More Than His Name: Rudy Ray Moore Beyond Dolemite

At the end of 2019, when we were all young and naive about what was to come, something happened. Something fun. Inspiring. Eddie Murphy starred in a left-field biopic about a little-known (to us) Black star. Dolemite Is My Name became an instant hit on Netflix and brought the story of Rudy Ray Moore to the masses.

But as good as the film was, it is impossible to distil Moore’s legacy to a feature-length film. Join me, then, on a journey beyond his name.

Before Dolemite, There Was DuMarr

People are fond of talking about The Beatles and The Doors, and how they had been playing for years before making it big. There really is no replacement for practice; it does make perfect. The same can be said about Rudy Ray Moore’s career.

The polifacetic singer, dancer, comedian and filmmaker first developed a character called Prince DuMarr. A lot of DuMarr’s personality would bleed into his interpretation of Dolemite years, and DuMarr was actually far from his only outing.

It’s also relevant to point out Moore’s stint in the US Army, where he was a good enough comedian to make it to an entertainment unit in Germany. He was also a producer for notable street poets, including Big Brown (who can count none other than Bob Dylan as a fan).

Moore had been performing and producing for decades by the time Dolemite came around. It was no coincidence: he was ready, a well-oiled entertainment machine.

Dolemite Takes Off, Influencing As He Went

The story of how Rudy Ray Moore became Dolemite and took off is told better by Netflix’s film than I ever could. Therefore, I will not go into too much detail. Suffice to say that he met a wino named Rico, who kept telling stories about a guy named Dolemite. They were hilarious, so Moore put them down on tape and then started performing them. The rest, as they say, is history. And very entertaining history, at that.

But Moore was an artist whose sophistication far exceeded first impressions. He is quoted as saying: “I wasn’t saying dirty words just to say them… It was a form of art, sketches in which I developed ghetto characters who cursed. I don’t want to be referred to as a dirty old man, rather a ghetto expressionist.”

He was also very religious, often speaking in church and taking his mother to the National Baptist Convention.

This is an important point to consider, because it is a common thread among early Black artists, from Son House all the way to Mr. Moore himself. They understood the power of context and relatability in the stories that they told. They respected their values and used their perceived vulgarity as a way of delivering entertainment with a message. One need to look no further than 2Pac or Biggy to see this same trait in a more contemporary setting. This is an approach so valued to this day by artists of all ilks, that Dolemite has appeared on albums by Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and Big Daddy Kane.

The Rudy Ray Moore Legacy

Dolemite’s influence on hip hop is apparent, as can be seen in the paragraph above. But we need to put his timeline into context in order to fully realize just how much he meant to black artists at the height of his powers.

The first film in his Dolemite series appeared in 1975, and it shook the foundation of the blaxploitation movement. Fresh after the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement of the late 60s and early 70s, blaxploitation brought black artists to the forefront. Not merely sidekicks or villains anymore, Black people were protagonists of their own stories.

While the value of stereotypical portrayals in blaxploitation films has been called into question, there is no denying that they helped move the conversation of race relations in the United States. Black protagonists, funk and soul music as the soundtrack, and gradually more positive connotations brought blaxploitation over from a niche genre into the mainstream. All the while advancing representation in cinema.

And Rudy Ray Moore was right there, at the thick of it all.

Therefore, when you revisit Dolemite Is My Name on Netflix today (which I really hope you do), remember that there was more to Mr. Moore than his name. He was an extremely dedicated, multi-disciplinary artist. He helped broaden the conversation around Black artists in cinema (and art in general).

Rudy Ray Moore continues to influence contemporary artists to this day, and the value of his legacy should not be condensed merely into a 2-hour film. It is, however, a wonderful place to start.

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