Rudy Ray Moore can brag about a lot of things -- being the "Godfather of Rap," his influence on other black comedians -- but there is one boast that rings forever true. His alter ego, Dolemite, is timeless. As long as Moore is around to breathe new life into his profane pimp daddy, Dolemite will stay that way.
"Dolemite, as you know, was a loveable character," says Moore, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles hotel before heading out on tour. "And people fell in love with him. I kept him alive by putting him on the street, and then an album (Eat Out More Often), and when I did the movie, this gave it more life. I kept it alive by being a standup comic, going from city to city, going onstage, as Dolemite.
"It's a type of humor that a generation 25 years ago likes, and it's still funny today. Just like people can still laugh at Redd Foxx's humor today the same way they did 25 years ago."
And yet, unlike so many groundbreaking comics -- Foxx, Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, George Carlin -- Moore's hyperbolic profanity still sounds as nasty and raw as it must have in the 1970s. That contemporary comics and rappers use the "f" word so easily these days (and to less effect) is a testament to Moore's legacy.
Maybe it's because along with his credo -- "Dolemite's the name, and f--king up motherf--kers is my game" -- came a spellbinding storytelling style, born of the ghetto and set to music. Moore wasn't and still isn't cussing for cussing's sake. He's embodying a specific cultural component of black experience that paints amazing pictures, even if those pictures would make anybody wince.
Moore is back, riding a curious retro wave that includes the reissue of his older 1950s and '60s blues recordings (2000's Hully Gully Fever on Norton Records) and of his comedy act (2001's Raw Rude & Real on Right Stuff). He has a new release of all-original material, The 21st Century Dolemite, due out in March. He even says he's got a new movie, The Return of Dolemite, yet another sequel to his 1975 blaxploitation classic of a pimp out to reclaim his downtrodden neighborhood. Take that, Snoop Dogg.
"(In the movie), I've left the United States to go to Africa, and I'm coming back to quell the streets from all the violence I used to stop in my days in the ghetto areas," explains Moore, who refuses to divulge his age but is rumored to be near 70. "I'm called to see if I could come back and kick ass like I used to." He also has added a wrinkle to today's Dolemite. "I have mystical powers that I brought back from the mother country: Voodoo Juice Potion No. 10," he says, "and I do everything with it, knock 'em against walls and everything. I walk on the walls in one scene."
The original Dolemite was not only born out of Moore's albums and act; it was the ultimate tribute to a form of storytelling vital to inner-city existence. This is why Moore claims to be the Godfather of Rap. "We got it from the liquor store, the beer store, where the wise men would be sitting in front of the store getting a bottle of wine, with one rhyme after the other," Moore recalls. "I incorporated that into rap by adding music to it, with jungle drums and things."
He created Dolemite, an ass-kicking pimp who didn't take anything from anybody. And when not having glorious sexual encounters and using his incomparable martial-arts techniques on evildoers, Dolemite would tell stories of other characters. The two most famous were Petey Wheatstraw -- "the Devil's son-in-law, the high sheriff of Hell" -- and Shine of "Shine and the Titanic" fame. Shine, a lowly black crew member on the ill-fated ship, is the only one who can see the impending doom: "Shine jumped into the ocean/ With his black ass doing a backfield in motion."
Moore randomly incorporates the two skits in D'Urville Martin's Dolemite, which definitely fits the "so bad it's good" movie category with its shoddy editing, rambling storyline and over-the-top acting. But inside all of that are common blaxploitation themes: corrupt white politicians and police, black empowerment, and action, action, action. Even though the genre that had already produced Shaft, Superfly, Foxy Brown and Black Caesar had peaked, Dolemite has an undeniable charm.
And so does Moore, who is as rascally as ever as he lauds Dolemite's pop-culture relevance and notes the decline of rap and black comics. That his alter ego has gained so much traction among white hipsters is yet another testament to Dolemite's appeal: "By being so daring and so bold, I've been able to get young people to come and enjoy me, and I try to make it as to where if a father takes his son to a show, I try to make them enjoy me with the same formula. But when the son takes his father to see one of these young comedians, the first thing you want to do is get out of there."
- 'We got it from the liquor store, where the wise men would be sitting in front of the store getting a bottle of wine, with one rhyme after the other.' -- Rudy Ray Moore, on how he developed what became a rapping style