Rudy Ray Moore is an icon whose moxie and wit have propelled a career that still resonates 40 years later. Best known as the immortal sweet-talking pimp, Dolemite, from his self-financed 1975 blaxploitation flick of the same name, Moore's ribald rhymes and music were an early precursor for hip-hop. In fact, Moore's recorded with plenty of old-school rappers, including Eric B. and Rakim, Snoop Dog, N.W.A., and Luther Campbell, among others.
"I did one with Big Daddy Kane; it was called Taste of Chocolate [in 1990]. It was nicely done, but we were pedigreeing against each other and playing the dozens," Moore says. According to Moore, to "pedigree" is to boast about the bad things you'll do, offering the example, "I fuck Siamese twins / They were joined at the spine / You push it in one's pussy / It comes out the other's behind."
Apparently, his rap career started early. "I used to sit on my daddy's lap, and I'd make up rhymes and raps from the beer joint," offers the convivial 70-year-old performer.
Moore began as a singer, and still likes to belt out a tune, but realized making it as a comedian would be a bit easier. He worked up some material with the help of a friend named Caldonia Young, and headed out to Hollywood, yet it would still be years before he really made his mark.
Moore's cadenced quips and stanzas are often accompanied on record by jazzy backing, echoing the snap-abetted poetics of the beatniks. In 1962, he released his second album, Beatnik Scene. But his career didn't take off until 1970 when he embraced blue humor with the release of Eat Out More Often.
"It wasn't 'bout a restaurant," Moore deadpans. "Redd Foxx was on the market at that time doing what you would consider explicit, but not totally. The words had more than one meaning ... I came across [with] comedy that was totally explicit and used 'pussy,' 'dick,' 'ass,' and was full of four-letter words. I was the first."
While Moore's humor was too explicit for TV or radio, it developed a large underground following, which he tapped to make his immortal series of Dolemite films, based around a character from his comedic routines. An indie filmmaker years before Sundance, Moore nonetheless created an enduring piece of art on a shoestring budget. But before it became a cult sensation, people suggested it was a piece of something else.
"People made fun of me and laughed at me and thought I was a big dope. You didn't take the money you make off a record and throw it at a movie that will never get shown in the theater," Moore chuckles. "Thirty years later and it's still shown."
While Moore's early rapping and boundary-pushing humor certainly influenced hip-hop, it's the slightly goofy, larger-than-life Dolemite that probably made the biggest impression. Of course, it was part of a tradition, a kind of stock character that Moore made his own, along with an accompanying world of gangsters, tricks and ho's, as expressed through his rhymes.
"I used the pimp attitude to express what this life is all about," Moore says. "Not that I have lived it, but I've expressed the attitudes of players and hustlers."
Despite his influence as a pioneer, Moore doesn't care much for the current state of rap, or its overuse of the N-word and the term "bitch." "Rappers have said it to death from Too Short on down," he notes dryly.
Moore goes on to explain the art form of the explicit, and how he couches his racy couplets in colorful language, instead of pummeling the audience with nonstop profanity. They're like epic, streetwise variations on "the man from Nantucket" limericks propelled by Moore's easy charisma and limber flow.
"I had to do certain things that would get me across that were very unusual and very daring," Moore says. "I certainly had no idea I'd still be doing it today, 35 years later."
Meanwhile, he's trying to rekindle his long-abandoned singing career, dubbing himself the soul singer for the 21st century, and the man with the cashmere, caramel-coated voice. He offers up a little snippet of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," which he covers on a recent album. He's irrepressible, and still going strong.
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