Kool Moe Dee
Kool Moe Dee
Born Mohandas DeWese in 1963 (some sources say 1962), in Harlem, NY
Education: State University of New York, B.A. in communications.
Rapper. Began rapping in high school; formed the Treacherous Three; released “The New Rap Language,” “Body Rock,” and “Feel the Heartbeat,” 1980-81; solo single “Go See the Doctor,” c. 1986; signed with Jive Records and released I’m Kool Moe Dee, 1986; released platinum-selling How Ya Like Me Now, 1987; released gold-sellingKnowledge is King, 1989; became the first rapper to perform at the Grammy awards, 1989; collaborated on the Stop the Violence Movement’s “Self-Destruction” and Quincy Jones’s Back on the Block, 1989; released Funke, Funke Wisdom, 1991; released Greatest Hits, 1993; dropped from Jive Records, 1993; released Treacherous Three reunion album, 1993; released Interlude, 1994; started film career 1995-; appeared in movies such as Gang Related, 1997; Storm Trooper, 1998; Cypress Edge, 1999; Out Kold, 2001; The New Guy 2002.
As part of the seminal rap trio Treacherous Three, rapper Kool Moe Dee became one of rap’s “founding fathers,” according to Rolling Stone. A platinum-selling solo artist, the old-school rapper built his rhymes on politically conscious lyrics with such albums as I’m Kool Moe Dee, How Ya Like Me Now, Knowledge Is King, and Funke, Funke Wisdom. Moe Dee was part of a wave of socially conscious rap that directly countered the message of guns, drugs, and misogyny promoted by such acts as NWA. He encouraged his listeners to read the Bible, avoid drugs and crime, and develop self-pride.
Formed the Treacherous Three
Moe Dee was born Mohandas DeWese in 1963 (some sources say 1962), in Harlem, New York. He was as inspired by Muhammad Ali’s verbal poeticism as he was by his boxing, and Dr. Seuss’s rhymes in the Cat in the Hat captivated him as a child. He practiced his own rapping and rhyming skills at Norman Thomas High School in New York City, commandeered the mic at house parties to get himself heard, and soon formed the Treacherous Three with fellow rappers L.A. Sunshine and Special K. The trio recorded three tracks, “The New Rap Language,” “Body Rock,” and “Feel the Heartbeat,” on producer Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy record label. They also recorded on the seminal hip-hop record label Sugar Hill. Interest in the group waned when acts like Run D.M.C. came onto the scene, so Moe Dee left the group and bowed out for a while. He used his time off to earn a bachelor’s degree in communications from the State University of New York at Old Westbury on Long Island. “Rap is repetitious,” Moe Dee was quoted as saying in the Encyclopedia of Popular Music. “It gets to the point where you wanna hear hard beats, then it goes back to where you wanna hear melodies. You just gotta be on the right vibe at the right time.”
Moe Dee returned to the scene as a solo act with the underground hit “Go See the Doctor,” which was produced by 17-year-old Teddy Riley. The single caught the attention of Jive Records, and Moe Dee released his successful debut album, I’m Kool Moe Dee, on the Jive label in 1986. Moe Dee sounded somewhat arrogant on his second release, How Ya Like Me Now, which followed a year later. The liner notes included a carefully constructed report card of 24 rappers of the time, and Moe Dee himself earned the best grades of all. The rapper earned his marks, however, when the album earned platinum status for record sales. His third album, Knowledge is King, was released in 1989 and went gold. Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson are cited in the liner notes for their public speaking. Following the album’s release, Moe Dee performed at the Grammy awards ceremony, becoming the first rapper to do so.
Moe Dee collaborated on “Self-Destruction,” an anti-crime rap for the Stop the Violence Movement, an organization of rappers who believed they could, and should, be seen as role models. “[Rappers] are more effective reaching kids than Jesse Jackson because they’re listening to us,” Moe Dee said in an interview with USA Today. “They know our raps word for word. It’s up to us to be role models and give something back to our community.” Moe Dee also appeared on Quincy Jones’s important Back on the Block album.
