At Bishop Don "Magic" Juan's cramped Mid-City Los Angeles apartment, nearly everything is green and gold: the doormat, the couches, a neon sign that displays his name, even the building itself, which the owner had painted in his honor. "Green for the money, and gold for the honeys," quips the former Chicago pimp.
He calls his pad the Honeycomb, and on this early February day, two comely young ladies listen to old R&B tunes and pass around a blunt. One introduces herself as "Paradise." From his small kitchen he extracts a bottle of Champagne, which he pours before showing off his proudest pimping accoutrements. There's the large, bejeweled hat resembling those worn by bishops, a bedazzled cane and a collection of waist-high trophies, including one for "legendary lifetime achievement" as a pimp.
Though as a hustler he went by Don Juan, nowadays most people call him Bishop, an honorary title reflecting his religious conversion and ordination a couple decades back. Perhaps his greatest legacy symbolizes both his hustling and his religion: pimp cups, ornate communion chalices decked out in rhinestones and crystals. Though the goblets often hold bubbly or cognac, these days they're as much hip-hop fashion accessory as beverage receptacle.
Bishop has hundreds of them, and helped bring them into the pop culture mainstream by giving them to celebrities, including Mariah Carey, Mike Tyson and, of course, Snoop Dogg, a self-described former pimp himself, who brought Bishop into his inner circle and considers him his "spiritual adviser."
"You are feelin' like ... nobody can do nothing to harm me while I am drinking out of this," Snoop later tells L.A. Weekly. "This glass is a symbol of who I am, and it also looks good while it's in my hand."
Bishop reaches into a top cupboard shelf and pulls out some of his favorites. One is shaped like the midsection of a curvaceous woman. Another has images of $100 bills on it. Then there's the one he had made for Hillary Clinton, whom he supported in her 2008 presidential run. It features her rhinestone-bordered picture against a blue background. He'll give it to her, should they ever cross paths.
To folks like Bishop and Snoop, pimp cups are not just about blinging out; they're quasireligious artifacts — and only authentic if handcrafted by a churchgoing Chicago woman called Debbie the Glass Lady, who prays over each one she makes. "When she pray over the glass, it's going to do much for those who receive it," Bishop vows.
Others say God has nothing to do with it. By their very name, detractors insist, pimp cups glamorize a lifestyle that celebrates violence and the exploitation of women.
But even as feminists and moralists complain, pimp culture flourishes. As knockoff pimp cups proliferate, and white college kids increasingly appropriate them as accessories for their "pimp and ho" parties, what's a player to do?
To Bishop and Snoop, the answer seems clear enough: Cash in.
The uninitiated might believe blinged-out chalices are as old as pimping itself — or at least as old as Dolemite, the '70s-era movie character played by Rudy Ray Moore, who helped to establish the archetype of the colorful, over-the-top modern pimp. But the glasses have been mainstream for only about a decade, most passionately embraced by rappers as video-ready symbols of their street savvy, style and facility with the ladies.
In the beginning the cups came from a single source: Deborah Harrison, better known as Debbie the Glass Lady. From her home on Chicago's South Side, the former dialysis technician remains a veritable pimp-cup institution, responsible for almost all of the chalices toted by celebrities.
Now 60, with bleached-blond hair, Harrison began making the cups in the early 1980s along with her mother, a former glass-factory employee, and selling them to fellow congregants at the Spiritual Church of God in Christ. Inspired by her faith, Harrison says, she had a premonition that she would spread the cups to preachers and other holy folks and, in fact, she did end up making one for Bishop Arthur Brazier, a prominent civil rights leader who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The original chalices were simple, made from gold-painted glass and lacking jewels. Harrison also gave them to favored customers at a bar where she worked, as a way to increase sales. "My clientele was really building up because they had their own glass," she says. "[Everyone] wanted to drink out of the golden glasses."
Her wares eventually caught Bishop's eye, and in 1983 he approached her to acquire a green goblet for himself. He suggested she add some jewels; the piece cost him $150, he recalls, and he eventually christened Harrison "the Glass Lady."