white or black, they almost immediately forget the fact that I am from another generation.
I approach them this way, at San Jose State, for example: I come out and say, 'I would like to disclaim that I ain't no lecturer. I'm just a street nigger who's come here to rap with you and who's learning to be a writer. None of the pompous stuff. Otherwise, they become disenchanted and that's why they reject just about all the men my age.
Koblin: You hate cops, I take it.
Beck: No, I pity them.
Koblin: Are they like Plato's soldiers, the lowest on the intellectual rung?
Beck: Let's put it this way. I can dig a black man becoming a cop, but what fatal flaw does this white man have that he should want to become a member of the most hated and despised society not only by black people, but also most young people.
Koblin: You said once, "There are times when you must choose sides when you are going to be a black writer." Can you explain that?
Beck: Yes, ten or fifteen years ago, a black writer would talk out of both sides of his mouth, just as so-called black leaders. They could delude and fascinate, hypnotize large segments of black people from grass roots, ordinary black street people all the way up.
Then came Martin Luther King. He started to make black people aware of the potential power they had. Then Malcolm came and defined the enemy. Black people became aware.
There was the most brilliant black writer, I do not care to mention his name, whom I idolized. Now, you talk about magnificent convolutions, God Almighty! But unfortunately, he always talked under fake fire. He was always full of fake fire.
In other words on the surface he would say things that seemed absolutely revolutionary, but when the probing mind examined it, it was pussy right down to the bone.
Koblin: Are you then in agreement with the black militants.
Beck: I'm in agreement with anybody that wants freedom, and who wants some sort of equality in this genocidal society.
Koblin: What do you think of the young black militants as personified by Huey Newton, say?
Beck: I think he's beautiful. His philosophy has just been transposed a bit. It is much more realistic, Bobby Seale just related to it this way. "We have not abandoned the gun, we have recognized the importance of the hammer to build. We must build educational facilities. We must build medical facilities. And we must keep our guns within reach to defend our right to build." And I thought that was just beautiful.
Koblin: Isn't he also a hoodlum?
Beck: Well, yes, he has been conditioned that way. But... a hoodlum poet! Oh, my God. But then, he has never suffered the way I did. You see, all of the beauty was cauterized out of me. But he is beautiful to a fault. I have never been able to write poetry. I have envied him that. But here again, he didn't suffer long enough.
Koblin: He did do time in jail....
Beck: Not long enough, though. You see, I suffered repetitively. And he was comparatively young. But anyway, I'm glad he retained this poetic thing. He is so outta sight. The man is just miraculous.
Koblin: What happened the last time you saw you mother?
Beck: (acting out his words) There she was, the wasted face framed by wild white hair. I stood there; her eyes were closed. I realized she was sleeping. I had a rose in my hand and a heart full of remorse and guilt. I sat quietly and watched her whisper. I said, "Mama" and she didn't respond. I was alarmed because I thought she had gone in to a coma. She had diabetes, you see.
I said, "Mama." There was a flicker on those incredibly long eyelashes, that had just set the hearts of so many black men aswoon when she was beautiful and young and in her prime and tall and handsome and stately and utterly queenly. And then she opened those great sage voluminous eyes.
Then she looked up at me and I said "Darling (I lied), you look so much better than you did yesterday." Then her mouth tightened; that sensual, magnificent mouth of hers- and the eyes- were mean because she knew that I was being insincere.
I said, "Mama, you really do!" And she said, "I'm old and ugly; I am not a whore. Don't you try to fool me or lie to me."
"I'm gonna tell you somethin'. Mama, the reason you're so sick is because you won't forgive me, Mama, you ain't gonna live if you don't forgive me. You got to forgive me if you gonna live. And that's what's wrong.
"That's why you got that tight look on your mouth. You can't forgive me for what I done to you. And I'm sorry, Mama. Don't you think I remember how you carried me through the streets of Chicago when I was six months old. It was ten below zero, and you were in the very fabulous years of golden womanhood. You didn't desert me or neglect me. You were there, Mama, all the time. I'm aware of it now Mama; I really am.
Now, don't you play like that with me, Mama. Now open your eyes, Mama... (voice reaches screaming pitch, weeping) Mama, Mama, Mama! You're gonna kill me, Mama. Why did you kill me, Mama?"
Koblin: Why is there an actor portraying you in Pimp and Trick Baby?
Beck: I was considered for Blue Howard, but Blue was a portly man with a stocky body. And for Pimp, they wanted someone fresh, you know. I'm well preserved now, but let's face that.
Koblin: Would you have preferred to play the part yourself?
Beck: No, not that part. I'd like to play something completely divorced from that. But I hope that I have been able to convince you that I can act, just with that little bit about Mama. And there are people down there that can outact me.
Koblin: A black nationalist stated that it is the responsibility of the black artist to destroy the glamorous image of the pimp, and his victims forever. Do you agree with that?
Beck: Yes, here again, it is counterrevolutionary for black people to prey on other black people, or upon poor white people. I recognize the necessity for crime in black America. I understand why, for survival, black people must steal. But I don't condone crime. I feel that what it takes to be a successful criminal could be used in a more constructive way.
