Pimps have come off the street corner and into record shops, music videos and even grocery stores near you.
Hip-hop artist 50 Cent (search) claims to be a “P.I.M.P.” in his hit song. A real-life former pimp who goes by the name Archbishop Don "Magic" Juan appears in the video for that song and is collaborating on albums with artists like Snoop Dogg. And Grammy-winner Nelly is set to unveil a new energy drink called “Pimp Juice.” (search)
The artists say a modern-day pimp is just a high-roller who espouses the self-confidence, power and over-the-top fashion sense of real street hustlers. But critics say the references are degrading to women and detrimental to young audiences.
“What [the artists] are doing is making official what they’ve been doing for a long time – treating women like prostitutes,” said Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute, an affiliate of the group Concerned Women for America. “Given the way women are exploited and abused by pimps, it shows that they have utter disregard for the welfare of young women and are concerned only with providing shock value."
But Mark Allwood, music editor of hip-hop magazine The Source, said the trend is partly a "fashion thing."
"It’s the extreme flashiness – the ‘pimp cups’ they carry around, the big hats, the oversized, gaudy suits in out-there neon colors, the snakeskin," he said. “To hear Snoop tell it, he just kind of admires the confidence and the fashion sense [of pimps]."
Rap and hip-hop artists have been "representing" pimp culture since Ice T in the '80s (who named himself after famous pimp Iceberg Slim). But Allwood said the recent surge in references is due to the coming of age of artists who grew up in the ‘70s watching “blaxploitation” films like "The Mack" and "Superfly."
"I don’t agree with using women as a source of money – but if people reinvent the word to mean stylish and confident you have to differentiate," Allwood said.
Archbishop Don "Magic" Juan, a former Chicago hustler who now claims to be an ordained minister, is perhaps the best example of this new pimp aesthetic.
He dresses in suits of green and gold ("Green Is for the Money, Gold Is for the Honeys, Vol. 1" is the title of his upcoming album, which will feature tracks from Snoop, Ludacris, Ja Rule and P. Diddy), drives a gold and green Cadillac and wears oversized rings that say “Juan” and “Magic.”
But he's no longer in "the game," as pimps call it.
"I haven't had a prostitute since God saved me in 1985," he told Foxnews.com.
Indeed, it seems the game of the moment is more tongue-in-cheek than an homage to the exploitation of women. But not everyone finds the joke funny.
Snoop and Don Juan came under fire in February for hosting “The World’s Famous Players Ball” in Atlanta, an annual event that honors pimps from around the nation.
“I think having a pimp convention in and of itself is totally inappropriate, no matter where it is,” former federal prosecutor and DeKalb State Court judge Janis Gordon told the Atlanta Journal at the time.
Last week, ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Stuart Scott had to defend his use of the term "pimp slap" on the air to describe how the Raiders beat the Titans in last year’s NFL playoffs.
“There is absolutely no offense intended toward anyone. I look at the expression pimpin’ only meaning swagger, confidence, someone who gets beaten so badly it takes away their confidence,” he said, according to The New York Post.
And Nelly, who's unveiling an energy drink called Pimp Juice after his song of the same name, has been criticized by black organizations.
Project Islamic Hope, the National Alliance for Positive Action and the National Black Anti-Defamation League held a press conference earlier this month in an effort to keep the beverage off Los Angeles store shelves.
"It's insulting and demeaning to African-American females, and it reinforces some of the negative stereotypes and images associated with African-Americans," said National Alliance for Positive Action President Earl Ofari Hutchinson.
Knight blamed the music industry for a trend he said sets a negative example for men and women of all ages and races -- especially children, who look to entertainers as role models.
"Record execs won't be there when kids come down with STDs and unwanted pregnancies," he said. "Pimps help destroy lives. They should not be lionized by anyone, particularly those who can influence young people."