“You name a movie ‘Portrait of a Pimp’ and people don’t know what to expect. The biggest fans of this film are the people going in expecting to hate it, and walk out changed,” says veteran rapper, actor, author and film producer Ice-T of his latest documentary – and follow up to Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap from last year – Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, directed by his long time manager Jorge Hinojosa, and which Ice-T executive produced.
Ice-T – who is teaming up with manager Hinojosa to produce films under his Final Level Entertainment company – is in negotiations to adapt his book Kings of Vice to a television film, and is also recording a new Body Count album, which he hopes to release next year.
I had the pleasure to speak with Ice-T – whose rap name is a tribute to none other than the subject of his latest documentary – and he talked about the parallels between his life and Iceberg’s, his intentions with the documentary, the film’s reception so far, and much more.
VM: I know if was directed by your longtime manager, Jorge Hinojosa; whose idea was it to bring his story to the screen?
ICE-T: It was his [Jorge Hinojosa] idea to do it! I was watching this show about business, and they said when you start up a business, you always go to the lowest hanging fruit. So my movie is about Hip-Hop and Jorge was kind of brought into the Hip-Hop game by reading all the Iceberg Slim books. So these are two topics that we’re very familiar with.
The film game is the biggest game. They’re [Hollywood studios] spending half a billion dollars making a movie. We spent $300,000. It’s all relative. We’ve already achieved the success we wanted with the film. We’re just seeing where it goes now. Just getting accepted into Sundance is a success.
VM: I’ve read some interviews and the intention wasn’t to make a “positive” film, but an authentic one. However, to me the documentary had a real redemptive quality and maybe even a lesson to it.
ICE-T: I believe art does what it does. Good music, good art has a life of its own. Jorge and I are trying to start Final Level Films production. We want to write TV shows; do feature films. This is just our step into the film community. The Art of Rap was the first one we did and then this one. Jorge took the rains and directed this one. We’re just trying to show people that we can do quality work. Our goal is to win at those film festivals; win those accolades, and we move forward.
VM: I know Iceberg Slim was a great influence on you from a young age, and you’ve dabbled into pimping yourself. What resonated with you the most about his books that made you want to almost emulate him?
ICE-T: Well, it is a mistake everybody makes you know, like, even when people listen to my music, a lot of people will say, “oh, you’re promoting it.” If you really listen to ‘I’m your pusher’ or ‘Colors,’ I’m warning against it. So, of course, when you’re young, you get the superficial side of it. You know since then, I read the books a few times, and every time I read it, I can hear what he’s trying to tell me. But if you don’t wanna hear that; then you’re only going to pick up the flash side of it, like he [Iceberg Slim] says in the movie. You’ll justify it; you’ll say “oh, I’m slicker than this dude; I won’t get cracked. I can just take these parts out of the book and make it work for me.”
But I mean, it’s just one of those things that I was caught up in with the books, because when I was in high school, the cool kids were reading them. I started reading the books, and the next thing you know, you got a 15-year old kid talking like a 50-year old man. And it just made me popular! [Laughs]
People always ask me, “Were you in the pimp game?” I had my attempts, but you’re not a professional unless you pay your rent doing it. I was dabbling in all variations of crime; a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I wouldn’t say I was successful, but I was in it enough to know the game backwards and forward.
With Iceberg Slim, there was a point where I had an epiphany, and I was like, “wait a minute, I really idolize this guy; he’s a writer.” I’m not here trying to live it. If I really want to be like him, I have to document the game, not just live it. That’s when I started making music. I didn’t feel that I had the talent to write, but hip-hop was a way for me to make books, so you gotta look at Ice-T albums like books. They’re not really meant to dance off of; it’s information. Those were my Iceberg albums.
VM: Some people will say, “Pimps are the scum of the earth; why is it cool to glamorize them and the pimping of women?”
ICE-T: Absolutely. You know what it is? In the game of prostitution and all that stuff, none of it is positive. Selling drugs is not positive; robbing banks is not positive; all that shit is negative. But when you’re in the realm of this negative lifestyle, like we say, if there were no pimps in earth, there will still be a whole lot of ho’ing going on. Every woman knows a friend that thinks they have power of sex over men, and hang out around men they don’t like for dinner, for shoes, for money or rent. Ho’ing happened long before pimping was invented. Women found out before biblical times that men would pay for sex. The pimp just found himself trying to wedge into this game.
And the thing is that, if you watch the movie, the first half, you hate this guy’s guts, and then the 2nd half of the movie, you see this guy doing probably the most humbling job you can do, being an exterminator, and trying to raise a mixed family in L.A. during the riots. And really, you find out his wife wrote the books!
VM: Aside from the money, it seems like, above all, what attracts a lot of men into this game is power, and the ability to control women and their minds, and almost feel like a god, which was touched on in the documentary.
ICE-T: We know why, because men are weak to women. To be that guy that has the power over it; yeah, that’s an ego boost to the man. And Iceberg Slim spoke on that. He wanted that power, but right now, in 2013, pimps are almost extinct because with the internet, with webcams, women are once again able to exploit themselves to whatever degree they wish to and get money without a man. So there was a time when women might have needed protection on the streets or needed this guidance and help to do this.
But I’m not here to promote it at all. When I was in the game, I hung around a bunch of very dangerous women; girls that would rob you; they’d steal; sold drugs. They were the female version of players, and some of them felt sex was an option to get money. In the pimping game, they call that “sending the girl,” sending the girl after the sucker to get his money; that was part of the game. Now, of course, when I look back I think, this shit is crazy, but that’s how it was; it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
VM: What didn’t you know about Slim that really blew you away, and maybe even made you perceive his character differently?
ICE-T: I didn’t know his wife wrote the books! I thought he sat behind that typewriter and wrote those books. I didn’t really know all the stuff that happened after he got out of the game. He would just tell stories of his past and she’s like “bullshit, that would never happen,” and you can see his wife was a no-nonsense chick; so towards the end of his life, this is a story about redemption. It’s a story of someone who started out in one direction, but then ended up going to schools and warning kids against it. In a way it parallels my life; I started out being a negative person. I was out in the street robbing, stealing, and doing all the dumbness; now I’m playing a cop on TV! Here’s another parallel to my life: I didn’t start rapping until I got out of the game. He didn’t write the books until he was out of the game. I would never tell anybody to get in the game or get into drugs or pimping anything. I would say, “Go the square route man.”
VM: To also know that he had such a partnership and friendship with a woman, his wife, in a committed relationship seems like total irony when you look at his past.
ICE-T: Yeah! And also having three daughters. Like he [Iceberg Slim] said, “This is my curse.” There is so much in the film, that you’ll walk out thinking, “I thought I knew, but I didn’t know.”