Like if the pimp has enough circuitry going in his brain to control nine women, surely, he's got no business being a pimp. So if you're black, and you must be a criminal, don't steal my stuff. Go over there. Steal from affluent white people.
Koblin: The black pimp, as you were, has made his fortune through the total degradation of the black woman in this society. Is that true?
Beck: That's true. And the tragedy there is, that the black woman is the bedrock of the black family unit. This is what is under direct assault. It occurred under the structured racism of America. When a black man turns out a black woman, he is denigrating the bedrock of family life in his community. Again, this is counterrevolutionary. Pimps are becoming an anachronism.
Koblin: You have then assisted in the degradation of your own race.
Beck: Yes, before I got insight.
Koblin: Do black men consciously or unconsciously hate white women now?
Beck: They have mixed feelings. After all, possession of the white woman must evoke images of lynchings, the victims with their balls hacked off, their throats cut, swinging from Georgia peach trees.
On the other hand, the black man as well as the white, has been conditioned to believe that the white woman is superior to all other women. The alabaster supercunt has always held dominion in the aesthetic caste system as perpetuated by our mass media. Some white women marry black men, but these unions have a high mortality rate.
Koblin: Marilyn Monroe was a supercunt in our society, and we are aware of her tragedy. Is she on the same psychological strata in our society as the black male supercock?
Koblin: Do white women the suffer the same oppression as black men?
Beck: Yes, she is overshadowed by the white man also. The white man still remains at the apex of the pyramid to which he arrived at his base nature, his brutal, psychotic ego. That's why they hate him now. They want to cut his throat.
Koblin: Who are "they?"
Beck: All of the people beneath him, in varying degrees.
Koblin: What do you think of the feminist revolution that is going on now? ... predominantly white.
Beck: You mean the lib thing? I think it is a minimal irritant. But it is good, it is a distraction to the giant. While his toes are being stepped on, you can rape him with an iron pipe.
Koblin: What is it that a woman wants in a man?
Beck: All women want to possess a man and not share him. It is a primeval biological need. If this need is not satisfied, she builds a desire to avenge herself.
Transcribed by: Patrick Deese
05-31-2006, 12:22 PM
a critique on Hustle + Flow
a critique on hustle + flow and the mentallity of pimping...
Manufacturing Pimps: Rewarding the Violent Repression of Black Women from Hip Hop to Hollywood
Copyright 2006 by Ewuare Osayande
Who would have ever thought that a song outright denigrating women
and celebrating their actual oppression would be deemed worthy of an
Oscar? Yet that is exactly what happened at this year's Academy
Awards when Three 6 Mafia won the Oscar for "Best Original Song"
for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," the title track to the
Paramount Classics film Hustle and Flow. The rap song is written
from the perspective of the pimp protagonist, who rhymes about the
"Wait I got a snow bunny and black girl too/ You pay the right
price and they'll both do you/ That's the way the game goes, gotta
keep it strictly pimpin'/ Gotta have my hustle tight, making change
off these women, yeah"
The American acceptance and embrace of the pimp as cultural icon
was symbolically captured as the members of Three 6 Mafia squeezed
the gold frame of the Oscar statue in acceptance of their reward.
From its inner-city origins to Hollywood's center stage, the social
acceptance of the pimp is no longer a subject of speculation; it is
now a fact of history.
On the surface, the revival of pimp fascination can be attributed
to the rap industry as more and more hip hop artists have donned the
pimp icon as mantle of choice. Hip hop has always had its rappers
who praised the pimp "lifestyle." During the early days of hip hop,
rappers such as Too Short and Ice-T became famous for their tales of
macking and pimp slapping. Yet they were peripheral at best. Today,
rappers across the regional and ideological spectrum have embraced
the image of the pimp as their profile of choice. In fact, it is
probably the most universal of roles rappers are toting. From the
hard-core gangsta rap of 50 Cent to the commercially driven
materialistic rap of P. Diddy, to the crunk sound of Lil' Jon to
the "southernplayalistic" rap of Outkast, from Nelly to Jay-Z,
everybody wants to be a pimp. Even so-called conscious artists such
as Common and Dead-Prez infuse their work with references to
themselves as "pimps in recovery."
Although the Oscar-awarded song suggests that white and Black
women are equally accessible for exploitation, the fact is that
white society long ago deemed the Black woman as the appropriate
image of the prostitute or the "ho" that can be used and abused.
That fact helps us to understand how such abuse of women can be
celebrated in a country that prides itself on its supposed rights
and freedoms for women. Black women are without respect in this
regard. As long as Black women represent the image of the prostitute
then it doesn't threaten the American ideal of white womanhood as
pristine and untarnished – the eternal virgin. This ideal remains
intact no matter how many white female pop stars come along calling
themselves Madonna in their attempt to undermine the racist/sexist
trope that has justified the enslavement, rape and repression of
The American fascination with the pimp is an expression of the
perverted white social fixation with a warped Black sexuality. That
fascination was present at the auction block, when whites would come
and inspect and bid on the naked bodies of African men, women and
children. That fascination was present at the plantation whipping
post, when whites would strip enslaved Blacks and beat them
mercilessly. That fascination was present at the lynching, when
whole white communities would come out and watch a single Black man
or woman or child stripped, mutilated and burned alive; taking home
charred remains as souvenirs. That fascist fascination is found
today in the voyeurism of white eyes as they watch their racist
projections of Black sexuality acted out on the silver screen where
they can in response project back onto the screen their personal
deviant sexual proclivities; where they can live out their repressed
sexual fantasies vicariously via commercialized Black flesh.
