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Rudy Ray Moore — Dolemite, The Signifying Monkey, and Brer Rabbit


Written on October 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm, by Lain

Rudy Ray Moore–comedian, actor, singer, and the “godfather of rap”–passed away last week.  He was 81.

Remember Dolemite?

Dolemite Starring Rudy Ray Moore the Godfather of Rap

That’s Rudy Ray Moore.

On Friday, the New York Times published his obituary.  After chronicling some of his more foul-mouthed and explicit exploits, the obit points out–

Mr. Moore could be said to represent a profound strand of African-American folk art. One of his standard stories concerns a monkey who uses his wiles and an accommodating elephant to fool a lion. The tale, which originated in West Africa, became a basis for an influential study by the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., “The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism.”

In one of his few brushes with a national audience, Mr. Moore, in a startlingly cleaned-up version, told the story on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in the early 1990s. Other characters he described were new, almost always dirtier renderings in the tradition of trickster stories represented by Brer Rabbit and the cunning slave John, who outwitted his master to win freedom. (emphasis mine)

If we ever become museum with a curator and extra space, maybe we could develop an exhibit that explores Brer Rabbit’s influence in blaxploitation films and hip hop.

There’s quite a bit, really.  From Brer Rabbit of Coonskin to B-Rabbit of 8 Mile, the influence of the trickster using his wits and his words is hard to underestimate in hip hop and its forbears.

And though Rudy Ray Moore may have been a little more vulgar than the folktales he updated, let’s not forget that Brer Rabbit himself was no saint.
For example, consider Brer Rabbit’s frequent visits to the house of “Miss Meadows and de gals.”

Miss Meadows and de Gals

Miss Meadows and the gals live together in one house, have no visible means of support, and are often courted by Brer Rabbit, despite the Misses and Little Rabs at home. Smoking cigars and playing piano weren’t the only things they were doing, I’m sure.

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