Chances are, you weren’t allowed to listen to Rudy Ray Moore as a child. Or, you may have a passing recollection of the man and his controversial Dolemite character. Just a bit of perspective: as a boy, my mother had no problem with my collection of Big Daddy Kane cassettes. Kane, as you know, wasn’t the cleanest rapper. But, when my cousin told her Dolemite was featured on Kane’s Taste of Chocolate album, that tape magically disappeared (my cousin still owes me $7 for that). Dolemite was unabashed in his vulgarity. His style and strut personified 1970’s Blaxploitation, from his garish capes to his extra-wide butterfly collars. When Moore became Dolemite, he became even more crude, abrasive and captivating. You knew you weren’t supposed to hear his material. Hell, he was probably too much for some adults.
Fast-forward to the present and L.A. producer Oh No is given carte blanche to sample Moore’s vast audio archives: rare instrumentals, obscure acapellas, clips from the Dolemite soundtrack, and scenes from movies Petey Wheatstraw and The Human Tornado. Much like his older brother, producer Madlib, Oh No prefers esoteric rhythms and mixes otherworldly samples with glossy synths. That cosmic mixture usually blends into something overtly funky and equally woozy: wide-ranging genres merge to create the producer’s hazy strand of California soul. With Ohnomite, Oh No combines dusty Dolemite footage with his own psychedelic West Coast ethos. The result is a kaleidoscopic journey through musical yesteryear. Between its brassy compositions and golden-age guest features — ‘90s mainstays Sticky Fingaz, Erick Sermon, Phife Dawg, and Chino XL — you won’t know whether to play this on an iPod or a Walkman.
All told, the album impressively displays its nostalgia: dashes of Dolemite are dispersed throughout, and the protagonist is given new life on this dizzying set list. Ohnomite is seamless, yet it has standouts: “Real Serious”, with its deep bass drops and rolling guitar riff, could’ve doubled as Dolemite’s theme music. Offset by Moore vocal samples, “3 Dollars” is an alarming concoction of tumbling drums bolstered by MF DOOM’s quirky wordplay. On the Dilla-esque “You Don’t Know Me”, Rapper Big Pooh and Phil Da Agony get lyrical. “I’m like Madlib and Michael Jackson,” Phil rhymes. “I’ll stop you in your tracks wit ya phony rappin’.” (Michael Jackson is Oh No’s real name.)
But while the MCs deliver impressive verses — Phife schools the youngins on “Dues and Don’ts” and Sticky channels his Onyx days on “Whoop Ass” — Ohnomite is all about the music. Perhaps on purpose, Oh No has crafted the soundtrack of Rudy Ray Moore, carefully piecing together this work through distortion and filtration. While Moore is the binding agent here, Oh No does a fine job of layering the beats, thereby putting his own twist on a familiar shtick. In the end, Ohnomite is an efficient banger and a cinematic homage to one of black America’s most notorious figures. It’s uneasy and a bit messy, but that works to its benefit. Dolemite would approve. Muthafucka.