Rap music is the contemporary expression that has been and is
being used to reinforce an ideology that supports the continued
exploitation of the most maligned and marginalized segment of U.S.
society – Black women. With the popularity of rap music and rap-
inspired films, the mainstreaming or normalization of the pimp has
become a reality too. The Black pimp icon is a reactionary image
that emerges from the actual prostitution of female bodies that
occurs in oppressed communities. To understand how the pimp has
emerged as an iconic figure in rap music, the social conditions that
create and condone prostitution must be addressed.
The pimp is a consequence of poverty. According to some scholars,
the pimp is an option for many inner-city Black men who have opted
out of a system that long ago opted out on them. In Robin Kelley's
essay "The Riddle of the Zoot Suit," he describes how the pimp
emerged amidst a backdrop of hustling as an alternative lifestyle
for some African Americans and Latinos during World War II. "As a
number of criminologists and urban anthropologists have
suggested, `hustling' or similar kinds of informal/illicit economic
strategies should be regarded as efforts to escape dependency on low-
wage, alienating labor." (Race Rebels, p. 174) It should be made
clear that the pimp is not just a product of male poverty. Its very
existence can be more aptly stated to be caused by female poverty.
For in the pimp we find the person whose primary function is the
exploitation of impoverished and impressionable young women. Kelley
"The zoot-suiters and hipsters who sought alternatives to wage
work and found pleasure in the new music, clothes, and dance styles
of the period were "race rebels" of sorts, challenging middle-class
ethics and expectations, carving out a distinct generational and
ethnic identity, refusing to be good proletarians. But in their
efforts to escape or minimize exploitation … [they] became
exploiters themselves." (163)
Joy James discusses this same historic period from the vantage of
Black women. In her essay, "Depoliticizing Representations: Sexual-
Racial Stereotypes," she zeroes in on the abuse Black female
prostitutes experienced not just from their pimps, but from the
police as well.
"Black females were more visible to arresting officers gazing
through a distorted social lens in New York City in the 1930s, where
they constituted over 50 percent of detainees and were arrested at a
rate ten times higher than that of white women … Black females who
were not engaged in the sex trade but merely walking the streets
could be harassed by police. Whether any crime had been committed or
not, black females were linked with sexual vice …" (Shadowboxing, p.
In the present, Black women are still linked with sexual vice in a
society where conditions are still conducive for hustling. Black
unemployment is off the charts. An ever-increasing number of Black
and Latino youth buck the system and dodge enlistment in the armed
forces, refusing to partake in what they understand is an unjust and
unnecessary war. In so doing, they are resisting hegemonic notions
of patriotism and American nationalism. This new generation of "race
rebels" is finding alternatives to wage work in the hip hop inspired
lifestyle of hustling as their hipster predecessors did in the jazz-
inspired world of their day. The rationale for the zoot is renewed
in the pursuit of the bling. But these rationales and pursuits are
not justified in and of themselves as they are riddled with
contradictions, not the least of which is the penchant to prey on
impoverished and impressionable girls and young women. An
alternative must be found to the "alternatives to wage work"
that does not turn young girls into wage slaves of another kind.
The zoot-suited hipster has passed down to the baggy-jeaned
homeboy the pimp lifestyle as something to strive for, something to
take pride in. This striving has been spurred on by an American
corporate sector that has turned this oppressive condition into a
glamorized and self-perpetuating retro-reality. bell hooks has
"The contemporary glorification of male violence against women has
caused the pimp, once a despised figure in communities, to be
elevated to the status of hero. The pimp's misogynist treatment of
women was romanticized in movies like Sweet Sweetback or Cool World,
and in books like Iceberg Slim that glorified his exploits." (Aint I
a Woman, p. 108)
These films and books and the writers that produced them have
achieved cult status in the rap world. Artists like Jay-Z and Nas
are known to pepper their lyrics with references to Donald Goines
and Iceberg Slim, two of the most famous writers of pimp lit or
street lit to emerge during the late Sixties, early Seventies.
Ludacris in his rap song, "Eyebrows Down," talks about how picked up
books by Goines and got schooled to the "business" of hustling and
pimping while still a teenager. But the best example of the
influence of Blaxploitation films and books on hip hop artists is
best summarized by self-described pimp Snoop Dogg himself, who
receives "spiritual guidance" from none other than pimp turned
preacher turned pimp-guru Bishop Don Juan. "When I started seeing
those movies in the `70s, like `The Mack' and `Superfly,' that
helped me to more or less pick who I wanted to be in life, how I
wanted to live my life, how I wanted to represent me." (Moody)
This sick and twisted "birth rite" passed from one generation of
Black men to another via film and literature is wholly disturbing
for it is predicated upon the subjugation and violation of Black
women. The two cannot be separated. Pimping and the violent
subjugation of women go hand in hand. You cannot separate the gold
chalice and the pinky ring of the pimp from the busted lip and black
eye of the young girls and women being prostituted. And no matter
how many commercials Snoop appears in selling fabric softener, he
cannot soften the hard-core reality of pimp life. To be a pimp means
to be a predator.
