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PHOTO ESSAY

In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences

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Cover of Iceberg Slim's autobiography.

Photograph courtesy of Megan Wilson.

Without the rhymes, most rap and hip hop would be nothing more than creative samples of great R&B, funk, and soul tracks. The inspiration for those rhymes would come from many sources, of course: street-side patter, neighborhood and regional slang, and the creative and good-natured insults generated by "playing the dozens." Some would come from poetry, too, and few African American poets have had as far-reaching an influence on the development of hip hop style and substance as Iceberg Slim (1918–1992). Born in Chicago, the young Iceberg Slim turned his incisive mind and perceptiveness to a life of crime, becoming a successful pimp until a number of arrests and imprisonments convinced him to go straight and turn his native talents to more legitimate enterprises. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s Iceberg Slim wrote and published an autobiography (Pimp, 1969), a number of novels (including Trick Baby, 1967; and The Long White Con, 1977), as well as verse, including an album of recorded poetry, Reflections (1994). Unflinching in their portrayal of the violence and depravity of the criminal life, as well as in their misogynistic portrayal of women, Iceberg Slim's works influenced a generation of hardcore gangster rappers, including Ice-T, the godfather of west-coast gangster rap, who named himself in part in honor of this spiritual ancestor.

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