If it weren't for Robert Beck, who went by the name Iceberg Slim during his days as a pimp, it's safe to say there would be no rappers. A master storyteller, unbelievably stylish, and fascinating, Iceberg was the epitome of swagger, long before bros started co-opting that term and shortening it to "swag."
This documentary, directed by Ice-T's long-time manager, gives a fairly complete picture of an influential man most of us know nothing about. Despite his criminal life, Iceberg is held in high regard by many in the African-American community, with some in academia even going so far as to mention him in the same breath as Alex Haley (Roots) and Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man). His first book, Pimp: The Story of My Life, sold millions of copies. His next book, a novel based on a man he met in prison, was called Trick Baby. It eventually became a hit movie for Universal.
But before he achieved modest success (modest only because his publisher screwed him out of royalties), Iceberg had to deal with an abusive babysitter, a deceitful mother, several stints in jail, and a serious heroin habit. He ended up turning it all into harrowing, verbose stories that he hoped would de-glamorize the allure of the pimp but ended up making it seem more desirable.
The film should have spent more time examining this contradiction. Unfortunately, like most documentaries about one iconic figure, the director and interviewees so revere the subject they miss making a larger connection or grander point.
Still, bolstered by a great soundtrack and a wide swath of interview subjects (from professors to rappers to Iceberg's hilarious ex-wife Betty), Iceberg Slim is an illuminating and entertaining documentary.