No one knows how brutal pimping is better than celebrated pimp
turned pimp-lit scribe Robert Beck better known as Iceberg Slim by
rappers who treat his books with the same reverence Christians give
the Gospel. "The best pimps I have known, that is the career pimps,
the ones who could do twenty, maybe thirty years as a pimp, were
utterly ruthless and brutal without compassion. They certainly had a
basic hatred for women." (Koblin)
Misogyny is the spirit that is pervasive in any form of male
domination. That "basic hatred of women" takes form in the physical
abuse women experience in prostitution. Women are not seen as human
beings, but as sexual objects that can be manipulated, maligned and
discarded. Kelley discusses this point further, "Women were merely
objects through which hustling men sought leisure and pleasure; prey
for financial and sexual exploitation." Malcolm X reflecting on his
life as street hustler Detroit Red in his Autobiography stated, "I
believed that a man should do anything that he was slick enough, or
bad and bold enough, to do and that a woman was nothing but another
commodity." Kelley continues, "Resistance to wage labor for the hep
cat frequently meant increased oppression and exploitation of women,
particularly black women. The hipsters of Malcolm's generation and
after took pride in their ability to establish parasitic
relationships with women wage earners or sex
workers." (Race Rebels, p. 175)
That pride is still present in many rap artists and their male
supporters. They wield a sordid charm in their repertoire of devices
to manipulate the minds of young women who are too naïve to know
when they are being played. But that charm soon wears thin as their
thirst for control that lurks just beneath the veneer of their words
"Sweet talk and psychology were his main game. His aim was to look
through the head of a whore and read her thoughts. If persuasion
didn't work he turned to violence. His prime bit was to roll up tow
coat hangers into a truncheon and flail women's naked backs until
they bent to his will." (West) This description is a far cry from
the image presented in many rap videos of rappers draped in women
clamoring for their affection. This is the true face of
prostitution. This is the bruised face of prostitution.
Fear is the pimp's main weapon in his arsenal of control
techniques. "The hustler ethic demanded a public front of emotional
detachment. Remaining `cool' toward women was crucial to one's
public reputation and essential in a `business' which depended on
the control and brutal exploitation of female bodies. According to
Beck, "the best pimps keep a steel lid on their emotions." (Race
Rebels, p. 176) Is there any wonder why many rappers created names
for themselves that began with the word "ice"? The hook is not
always meant to convey coolness as in being hip as much as it means
to convey coldness as in being heartless.
In a rare interview in 1972 Beck was asked a direct question about
the pimp's role in the oppression of Black women. His response was
just as direct.
"Koblin: The black pimp, as you were, has made his fortune through
the total degradation of the black woman in this society. Is that
Beck: That's true. And the tragedy is there, that the black woman
is the bedrock of the black family unit. This is what is under
direct assault. It occurred under the structured racism of America.
When a black man turns out a black woman, he is denigrating the
bedrock of family life in his community. Again, this is
counterrevolutionary. Pimps are becoming an anachronism." (Koblin)
Although Beck may have wished that pimping was going the way of
the dinosaur, I wonder if he would be shocked to see just how
wickedly popular the pimp has become. The pimp icon has moved beyond
rap lyrics and B-rated movies to become an American metaphor infused
with a multitude of meanings in mainstream media. There is MTV's
wildly popular reality show "Pimp My Ride," where cars that should
be en route to the nearest junk yard are customized to resemble a
tricked-out pimp Caddy. Then there is rap artist Nelly's Pimp Juice,
an energy drink that survived an initial outcry to become one of the
fastest selling power drinks on the international market. There were
a couple of documentaries that came out at the start of the decade.
One, Pimps Up, Hoes Down was aired on HBO's series "Undercover
American." The film is the directorial debut of Brent Owens, known
for his production management work on such films as Panther, New
Jack City, Juice and Mo' Betta Blues. The other
documentary entitled American Pimp was directed by Hudlin Brothers
of Menace II Society fame. Pimps even got their own cartoon. Lil'
Pimp is the animated story of a little white boy who learns the
tricks of the pimping trade from Fruit Juice, a Black pimp whose
voice is played by Bernie Mac. Mac is joined in this irreverent romp
by a bevy of big-time Hollywood and rap stars including William
Shatner, Lil' Kim, Ludacris and Carmen Electra. This film was so
reprehensible that Columbia Pictures decided not to show it in
theaters, and instead sent it straight to video. I wonder if they
regret that decision after the success of Hustle and Flow. There is
even a website where white collar workers can learn how to "Pimp My
Cubicle." Far from becoming an anachronism, pimping has become an
Some Black male rappers take pimping to be a form of reparations
for slavery. "We've been pimped since we were ripped from the
underbelly of Africa," says rap artist David Banner. "We built
America but never got paid for it, yet we get treated the worse. So
pimping has always been part of our society, so to feel that we're
finally the pimps, why not embrace that?" (Moody) I can answer
that: Because it means enslaving the other half of your community!
