This blog is a precursor to a piece tomorrow about the fantastic new album by Oh No "Dr No's Kali Tornado Funk". Available on Vinyl and CD!!
Quite honestly, growing up I didn’t know too much about Blaxploitation Films. Ultimately, my only experience of that movement was through the Soundtracks, which I suppose in many regards became more iconic than the movies themselves. I have childhood memories of singing and dancing along to the sounds of “Shaft”, “Superfly”, and probably a few others. I wouldn’t become aware of the full concept until many years later and once again it was through the music…only this time it was Hip Hop. One name seemed to pop up fairly often…Dolemite. Big Daddy Kane did a song with him. Ice T referenced him in a verse. Schoolly D reinterpreted him. I know there are others, even earlier than those, but I’m currently drawing a blank. That was in the late 80s/early 90s. In the Mid-90s, the references to this mysterious character increased.
In ‘92 I spent many days at a home studio in Shaumburg, IL recording demos. It was the home of Producer/Engineer/MC/Good Friend, KBATE of Undaground Soulution. One day I came over and he was watching a very low budget looking film. There were scenes where I could see the boom mics that were supposed to be kept out of sight of the viewer. There were awkward scene cuts, faulty editing and all sorts of things I found bewildering…as well as entertaining. This was awesome! I wasn’t sure if these flaws were intentional or not*, but there was also no denying that the main character had this natural charisma and presence that was captivating. I had finally witnessed the essence of Dolemite.
Fast-forward to ’93 and I owned and operated a business, Rage Promotions, which did promotions for Indie and Major labels. One of the first Major Labels to give me a shot was A&M Records. I would always pick the labels I approached based on the artists they had signed. I wanted to help specific artists with their careers. On A&M it was Tragedy The Intelligent Hoodlum. I convinced the head of the Rap Department, Evan a.k.a E-Man, that I was the man for the job in Chicago. The timing was perfect because Tragedy had the lead song for an upcoming film that was connected to the Blaxploitation legacy, “The Posse”, a movie about Black Cowboys. Evan and Tragedy were coming to Chicago for a premiere showing of the movie and to promote Tragedy’s upcoming album, “The Saga Of A Hoodlum”. I was their tour guide, connection to the local community, and chauffer.
While standing outside the airport waiting for them to come out I noticed an older Black gentlemen dressed much like a pimp. I didn’t recognize him per se’, but something about him rang of familiarity. I couldn’t shake it. I started to think maybe it was just his flashy look that was holding my attention. In any event, I couldn’t stop looking over at him. It just so happens he also couldn’t stop looking at me. Eventually he came up to me and says, “Are you a Rapper!?” I sort of chuckle at his demeanor, as well as the question and reply, “No, I used to be, but I’m in the business of Hip Hop” (or something like that). I continue, “You look familiar…who are you?” He immediately goes into character, “I’m Rudy Ray Moore a.k.a Dolemite. I’m the baddest of the…” He continued on, but my mind trailed off. I was a bit mind-blown that I was talking to Mr. Dolemite himself! I asked what he was doing here and he told me that his record label was in Chicago and he came for a meeting because they, “Owe me some mutha f****n money!!” He also noted that he had missed his flight, so he was stranded here for another evening. I asked if he had plans and he said no, so I just threw it out there, “I’m about to pick up one of the artists I work for and go to a movie premiere, you want to kick it with us??” Surprisingly, he agreed!
You cannot imagine how much I was giggling inside as me and Dolemite walked through the airport together to meet Tragedy and E-Man. When they walk up I introduce my new friend, Mr. Rudy Ray Moore, and they both bugged out! For a hot minute, I was the man! I had got Dolemite to greet them at the airport and hang out for the day, can you say “Employee Of The Month”!
We all rolled out in my rental car. One of our first lines of business was a dinner with many of the major local retailers in Chicago. It should be noted that a lot of the record store owners were Black Men and Women in their 50s and 60s, many of them who’s primary music of choice was Gospel. At dinner, Dolemite pulled no punches! There was an on-going stream of dirty jokes and profane shenanigans. With each one I laughed quietly on the inside as my eyes lit up in shock and then tightened into a wince as I imagined getting fired for offending nearly every major retailer in my market. Then I would find comfort in looking across the table to find my boss, laughing with vigor each time.
Mind you, though the retailers may not have been totally appreciative of his style of humor, but they all came from the era where they more than likely were aware of his legacy. Rudy Ray Moore was a key underground favorite Black Comedian and Actor of the 70s. You don’t have to agree with his approach to recognize him as an icon in the Black Community.
Anyway, after the entertaining and awkward dinner we headed over to the movie premiere to watch The Posse. I recall thinking it was a pretty good movie, but that was certainly enhanced by having Dolemite sitting on my right-side giving additional commentary, with Tragedy and Evan to my left sharing my amusement. It was definitely a classic movie-going experience to say the least.
I finished the day by dropping Dolemite off. We exchanged numbers and were supposed to stay in touch. I have never been much for asking for anyone’s autograph, but this was just so surreal that I had to. I had this haphazardly folded paper itinerary of the weekend in my pocket and asked him to sign it for me. Unfortunately, I have since misplaced it. It’s likely that the beat up piece of paper got mistaken as trash and tossed… Anyway, I think I only called him once and we talked a little bit about his future plans and I was going to try to get him some work with some MCs or Hip Hop Producers. However, this was around the time that I was going thru some stressful stuff in my personal life and I disappeared off the scene a bit for a while and lost contact with him.
When I heard about him passing away in 2008 it hit me for a second like a friend was gone. He was just so…him. Although his character, even in real life, was brash, bold, and over-the-top, he also had this very humble sensibility to him. He had no problem jumping in a car with a complete stranger and hanging out at retail luncheon and going out to the movies. He was just a cool dude. I wish I had stayed in touch with him and learned more about him, I know he had some stories to tell….
On another note: Producer/MC Oh No has just released his second project honoring the sounds and style of Dolemite titled “Dr No's Kali Tornado Funk”. It’s pretty phenomenal and is a companion piece of sorts to his “Ohnomite” album that released just a few months ago. Both projects owe their sound to Oh No’s allowed access into the Rudy Ray Moore archives. We’ll speak about these projects tomorrow…
Written By Kevin Beacham, the friend of Dolemite for a day…
*I learned much, much, later that Dolemite is generally understood to be a sort of parody of the Blaxploitation movement, so it’s foreseeable that the “bad” filmmaking was intentional…