In Ice-T’s 2012 tell-all, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption, he went on record about the world’s second oldest profession. “Pimpin’ ain’t easy,” he wrote. “No, as a matter of fact, it’s very fucking complicated. It’s the type of game where you’ll end up pulling your hair out before you learn to do it correctly.” This thesis is proven conclusively in the new Ice-T-produced documentary, Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp, available on iTunes and in theaters now. Iceberg Slim, for the uninitiated, is the world’s most famous former pimp, a guy who wrote one of the most influential “non-fiction” books about the game, the 1967 paperback Pimp: The Story of My Life — a copy of which ended up in the back pocket of a New Jersey kid named Tracy Marrow who’d grow up to write rap songs about cop killers and, well, pimps.
I called Ice-T to talk about his new movie and the minutiae of pimping. We ended up talking about the Pope. Because duh.
How’d you first find out about Iceberg Slim?
I was in high school, and the cool kids would carry Iceberg’s books around.
The Pimp book?
All of them. Mama Black Widow, Long White Con, Trick Baby. They’d carry them in their back pockets, and I wanted to know what was in these books. I got a hold of them and started reading. And they’re just crazy.
That’s putting it mildly.
Just the lingo, the depth of the streets, the way Slim talked. It was totally fascinating. And before you know it, I was a 16-year-old kid talking to girls like a 50-year-old man.
Like a 50-year-old pimp, no less.
Exactly, yeah. Let’s just say I became really, really popular because of his books.
Were the girls impressed or confused?
They were like, “Who the hell are you?” When you’re young, you’re looking for anything remotely hip to grasp onto and call your own. To be able to pull hipness from some left-field book that none of the girls knew about, it was the coolest thing in the world.
I’ve heard you can quote lines from the book from memory.
Oh, I can quote lots of it.
Give me something crazy.
Okay, here goes one. [Clears throat.] “I need a three-way wench that’ll play Jasper in a stench and take ’em around the horn. No Jean or John this ho couldn’t con cause that trick was never born.”
“She’ll stuff like an ace, never lose a case, and leave many a mark in debt. She’ll be rated the best in the east and the west when the boosting hand goes down.”
“Now I heard hos cry about the wind behind and the law being on their tail. About snow and sleet bein’ asshole deep and the tricks can go to hell.”
This is all in your brain?
“In some greasy spoon, a juke saloon, you’ll find them killing their time. Crying hard luck tears and suckin’ up beers and the pimps ain’t giving a dime.”
The whole interview should be just you doing this.
“Turning half-dollar tricks just to get a fix, because their pussy is doing the pimpin’. They’re just ruining the name of one helluva game, because their pimps are doing the simp.”
Okay, okay, stop, I can’t take it.
I can do more.
I believe you! If I heard a 15-year-old boy say any of this, it would blow my mind.
Thank you. This is the kind of stuff I was saying to girls. And I’m not telling them that it comes from a book. I’m just talking it.
You eventually named yourself after Iceberg, right?
Yeah. My name, my real name, is Tracy. I always thought I was like a boy named Sue. So I made my friends call me “Tray.” And when I started saying Iceberg lines, then the guys started saying, “Tell us some more of that Ice stuff, T.” See what I mean?
That’s where Ice-T came from.
It’s like a superhero origin story.
Yeah, something like that. [Laughs.]
Iceberg Slim got his name because someone shot at him and the bullet went through his hat and he didn’t react. Could you be that cool?
Yeah. I’m pretty cool. I’ve got a decent cool level going. Yeah.
What’s the secret?
Being cool is when you win, you don’t get too happy, and when you lose, you don’t get too mad.
No, I mean what’s the secret to being cool when somebody fires a gun at you?
Not knowing the bullet went through your hat. [Laughs.]
Your knowledge of Iceberg Slim apparently led to your becoming an apprentice for a pimp in Hawaii. Is that true?
I was in Hawaii and the sister of my buddy’s girlfriend was a prostitute. She had a pimp out there that we hung out with. He had parties and stuff. He’s the first one who told me I could make it in the game.
The pimping game?
Yeah. He told me, “You don’t seem fascinated with these women. Some guys are really giddy around chicks, but you just mind your business.” I wasn’t trippin’. So later in life I came back and hung out with him for a while and we’d drive chicks around and do all kinds of stuff.
The pimping trade seems like a Jedi Knight thing.
Jedis. You know, like from Star Wars.
Oh, oh yeah. I mean… I guess, sure.
You find your master, your Ben Kenobi, and then he teaches everything you need to know.
They say trying to teach pimpin’ is like trying to teach astrophysics to a wino.
It can’t be taught?
Certain people are just born into it. You’ve got to be more into money than chicks. Your brain has to operate differently. You’ve got to be like Hugh Hefner. You’ve got to look at her and say, “She could make me a lot of money.” You have to redirect.
Can that skill be learned? Or is it just in your DNA?
You can learn it, but it ain’t easy. The closest way I can explain it is like, when a man sees a woman and you love her and you want her, you say, “I’ll give her anything. She can have all my money. I want her so bad.” You go into that zone.
The pimp’s job is to be so clean, so sharp, so fly that when that woman sees him she goes, “I’ll do anything to be with that man.”
The pimp has to be more attractive?
That’s why you have to out-groom the woman. You have to be fly-er than her.
I like the way Iceberg explained the pimp costume in the movie. “They lived in my reflective glory.”
Yeah. It’s like a girl who dates the quarterback. She’s nobody, but his glory becomes her glory. When he wins, she shines. “Oh, my man just won!” He gets a car and she’s like, “Look at the car my man got.” Or even the guys with the trophy wives, where they’re like, “Look at my wife. My wife is so hot. I’m a bum but… look at my reflected glory.”