That kind of reactionary response on the part of Black men is as
tired and played as it was when Elridge Cleaver tried to justify his
raping of Black women by saying that it was practice for the
real "insurrectionary" act of raping white women. (Soul on Ice, p.
Raping or pimping Black women is not pay back to white men or
white society. When we as Black men rape or pimp Black women we are
doing white supremacy's bidding, not resisting it. White men are not
hurt or pained by it. Nor are they disempowered by our behavior. The
same is true for the rape of white women for that matter. All that
does is reinforce the racist belief that we are sexual criminals who
have a depraved craving for white female sexuality. The truth is
that when we rape or otherwise sexually abuse and exploit women, we
are manifesting the brutal force of patriarchy. We are acting as the
oppressors we men are, regardless of our ethnicity or "race."
In fact, we Black men have a curious relationship with white men
as men that challenges our disdain for them. bell hooks clarifies
this point when she writes,
"Sexism has always been a political stance mediating racial
domination, enabling white men and black men to share a common
sensibility about sex roles and the importance of male domination.
Clearly both groups have equated freedom with manhood, and manhood
with the right of men to have indiscriminate access to the bodies of
women. Both groups have been socialized to condone patriarchal
affirmation of rape as an acceptable way to maintain male
domination. It is this merging of sexuality with male domination
within patriarchy that informs the construction of masculinity for
men of all races and classes." (Yearning, p. 59)
This interracial sexist alliance amounts to a gang rape of Black
This interracial gang rape mentality is best exemplified in the
making of the blockbuster hit Hustle and Flow. Contrary to many
people's belief that the movie was a "Black film" made in the
tradition of other Black pimp flicks in the Seventies, Hustle and
Flow was written and directed by a white southerner by the name of
Chris Brewer. Indeed Hustle and Flow harkens back to an even older
tradition of white men creating outright racist representations
called minstrel shows like Amos and Andy. Hustle and Flow is a neo-
minstrel movie in that it is a contemporary cinematic projection of
the white racist mind of Black life.
Just as white men during and after slavery created racist images
of Black men as rapists and criminals to cover their homegrown
sexist compulsion to rape and violate both Black and white women,
Hustle and Flow is an outgrowth of that same white male supremacist
thrust. Brewer has admitted that he was inspired to write the script
by the events of his own personal life and marriage to his white
wife as stated in this article published by Indiewire.com by Ellen
Much of "Hustle and Flow" is based on experiences from Craig
Brewer's own life. When he and his wife Jodi moved to Memphis in the
mid-1990s, they didn't have any money. "My wife and I were really
struggling," said Brewer. Jodi, a costume designer, started making
outfits for strippers for extra cash, then worked as a waitress at a
strip club and later began stripping there. (One of the characters
in "Hustle & Flow" is a stripper and several scenes take place in a
local strip club.) "Part of me thought, wow, this will be an
adventure," said Brewer. "We started to roll with a very different
element. At the same time, the lifestyle started to rob our souls a
little bit. (emphasis mine) (Keohane)
The racism should be obvious. Rather than defy the white
supremacist lie and write a script that details how he prostituted
his wife to make ends, he realized that he would make millions more
if he kept with the "master narrative" that images Black men as
pimps and Black women as whores. Images that white America can
Joy James discusses a similar case of white male racist/sexist
projection. Quoting an interview that appeared in Essence magazine,
"Writing that porn videos featuring black and interracial couples
appear designed for white male viewers, Santiago refers to video
writer-director William Marigold, who states that, for him, any
appeal to black male viewers `is purely accidental.' Santiago then
quotes Marigold: `When I put Blacks in my videos, I project my
fantasies, not theirs.'" (Shadowboxing, p. 140)
In Hustle and Flow Brewer, like Marigold and most other white
photographers, filmmakers, directors and producers, is acting out
his taboo sexist fantasies by masking white male perversion in Black
skin. The agenda, purpose and motivation of the characters have
nothing to do with Black life, but everything to do with white male
If he had written a film about his own experience, undoubtedly he
would have had to face his personal sexism and his personal
complicity in the system of patriarchy and male domination as a
white man. In so doing, he would also have had to come to terms on
some level with his own demons and the demons of his white brethren
who have raped, exploited and abused women of every hue since
European colonization. White men are the only men known to have
raped women for the sole purpose of producing workers they could
exploit. We are talking about the actual oppression of their
progeny. Then to top it off, they justified such barbarity by
sanctioning it in within their laws and religious doctrines. Talk
about big pimping. You don't get any bigger than that!
