Rudy Ray Moore was born to entertain — and to push the envelope. He began his career in music before he pioneered a new raunchier style of standup comedy that was often deemed too much for Hollywood. Eventually, he became a film star, known for shaking up the underground film industry with his 1975 blaxploitation film, Dolemite, based on a kung-fu fighting pimp alter ego he created.
Hopping genres from music to comedy and then to film, the ever-persistent performer had his vision — and stuck to it, always willing to shatter industry standards. Moore, who died at the age of 81 in 2008, is now seen as a cultural pioneer, revered by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
Now the often outlandish personality is being revered in the biopic film Dolemite is My Name, a passion project of actor Eddie Murphy. Alongside him will be Wesley Snipes playing director D'Urville Martin and Keegen-Michael Key as Jerry Jones, as well as appearances by Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Snoop Dogg and Da’Vine Joy Randolph.
Moore started his career entertaining in 'Black and tan' clubs
Born on March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Rudolph Frank Moore started singing in church before winning a talent contest in Cleveland, where he moved when he was 15. In his teens, he was singing and dancing in a genre of African American bars called “black and tan” clubs, often showcasing sexy dancers and raunchy comedians.
Moore was drafted in 1950 and served as part of the military’s entertainment unit in Germany, where he sang country songs in an R&B style as the Harlem Hillbilly. Back in the U.S., he tried to invigorate his music career, as a turbaned dancer named Prince Dumarr, as well as by recording songs like “Hully Gully Papa.” Calling himself the “King of the Party Records,” he fine-tuned the genre of mixing funk music and street rhymes that eventually became hip-hop.
As a struggling musician, he also worked at an L.A. record store Dolphin’s of Hollywood. He wasn’t having any luck, so Moore looked everywhere for inspiration — until it simply walked in the door in 1970. A regular customer named Rico would charge a few dollars to tell stories about an outrageous pimp named Dolemite (derived from the mineral dolomite), in rhyme. Moore was so bemused by the tales that he invited Rico over and recorded some of his stories, which he turned into standup comedy routines.
'Dolemite' was called 'the Citizen Kane of kung fu pimping movies'
The first album featuring Dolemite, called Eat Out More Often, has been described as a “blend of dirty jokes and funk groove overdubs that became a surprise hit on the Billboard soul charts.” Finding his niche, Moore continued releasing albums with titles like The Player – The Hustler and Close Encounter of the Sex Kind.
They saw underground success, but were so X-rated, often with nude and suggestive cover photographs, that they far surpassed what had already seemed extreme as set forth by comedians of the time like Red Foxx and Richard Pryor. In fact, they were reportedly often sold “under the counter, delivered to the customer in a plain brown wrapper.”
Determined to break through to the mainstream, Moore used his profits from the albums to fund a movie version of Dolemite, released in 1975, which The New York Times called "the Citizen Kane of kung fu pimping movies” in 2002. The film — along with its sequels 1976’s The Human Tornado and 2002’s The Return of Dolemite (also known as The Dolemite Explosion) — were a trifecta of exploits, testing the boundaries of sex, violence and vulgar language, and, called by some, the “best bad movies.”
A sampling of the language from the first movie’s trailer captures its essence: "I've got an all-girl army who knows what to do. They're foxy as hell and practice kung fu. I'll put my finger in the ground and turn the whole world around."
Moore is known as the Godfather of Rap
While he broke ground in the blaxploitation film scene, one of the most lasting effects of his influence goes back to where he started: music.
Setting the precedent for mixing beats and rhyme, he earned the nickname the Godfather of Rap, for having helped birth the genre, with Busta Rhymes, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2 Live Crew and Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard all having been profoundly influenced by Moore’s style.
Snoop Dogg even wrote in the liner notes in a 2006 soundtrack release of the original Dolemite, “Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that’s for real.”
But Moore’s most known rhyme is for sure his signature line: “Dolemite is my name and rappin’ and tappin’, that’s my game. I’m young and free and just as bad as I wanna be.”