How much does a pimp actually make? Fifteen percent of his ho’s salary? Twenty percent? Like a talent agent?
Well, in real life, they take it all.
Everything. The whole paycheck.
That is horseshit.
Depends how you look at it.
If my agent wanted 100 percent, I would fire his ass.
It’s kind of like a wife. A wife tells you, “Bring me all the money after you work, and then we’ll determine what we do with it. Don’t stuff, don’t try to take half your check and put it someplace else. Bring it all back, and then we’ll make a decision on how we split it.”
Were you actually a pimp at one point, or was that just a pose?
I like to say I attempted.
You are not a professional at something unless you pay your rent doing it. I never made enough to pay my rent.
Did you at least dress the part of a pimp?
Not like the flamboyant pimps, like Don “Magic” Juan. Not like you see on Halloween. I used to get my hair done. I had a perm, and my nails manicured.
There are a lot of bad things about being a pimp.
Oh, yeah. I always tell people there is nothing positive about the pimp lifestyle. I mean, it’s a crime. It’s just like selling drugs or stealing cars. It’s a negative hustle.
Iceberg Slim could be violent, especially toward women. As somebody says in the movie, “His foot had no problem finding its way into a woman’s ass.”
Yeah, but it’s a story about redemption. At the beginning of this movie, the way we did it, you hate Iceberg. He’s brutalizing women, he’s not a person that you want your kid to become. But then there’s a point where he changes. And he ends up humbling himself. He’s married, and he’s out trying to be an exterminator, trying to take care of his kids.
But the movie still glamorizes something that’s pretty horrible. Even if you think prostitution is okay, and women should be able to sell their bodies if they want, it’s hard to justify pimps.
I totally agree, yeah, yeah. That’s what this story is about — it’s about a guy who thought this was a cool thing, a method to get paid. But then he has that revelation. Pimpin’ is for young guys and suckers who don’t know. He comes out and tries to live a square life.
So much has changed in our cultural morals. There have been big victories recently for gay marriage and marijuana. Do you think prostitution will ever get there?
Will it ever become legal?
Outside of Nevada anyway.
I don’t think they’re going to legally allow prostitution. Because it’s a business that any woman can open and close any time, any hour, any corner, any market. Every woman is sitting on $20,000. It’s not something that needs legalization. Every woman is a prostitute.
Um, okay. You may need to explain what you mean by that.
Any time a woman goes out to dinner with a guy she doesn’t like, she’s doing a form of prostitution. Everyone knows a whore. You have a girlfriend who thinks she’s sexy and being like those chicks on Sex and the City, and she’s got something and this guy is going to pay for it. That’s whorin’.
I’m not sure if that argument’s going to convince anyone.
If you don’t like him, it’s whorin’. If you don’t like him but you’re going to use your sexual powers to get what you want with somebody you don’t like, it’s whorin’. You call it what you want. Even if she doesn’t have sex. Any time you give in for money, it’s a form of prostitution. Working at a job you hate is a form of prostitution.
Guys can be whores, too?
Absolutely. You feel like you’re giving yourself away for the money, you are a prostitute. I’ve got a friend — I’ll leave his name out of it — but he hangs around with older chicks and they give him money. I ask him what he’s doing, and he’s like, “I’m just pimping, baby.”
Yeeeah. No he’s not.
That ain’t pimping. That’s whoring. He’s having sex with these older chicks and they’re giving him money. You can’t yell, “pimp.”
You’ve called him out on this?
Oh, yeah. But he still denies it. He says, “Ice, I just call it renting out the beef cake.”
How is this an argument against the legalization of prostitution?
I know there’s a horrible side to it. You have trafficking of humans, you have slavery, you’ve got kids being abducted. Even real players don’t like that part of the game. Guys who do that aren’t pimps. They’re kidnappers. In the player game, the pimp game, they say this is a game by choice, it’s not by force. It’s not that.
Prostitutes will probably be around forever.
Never gonna stop.
But pimping seems like it might be a dying vocation.
Oh, absolutely. You’ve hit it dead on the head.
The Internet alone is a big nail in that coffin.
It’s the nail. Because of the Internet, women don’t need nobody. Yeah, it’s a sad thing, but pimps are becoming ancient history. Like preachers. I always compare pimps to preachers.
In what way?
They wear alligator shoes, flashy suits, diamond rings, drive Cadillacs. And they sell you something you don’t need. The preacher says, “I know God a little bit better than you. If you pay me, I’ll hook you up.”
Am I wrong?
You’re not wrong at all. I’ve just never made that connection before.
The Pope is a pimp. He’s like, “I know Him a little bit better. I have a better connection. Pay me and I’ll get you hooked in better.” It’s pimpin’!
Sweet gentle Jesus. The Pope is a pimp.
He wears that hat.
He’s got the clothes. Nothing about a Pope costume is subtle.
He lives in a big house. He carries a lot of jewelry. Right? The Pope has the most jewels of anybody in Italy, right? He’s got the big crib, rides around in a Pope Mobile. And his job title starts with a “P.”
Stop it, Ice. You’re going to bring down the Catholic Church.
But here’s the thing people don’t always realize: If you want God, you don’t need connections. You don’t need a pimp. If you believe and you are spiritually connected, why you got to pay the middle man?
Who needs a pimp?
Who needs a pimp? We give all this money to the church. Does that get you to heaven quicker?
And yet we believe it. That’s pimpin’, man. Trust me. The Pope is a pimp.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)