Brewer would be assisted in this endeavor by none other than John
Singleton of Boys N the Hood fame. Singleton, in his role as the
film's executive producer, served as the necessary Black stamp-of-
approval that dissuaded the fears of nervous Hollywood execs
concerned about a possible Black backlash. Just as Dr. Dre's role as
producer of Eminem enabled Eminem to gain the necessary street cred
he would not have been able garner on his own, Singleton's presence
enabled Hustle and Flow to gain a ghetto authenticity that Brewer
could not have pulled off with his "Hee-Haw" look and persona.
How do we justify "pro-Black" Singleton's involvement? We can't!
Of course, Singleton would probably state that this is not your
typical pimp flick. I guess he would call it "Pimp-Lite." Even
though the main character DJay is portrayed as a reluctant Black
pimp, he is still no less an exploiter. He still wields abusive
power over the women in his house. We see several scenes where the
threat of the pimp slap is constantly lingering in the humid air. It
is that threat of violence that marks his control over the young
women's lives. The racist imaginary continues in the depiction of
the women as well. Only the white prostitute is given a semblance of
agency. She is the only one who seeks an escape from prostitution.
She is the only one of the three who actually asserts herself beyond
mere whoredom by the film's end. In the Black women we see two
favorite stereotypes deployed. One is of the hardened, foul-mouthed
Black woman who despises Black men. The other is the whiney,
weak and helpless Black woman. Both are too beat-down and oppressed
to fight against their oppression, so they are forced by their
condition to submit to it and engage in self-destructive behavior.
There is nothing new about this movie or its depiction of Black
people. Brewer's interpretation of Black life is no different
fundamentally from D. W. Griffith's interpretation in Birth of a
Nation. If he were alive, he would give the film four stars. The
film only fosters and reinforces age-old codes and icons of white
I wonder if Singleton would be down with a film that put a happy
face on slavery. In this film, the main character is a white slave
master who is conflicted with his role as slave owner and wants to
get out the "game." So he decides he'll make a living by writing
about whipping "them niggers," rather than actually beating his
slaves. He then commences to record the lyrics over the sampled beat
of "Whistlin' Dixie." He coerces one of his enslaved field hands
named Sambo to sing the hook "It's Hard out Here for a Cracker" as
we witness a whip hanging on the wall just behind Sambo as he
stutters through his lines.
Singleton's involvement in the making of Hustle and Flow exposes
the continuing contradiction of African American manhood. Our
notions of Black nationalism and Black struggle remain narrow and
limiting when we act out our patriarchal prerogative and fail to
accord to Black women the same sensitivity and respect for their
experience that we demand from the system for ours. Singleton's
concern was not with the way the Black women are viewed. His own
films are notorious for replicating stereotypical depictions of
Black women. Rather, his concern was whether the Black man would be
perceived as redeemable. But there is no redemption to be found in
this film. The stretch from a pimp that actually exploits women to a
rapper that talks about exploiting women is no stretch at all. It is
simply the record of the reality.
What the film does show is that the pimp aspiration is the same as
the rapper aspiration: Power. In search of said power, DJay as pimp
and DJay as rapper are both willing to exploit women to make their
dreams come true. Rap artists know this and have acted accordingly.
The modern day rapper presents an ideological defense, an aesthetic
apologia, for the pimp and what the pimp represents: the brutal
repression of women. What other purpose is there for songs like "Its
Hard Out Here for a Pimp"? The song is an anthem for male
domination. It is machismo remixed for the new millennium.
Beck identifies this connection between the pimp and the
president. "So you can see how utterly poisoning and trapping it all
is. Once anybody has pimped he is in trouble because this is what
the male aspiration is … whether he is the president of a white
corporation, of General Motors for example. It all boils down to the
same thing … Power." (Koblin) Herein lies the crux of the system of
patriarchy; its main purpose is the manly pursuit of power
manifested as control over the lives, bodies and minds of women.
The system is turning us out as a people. We are both the
prostitute and the john. We pay to see ourselves exploited on the
screen. We pay to listen to ourselves exploited on the CD player. We
are paying with money, and we are paying with our souls. It is the
best indication of just how deeply colonized we still are.
Today we are witnessing the rise of a Black bourgeoisie in
Hollywood that has made its ascension upon the backs of their Black
kinfolk who still exist in the hoods they have escaped from. Their
notion of giving back is not producing films that honor the struggle
of the Black poor, nor do their films instruct impoverished Blacks
on how to fight against the system. Rather, their films exploit the
Black poor; makes a mockery of their plight so they can make
millions. The message of their movies is for the poor to grovel at
the bottom, fighting and abusing each other, rather than against
those who are responsible for their misery in the first place. More
and more it will be these moneyed Blacks who will sit in the very
places once reserved for white executives. And that will not be a
cause for celebration, for they will not be our ambassadors but our
oppressors by proxy. These are the true "hos" of the system, who
have been able to benefit from prostituting themselves to the
white industrial pimps they turn tricks for, while passing onto
their people the abuse and suffering that should be theirs too.
Paramount Classics, the company that picked up the film from
Sundance and distributed it into theaters across the globe, was on
its financial death bed in the early part of the decade. But Hustle
and Flow changed all that. "It's the best summer we had," according
to David Dinerstein, Paramount corporate exec. Hustle and Flow made
over $20 million for Paramount Classics. Their next best flick came
in a distance second, making a measly $7 million in comparison.
