TIFF 2012: Jorge Hinojosa and Ice-T Talk ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP, How Ice T Took His Name, Filmmaking Challenges and the Legacy of Iceberg Slim

     September 12, 2012

iceberg-slim-reflectionsCan you speak a little bit more about Iceberg Slim’s influence on hip hop in general and not just on your music? It seems that he has far more influence on music than he did on literature or poetry.

Hinojosa: Jay Z calls himself Iceberg Slim on occasion and people name check him all of the time. But he was a pioneer in doing what he did. You know what I mean? Taking a street story and putting it in literature. Ice basically took the same concept and did it for music and it was called Gangster Rap and that still lives on today. So when you look at 50 Cent and all of these other guys, the trail always comes back to Ice. I was speaking to Scarface the other day and he goes, “Man, I was up at Ice-T’s house when I was 17 and that blew my mind and that set me on the trajectory that I am on right now.” So you can trace that all back to Iceberg Slim.

Ice T: I think also when you see the movie he is somebody that just bettered himself. A lot of rappers, you know, they come from rough backgrounds. I mean, now a lot of them don’t. They claim they do, but a lot of us really started out with rough lives. I was the one that said, “You know, instead of talking about a party let me translate this rough life into music and see who bites.” The whole world went for it and they wanted to know about it. Now, kids that don’t really have that background fabricate that background because it is intriguing to know people that had it rough. But then also somebody like Jay Z or myself had to elevate and continually transform, which Iceberg Slim did too. He started out the wrong way, which we all did, and then he had an epiphany in prison. He came out and next thing you know he is a writer. Well next thing you know I am a rapper. Who would have thought I would be a rapper? Honestly when I started to rap I didn’t think that anybody wanted to hear my stuff. Like he [Hinojosa] said, “People want to hear this.” I’m like “the stuff you take for granted entertains people” When I found out that people wanted to hear this crime shit I was like, “I got a stockpile of this shit!” So you take someone like Jay Z who sold drugs before. I never sold drugs before, but he did that and now he is a big fortune 500 type cat. This is inspirational to the kids in the street. Not necessarily staying in the street, but making this evolution and evolving. I’m watching Iceberg Slim and I’m like, “Man, there are so many parallels.” Like he started writing books after he got out of crime. Well I started writing records after I got out of crime. He stayed in the room and started preaching to his girl. I get Coco up and I am telling her these wild fucking adventures from my past and she is like. “Really?” and she can’t believe it because I am such a different person now. She will tell you “I don’t think I wanted to know you back then.” I’m like, “It probably wouldn’t have been a good time.”

robert-beck-iceberg-slimHinojosa: Ice was infamous before he was famous and there is a big difference in that.

Ice T: When I came out rap…the problem was in those days everything you said had to be validated. You couldn’t come out and check all of this stuff because people would check you. And I came out rapping out of L.A. and the gang culture. So if I was talking this gangster stuff and it wasn’t real somebody would have snatched me off of the stage. But being able to represent L.A. and have L.A. by me? That was because “Is that Ice-T rapping? Fuck him. Oh, that is them? Those are the guys that did that back then? Oh, alright. That is alright.” So I had the background to back me in the same sense of Iceberg Slim writing these books. He would have been discredited if he hadn’t really had been a pimp. People would have been like, “Oh, he has no right writing those books.”

Hinojosa: It’s the pedigree.

Ice T: It’s off the rise. It’s okay. It’s the truth. I just think that hip hop is really an art form that comes from hardship and translating hardships into success. And that is the story of Iceberg, me, and a lot of other people.

What do you hope to get out of this movie? I know you are here promoting and it is almost like a message that you are here to deliver.

Ice T: When you make a movie or any piece of art, you just kind of do it the best you can and you throw it out there and see what happens. People get inspired by your art and they take it wherever it is going to go. So it is kind of like Jorge has made a great film and this is just going to give it wings. This is the first place where it is being seen. Now what happens? You can’t control that.

