You may not know who Iceberg Slim was, but you definitely know his likeness and his legacy. Born Robert Lee Maupin in 1918, Iceberg Slim was the pimp that shaped modern conceptions of what pimping really is. No-nonsense and even ruthless at times, being a "mack daddy" was definitely not easy. Under the name Robert Beck, Iceberg Slim's books chronicled his experiences on the streets of Chicago and let outsiders see into the savage and gritty world of sex, drugs, and hustling.
It's difficult to grasp his influence upon popular culture, although the documentary Portrait of a Pimp helps tell his story. As a 1930s pimp-turned-cultural icon, here's how Iceberg Slim changed the pimping world.
In his memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life, Iceberg Slim recounts the first time he was taken advantage of sexually. When he was just a toddler, a babysitter named Maude forced his head in between her legs. According to Slim:
I remember more vividly the moist, odorous darkness and the bristle-like hairs tickling my face and most vividly I can remember my panic, when in the wild moment of her climax, she would savagely jerk my head tighter into the hairy maw.
This experience shaped the young Robert Lee Maulin's views of women as he grew up. His hatred of women, according to one prison psychiatrist, was tied to this event.
During his time as a pimp, Iceberg Slim wasn't opposed to using aggression to punish and scare the women into doing what he wanted. Slim learned how to treat his workers from one of his mentors, "Baby" Albert Bell, who he calls "Sweet Jones" in Pimp. Sweet Jones's instructions to Slim were simple: if a beating didn't work, then he should hit her with a wire coat hanger.
Sweet Jones explained his rationale for not simply beating his "wh*res," instructing Slim that sometimes fists and feet were not enough: "She's a freak to them [...] that coat hanger will blow her or straighten her out. It's better to have no wh*re than a piece of a wh*re."
Slim took the advice and used a wire hanger on Phyllis, also called "Runt," in Pimp. Runt, his first worker, refused to walk the streets, so he whipped her. According to Slim:
The whip whistled a deadly lyric as I brought it down again and again across her back and butt. I saw the awful welts puffing the black velvet skin. [...] She whispered, 'I don’t need any more whipping. I give, Daddy. You're the boss. I was a dumb b*tch.'
As common as brutality was in the pimping world, drugs were just prolific. When he took his workers' money, he rationed them drugs in return because keeping them on drugs kept them loyal.
In addition to being abused, Slim had a difficult relationship with his mother. After Slim's father abandoned them, his mother worked domestic jobs and ran a hair salon to support her son. Slim and his mother moved around from between Chicago, Rockford, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis.
His mother married Henry Upshaw, the only father Slim ever knew. She quickly swindled Upshaw out of all of his possessions when she took up with another man. The other man, Steve, threatened to beat Slim. He terminated the young boy's kitten and harmed both mother and son. Slim and his mother eventually left Steve, but Slim never forgave her for leaving Upshaw, who passed one year later.
In his memoir, Slim praises his mother for his upbringing. The two eventually made amends, but the hardship of being ripped from the man he considered his father stayed with Slim throughout his life.