Tom Freston, the white man who became co-president and co-CEO of
Viacom in June 2004, oversees MTV Networks, BET, Showtime, Simon and
Schuster and Paramount Pictures. Tom Freston's ability to reproduce
racist/sexist images of Black women en masse in a variety of
lucrative outlets is a throw back to his plantation predecessors. As
Barbara Omolade states in her essay "Hearts of Darkness,"
To the slave master, the Black woman "was a fragmented commodity
whose feelings and choices were rarely considered: her head and her
heart were separated from her back and her hands were divided from
her womb and vagina. … Her vagina … was the gateway to the womb,
which was his place of capital investment – the capital investment
being the sex act, and the resulting child the accumulated surplus,
worth money on the slave market."(Words of Fire, p. 366)
Just as Tom Freston's white male ancestors were able to reap
tremendous profits from the wholesale exploitation of Black women's
bodies, so to Freston and his corporate contemporaries are reaping
tremendous profits from the wholesale depiction of Black women's
bodies. This time the capital investment is not the actual sex act,
but in the act of reproducing images of Black women that reinforce
racist/sexist notions and structures of domination.
This is possible for the same reasons it was possible during
slavery. Black women and the Black community are an oppressed class
of people in the United States. The very nature of capitalism is
based on the exploitation of oppressed classes. As Angela Davis
"It would appear, therefore, that those men who wield power in the
economic and political realm are encouraged by the class structure
of capitalism to become agents of sexual exploitation. Their
authority guards them against punishment in all circles except one:
they may not violate a woman of their own standing." (The Angela
Davis Reader, p. 135)
In the hierarchy of patriarchy, white men wield the most power.
But that fact does not excuse or render Black men less responsible
for our complicity in the system white men have devised for their
profit. In fact, given our history and condition, we should be the
first to resist the sexist exploitation of Black women rather than
be first in line to reap a little profit for ourselves.
Rather than face up to our complicity in the exploitation of Black
women and organize against the system, some Black men have tried to
justify their position by claiming that they are pimping the system.
One such rap group called Dead Prez has gone as far as to make a
song and video that does just that. "Hell Yeah (Pimp the System)" is
Dead Prez's response to the dead-end reality that is faced by many
of the Black working poor. Rather than pimp each other, they
say, "pimp the system."
This hip hop slogan is problematic coming from a rap group that
proclaims itself revolutionary for a couple of reasons. First, it
gives credibility to pimping and prostitution by its mere use of the
word. Ideologically this is debilitating because it places us in the
disempowered position of fighting on the system's terms by using
their very terms in fact. That is not revolutionary. Trying to
disconnect pimping from its real purpose of oppressing women, and
turning it into some radical act is a sign of political weakness and
a lack of cultural vision. In fact is a trap. It is just not
possible for the system to be pimped. The system already knows how
to handle petty crime, which is what they suggest poor Blacks do to
get back at the system. Smacking up the pizza delivery boy and
stealing his meager funds will not free anybody. If anything, it
will achieve just the opposite – jail. And our people are already
over-represented in the penitentiaries.
The video actually ends with cops breaking in to their hide-out
and arresting them. Dead Prez unable to cast a libratory vision for
their scheme, turns it into a bad dream with them waking up in pre-
colonial Africa surrounded a bevy of Black women lying all around
them. The "ghetto ho" becomes the "Afrocentric queen." Different
image, same role: service the Black man. Which brings us back to the
original issue: If you can't pimp the "The Man," then pimp the
sistah. With "Pimp the System" Dead Prez doesn't offer any viable
solution, just more of the same.
Trying to find a little pocket in the system to pilfer, which, in
the end, amounts to ripping off other poor people in the hood, is
just another ridiculous ploy by a rap group at gaining street cred.
Why else would Jay-Z appear on the song's remix? Their attempt at
converting self-proclaimed rapper-pimps falls right on its face. In
the end, Jay-Z doesn't change his ideological position as it
pertains to the treatment of Black women or his relationship to
capitalism. It is all a charade that only lends itself to confusing
our youth. Both Dead Prez and Jay-Z share the same corporate
sponsorship. That might better explain the reason for them working
together on the track.
As has been stated, the prostitute cannot pimp the pimp. The
prostitute's only real option is to resist the pimp and get free.
Our people's only real option to end our misery under this corrupt
system is organized resistance against it. Malcolm X settled the
question back in 1965 when he said; "The system in this country
cannot produce freedom for an African American. It is impossible for
this system, this economic system, this political system, this
social system, this system, period." (The Last Year of Malcolm X, p.
43) Dead Prez should know better. But maybe they too have fallen
victim to the dollarism Malcolm also addressed given their
contractual relationship to corporate giant Columbia Records. "You
can cuss out colonialism, imperialism and all other kinds of ism,
but it's hard for you to cuss that dollarism. When they drop those
dollars on you, your soul goes." (The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 42)
Capitalism doesn't care how much you rave and rant against it as
long as you don't actively resist it. And you cannot actively resist
it while you are being pimped by it. It will even provide you with a
stage so you can get paid to complain about how bad the system is.
