Ice-T expresses no shame over his past days as a pimp, bank robber, and street hustler.
In the same respect, he exudes pride in the path he took to overcome that life, a feat possible in part to his commitment to hip-hop and study of another criminal convert, Iceberg Slim.
Ice discovered the reformed pimp’s literature in high school, and found that reading it not only made the rapper feel “cool” with the crowd, but demonstrated how any man – broken, misguided or forgotten – could turn tragedy into treasure.
As executive producer of the new documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, Ice tells theGrio he hopes that same message will come across to those unfamiliar with Slim’s story and novels.
“A lot of misguided kids read [his books] and wanted to pimp and wanted to be like him,’” Ice recalls. “There was a point in my life when I realized – wait a minute, this guy’s a writer. If I really idolize him, I need to document the game, not just live it. That’s the way it kind of fashioned my storytelling, and my writing techniques, and my rap music.”
Rhyme Pays: Lessons from a master criminal
Growing up both in New Jersey and the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, Ice-T describes the time he evaded his own grave and/or cellblock by turning to music.
Though he wasn’t a fan of hustling, the 55-year-old says he initially felt it was his only option when it came to getting paid.
Nonetheless, he never quite mastered the art of pimping.
“We robbed banks, we robbed jewelry stores, we tried to pimp, we couldn’t get that down pat,” he remembers. “When rap music came along and my boys started going to prison, I started taking my adventures and putting them into music and found another way out.”
The Law & Order: SVU star modeled his rap style after the authenticity he found in Slim’s books.
He appreciated the pimp’s visionary tales of navigating a brutal, unremorseful reality in search of higher power.
Ice forced his followers to get past the idea it was cool or glamorous to be a criminal, and acknowledge the truth behind his hustle.
A ‘whole lotta ho’ing’
Like Slim, Ice-T interpreted the business of street life not as a positive experience, but an accessible source of employment.
Women made sex an enterprise long before men joined the game, and female capitalists drove the market.
“If there was never a pimp there’d still be a whole lotta ho’ing going on,” Ice observes. “The difference in a pimp and a normal guy is that a normal guy says, ‘Oh this is terrible, you shouldn’t do it.’ And a pimp says, ‘Well, since you decided you gonna do it, let’s maximize this.’”
He continues, “No crime is positive. Whether you’re stealing cars, whether you’re selling drugs, whether you robbing or pimping, it’s not positive. Don’t get it twisted. It’s just a negative way to get paid.”
Sex as a commodity
While Ice tried his hand at the game, he never made it to Slim’s level, which he describes as a “full-time” position.
The upcoming documentary tracks Slim’s story from searching for money as a troubled kid in an impoverished home, to earning a reputation as the hardest player on the street, and the years of jail time that followed.
With interviews from Slim’s wife and daughters, and the scholars who studied his work, the film shows how a felon became a published author who influenced Blaxploitation films, literature, gangsta rap, and the commercialization of sexuality.
“Women figured out way before biblical times that there’s a commodity here,” says the rapper. “A guy figuring a way to wedge himself into this, he’s just trying to wedge his way into a game that really doesn’t need men.”
“The biggest pimp in the history of the world is Hugh Hefner,” he adds. “He came up with a genius plan where he said, ‘I won’t sell p**sy; I’ll sell the image of p**sy.’ See, girls won’t pay for dick, but men will pay for p**sy; it’s just how it goes. They’re going to buy pictures; they’re going to watch movies; they’re going to go to strip clubs. Now, with the Internet and all these web cams, the pimp is pretty much extinct. Women are now doing it themselves. They’ve got their own situation and they create the degree to which they want to give.”