Hinojosa: The thing is like when Iceberg wrote these books, he really had no reason to believe that they would sell because no one was writing books like this. It’s just like, “What?” and on top of it they were paperbacks. So the nature that they weren’t hardback meant that they weren’t at the top tier of the literary world. So what the fuck? When I started doing rap records nobody had bought a car or had made a lot of money doing it. So there was no reason to believe that Ice would have a career from doing it. So it is kind of like you do it and you plant that seed and if it’s going to grow, it’s going to grow.

iceberg-slim-pimp-the-story-of-my-life-book-coverIce T: The biggest mistake would be to try and make a movie with content like this and try to aim it at success. If you aim it and say, “it has to be positive,” you will fucking dilute and destroy the story. So you have to make a raw piece of work and hope that people understand the artistry in it. And it is going to do what it is going to do, you know? Who the fuck knows.

Hinojosa: People are going to criticize whatever they are going to criticize. When Iceberg’s books came out they thought they were total filth and they didn’t understand it and they didn’t respect it. And it took time for people to appreciate it. When Ice’s records first came out people were fucking aghast. They thought it was the most vile shit in the planet and then you have a segment of the population that thought it was incredible. Then what happened was that eventually people just woke up and realized, “Holy shit. This is really worth listening to.”

Ice T: I think if you go at something pop then the intention right out the gate is to go to the masses. So if all of us right now were going to make a movie and our intention was to go pop, then we would write a pop movie. We would say, “Well, it has to do this. We have to get the box office. We have to get the women in there and we have to get kids.” This would be all thought out before we wrote out the story and put the story together. Something like this, you can’t work it like that. You just have to make it and what you do is what you don’t spend a lot of money. You make it so that it is done at a point where it will do what it will do and it is not about the big end at all. You don’t put a hundred million dollars in a movie like this because you are not going to make it back. You spend a few dollars but you make it and then you hop and see what happens.

Hinojosa: And you connect it to cats that have credibility because it is like who has more credibility than Ice, Snoop, Henry Rollins, and Quincy Jones? These are all guys that are pioneers in their own right. They are not…you know Chris Rock is not X meets Y. He is his own man. You look at a lot of these other people and its like “Well he is kind of like a West Coast Ice-T” or “He is kind of like a Snoop Dogg but he is from Miami” These guys are all individuals. That in itself speaks to the credibility of this project. So that respect is what is going to help propel this to make people want to see it.

iceberg-slim-the-lost-interviewsIce T: When you try to make a movie about something that is controversial, especially something like a pimp, it is touchy. But people do movies about serial killers. They have done movies about Idi Amin and they have done movies about Hitler. This is just one of those things. Our objective was to be fair. It wasn’t to make him look like an angel. It was just to be fair and that is all I hope. If I die and someone writes a story about me, just be fair and tell the truth. You don’t have to make me look like an angel. Just tell the truth. That is all anybody forgets. Just don’t angle it in any way. So when you finish watching the movie and you’re like “I hated this motherfucker’s guts for the first 40 minutes of this film and in the end I kind of liked him. He was trying to take care of his kids and he changed.” That’s the truth. I think even his kids have understood it. It’s like “Yo, it’s my dad and my dad is who he was and was how he was.” And then when you get to the beginning of the story and you see where he came from with his mother and all of that. You’re like, “there are reasons.” I think human beings are empty discs and different things that happened to you really made you and made me. It is all of these different occurrences. So we are all victims of circumstances in some form or fashion. Until I started meeting square people and honest people, I was destined to stay down that dark road until I met somebody that was like “Maybe you can do something else.” If that is all you know that is all you know. You can’t get mad at somebody for that.

I have to ask, have you ever heard Paul F. Tompkins’ impression of you?

Ice T: Who?

Paul F. Tompkins. He is a comedian who does an impression of you.

Ice T: There are so many people who do impressions of me. I always tell them “Don’t get me in trouble. Don’t call anybody up and get me in trouble saying ‘Yeah, I understand that you have money…’” I hear a lot of people do. Some do good ones and some do bad ones. The guy on Saturday Night Live does some bullshit. [laughs]


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