All the while, capitalism takes your ranting all the way to the bank
and cashes in on your complaint.
Pimps are known to keep their prostitutes in check by playing mind
games on them. In the film Hustle and Flow DJay manipulates his
prostitutes by convincing them that they were in charge, when in
fact he was. A real mind game is being played on our people under
this system. This American free market system tells us that we are
in control; that we can do whatever we want within the system. And
we are falling for it. Far too many of us believe that capitalism is
a good system. We have been so miseducated about how this system
works. We are not taught that it is set up to keep the majority of
us impoverished. We are not taught that its very existence depends
on the exploitation of our labor. We have to recognize our power and
use it to recreate the system. This is not folly or wide-eyed
idealism. Our people are responsible for the two major economic and
social shifts that have ever occurred in U.S. history. It was our
ancestors and predecessors that ended slavery and later
Jim Crow segregation. That potential still lives within us. It
comes down to a question of priorities. Are we satisfied with
groveling at the bottom, while a few of our people manipulate our
desires for real power and control over our lives via music videos
and Hollywood films? Have we become comfortable with customizing our
poverty to make it appear flashier and more stylish than it really
it is? Or are we really ready to make a new reality?
The system doesn't have a conscience that would cause it to
respond to moral suasion. Capitalism cannot be compelled to quit
exploiting our people and certainly not the women in our community.
Only when we come out of the studios, out of the theaters, and
organize ourselves will the (s)exploitation of our people cease. If
we are against the system, if we despise what white men have done to
us, then let us fight, not to find our niche so that we can get in
on the action of profiteering from the abuse of women, but fight
against the forces that has our people locked down in real life
cells while they sell our warped image to the world.
The value we place on Black women as evidenced in the numerous
videos and films that we support only works to devalue their
potential as self-defining and self-determining beings. Our value of
Black women must move beyond being centered in how much pleasure
they can bring us. It must move beyond a selfish and distorted
appreciation for how good they look or how good they can dance or to
what new level they can cause our libidos to rise. Our value of them
must be anchored in an appreciation for their minds and their
spirits. Minds and spirits that have the potential to create a new
reality for themselves and thus, for our people. Minds and spirits
that can cause our people to rise to new liberating levels of self-
awareness and self-determination.
No, the system doesn't have a soul. But we do. What is the
condition of our soul when we pay top dollar to see our people
exploited? Today, we are the ones showing up at the auction block
bidding on our own people. What has become of us? The world has
gained a distorted and dehumanizing image of our people as it is
beamed all over the planet. We, in return, have gained nothing. In
the process we are raising a generation that lacks a fundamental
love and respect for each other and ourselves. Call me a "playa
hater" if you must. But the truth of the matter, my brothers, is
that you are not playas. You are just the ones being played.
Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a
Revolutionary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1967.
Cleaver, Eldridge. Soul on Ice. New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.
Guy-Sheftall, Beverly, ed. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-
American Feminist Thought. New York: The Free Press, 1995.
hooks, bell. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston:
South End Press, 1981.
hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics.
Boston: South End Press, 1990.
James, Joy. Shadowboxing: Representations of Black Feminist
Politics. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
James, Joy, ed. The Angela Davis Reader. Malden: Blackwell
Kelley, Robin D.G. Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black
Working Class. New York: The Free Press, 1996.
Keohane, Ellen. "The `Hustle and Flow' of Independent Film,
Writer/Director Craig Brewer and Producer Stephanie Allain on Their
Upcoming Film." Web page:
Koblin, Helen. "Portrait of a Pimp." Los Angeles Free Press, Vol
9, No 8 (Feb 25-Mar 2, 1972) Web page:
Moody, Nekesa Mumbi. "Pimps: The New `Gangstas' of Rap." Web page:
Sperling, Nicole. "Revival Under way at Paramount Classics." Web
West, Hollie I. "Sweet Talk, Hustle and Muscle," The Washington
Post (1973) Web page:
Ewuare Osayande is a political activist and author of several
books including Blood Luxury and the forthcoming Misogyny and the
Emcee. He is co-founder of POWER (People Organized Working to
Eradicate Racism) and is creator of ONUS: Redefining Black Manhood.
Author of Blood Luxury
06-01-2006, 06:31 PM
Re: On Pimping...
"The "fake fire" reference is a nod to James Baldwin I take it?" might have been a good follow up question. Overall, I thought the interviewer seemed more interested in the recording of Iceberg Slim than an interogative piece about what makes this man tick.
10-05-2006, 12:20 PM
he did get to some things tho...
when he says "all the beauty was cauterized out of me" i thought that was telling...
basically he seems himself as a survivor... a survival instinct that allowed him to be an efficient opportunist.
well, like he said, he never used white women because they were too weak. he used black women. so ironically the strength of black women are a factor among many that provide him the opportunity to survive... specifically in a "work as little as possible, get paid as much as possible" world and mentality...
that survival mentality, once the economic "surviving" has taken place inevitably turns to greed.
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