Eddie Murphy will reprise his 1988 character Prince Akeem in next year’s Coming 2 America, but several individuals who worked on the upcoming sequel—Murphy, Wesley Snipes, director Craig Brewer, costume designer Ruth E. Carter and others—also collaborated on the new Netflix production Dolemite Is My Name. The comedic biopic, which comes to the streaming service on October 25, features Murphy as 1970s comedian and blaxploitation film star Rudy Ray Moore, best known for portraying a kung fu-kicking pimp named Dolemite who raps and rhymes all his lines.
Moore, who developed the character in stand-up routines and comedy albums, brought Dolemite to the big screen in 1975. Descriptions of the Dolemite film range from “one of the most amateurish films ever to win a large audience” to “The Citizen Kane of kung fu pimping movies,” yet the character’s legacy is largely unknown outside of film buffs and the African-American community. This lack of mainstream recognition is a pop-culture travesty that the Netflix film will hopefully make right.
Moore’s character is, after all, widely considered the “godfather of rap.” Just ask Ice-T.
“Dolemite is really the flyest man of all time in film history,” said the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning rapper/actor. “He shaped a lot of black men including myself with his strength and his ability just to show us how we are.”
Dolemite is an enduring cult classic that was among the first (and few) blaxploitation films written and directed entirely by African Americans, and its influence is seen in repeated references in rap music. Newcleus spit “I learned to rap like Dolemite” way back in ’83, while the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” finds U-God saying “Superbad, who am I? Dolemite classic!” in 2001. The Paul’s Boutique track “What Comes Around” finds the Beastie Boys biting a popular Dolemite line with “Insecure born in the junkyard with the junk” and mentioning the man himself in “Egg Man” with “I’m going through science like Dolemite.” The trio’s fashion style in the “Hey Ladies” video is also considered a nod to Dolemite, while rap-rockers 311 proclaimed “We be in that violent force of light/Guaranteed to turn it out as bad as Dolemite” in 1995’s “Down.” $uicideboy$ and RVMIRXZ even channeled the character himself in the 2015 track “Dolemite.”
Moore also appeared on several rap albums, including Busta Rhymes’ When Disaster Strikes and Genesis, and he famously battled Big Daddy Kane on the 1990 track “Big Daddy vs. Dolemite.” In the battle for rap supremacy, Moore said, “I was through with it before you learn what to do with it,” prompting Kane to concede the fight.
“Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that’s for real,” said Snoop, who raps “Pimpin’ hos and clockin’ a grip like my name was Dolemite” on the Dr. Dre classic “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.”
The cultural references don’t stop there. Film and television nods include Jamie Foxx in Booty Call, Bill Murray in Broken Flowers and Bender in Futurama, while “The Ghost of Dolemite” is a character in Big Money Hustlas, MADtv had the long-running skit “Son of Dolemite,” and Damon Wayans’ character watches the film for motivation before a heavyweight title fight in The Great White Hype. Altoids (yes, those Altoids) even featured Dolemite in an ad campaign once.
The success of Dolemite allowed Moore to make the classic sequel The Human Tornado in 1976, and renewed popularity in the ’90s led to additional films like 1999’s Shaolin Dolemite and 2002’s The Return of Dolemite (later renamed The Dolemite Explosion). Relapse Records even reissued the funk-filled Dolemite soundtrack (featuring the debut recording of future Grammy winner James Ingram) on CD in 2006. Moore passed away two years later at the age of 81.
For those who didn’t know any of this, Dolemite Is My Name educates a new generation on just what they were missing. The Netflix production follows Moore as he fights his way through showbiz hell and eventually achieves underground acclaim by adopting the Dolemite persona. Too racy for retail, his comedy albums were sold and traded on the streets like modern-day mixtapes, and he used the sales to finance the first Dolemite film. The production problems were epic—many of which are hilariously immortalized on screen—yet it went on to become one of the defining films of the blaxploitation era.
It’s only fitting that Murphy portrays the groundbreaking actor/comedian because he broke considerable ground himself in the 1980s. Murphy made his feature film debut in the 1982 film 48 Hrs., which was the first white/black buddy cop film released by a major studio. Two years later, he played Axel Foley in 1984’s highest-grossing film, Beverly Hills Cop, which made movie history as the first studio film to portray a black police officer as clearly superior to his white counterparts. The popularity of his films also helped several actors (e.g., Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, Dave Chapelle, Halle Berry, Martin Lawrence, Samuel Jackson, Cuba Gooding, Jr.) gain early exposure before going on to stardom themselves.
The star-packed, Murphy-led cast of Dolemite Is My Name also features Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Snoop Dogg, Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Mike Epps (The Hangover), Craig Robinson (The Office), Tip Harris (a.k.a. rapper T.I.) and Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). The Emmy and Golden Globe-winning duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote the script, having previously penned biopics on comedic legend Andy Kaufman (Man on the Moon), Hustler publisher Larry Flint (The People Vs. Larry Flynt) and cult filmmaker Ed Wood (Ed Wood). And it would be impossible to find a better wardrobe wizard to capture the Dolemite look than Ruth Carter (Black Panther, Amistad), the reigning Academy Award winner for Best Costume Design.
In other words, Dolemite/Moore is finally getting the all-star tribute he deserves.