Feuded with L.L. Cool J
Despite his positive message, Moe Dee formed one-half of a bitter hip-hop rivalry with fellow rapper L.L. Cool J. The feud began in 1987, when the cover of How Ya Like Me Now? featured a Kangol hat–Cool J’s trademark–being crushed under a Jeep tire. Two years later, after “Rapmania,” a festive, all-star jam featured on pay-per-view, tensions appeared to have cooled. The two stars later had dueling releases when Cool J’s Walking With a Panther and Moe Dee’s Knowledge is King were on the charts at the same time. Moe Dee panned Cool J in “Let’s Go,” and Cool J returned the favor in his own “Jack the Ripper.” When Cool J released the songs “To Da Break O’ Dawn” and “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Moe Dee took offense, and he claimed to Billboard that Cool J “took stabs at me in those songs.”
Moe Dee came back in 1991 with the song “Death Blow,” which he aimed at Cool J, and which was a street and radio hit, in no small part because of Cool J’s popularity. “Because L.L. has blown up even more, people love it, they just want more,” one record company executive told Billboard. “Kool Moe Dee is like a … monkey on my back,” Cool J said in a radio interview quoted by USA Today. He added, “He’s contradicting himself. He always says he’s so positive, but he’s always tearing me down.” Rolling Stone critic Alan Light agreed. Light considered “Death Blow” Moe Dee’s only “serious misstep” on Funke, Funke Wisdom, one that seemed to “contradict the communal message he’s trying to convey.”
Moe Dee’s 1990 EP, God Made Me Funkee, missed its mark. The release’s lack of success suggested that Moe Dee had lost some of his edge, or became a little alienated from his roots, so the artist went back to the streets for inspiration for his next release, asking young rap fans what they thought was hot. Funke, Funke Wisdom, Moe Dee’s 1991 release, was his fourth on the Jive label. The “last survivor of the first-generation ‘old-school,'” as Rolling Stone critic Alan Light called him, was still pushing his socially conscious lessons, but was doing so with more attention to danceability on this release. The album featured samples from Sly and the Family Stone, P-Funk, James Brown, and the Average White Band.
“Funk is definitely necessary [to get serious points across],” Moe Dee told Billboard. “The idea is to entertain first. The new album is focused more toward making people dance.” Light called the album “a return to the joyous words-for-word’s sake looseness that powered hip-hop’s early classics.” Funke, Funke Wisdom’s first single, “Rise ‘N’ Shine,” featured legendary rappers KRS-One from Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. The success of the single built anticipation for the album’s release and was a number-one hit on the rap charts for two weeks, but the album sales proved disappointing when compared to Moe Dee’s earlier releases.
Moved From Music to Movies
Moe Dee, an avid writer of screenplays, once dreamed of launching a “black entertainment empire,” he told GQ. He saw enormous potential as fellow rappers Ice T, Ice Cube, and L.L. Cool J began to make their names on the big screen. He set up a production company in the hopes of becoming the next Spike Lee or Quincy Jones. However, others went on to achieve his dream, and Moe Dee’s recording career began to fade in the 1990s. A 1993 Greatest Hits album successfully documented some of rap’s formative years and recaptured the era when Moe Dee was a king of rap. It was his last album for Jive, which dropped him after its release. Moe Dee came back with a Treacherous Three reunion album that year, and a solo release, Interlude, on the Wrap label in 1994.
While Moe Dee never got his idea of launching an entertainment production company off of the ground, he did eventually break onto the Hollywood scene. Starting in 1995, Moe Dee appeared in the Mario Van Peebles movie Panther, which explored the history of the Black Panther Party during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since 1995, Moe Dee has continued to appear in small film roles in movies such as Gang Related, 1997; Storm Trooper, 1998; Cypress Edge, 1999; and Out Kold, 2001. His most recent role in the 2002 film The New Guy paired Moe Dee with other musicians such as Henry Rollins, Jermaine Dupri, Tommy Lee, Gene Simmons, and Vanilla Ice.
- I’m Kool Moe Dee, Jive, 1986.
- How Ya Like Me Now, Jive, 1987.
- The Best, Jive, 1987.
- Knowledge Is King, Jive, 1989.
- God Made Me Funkee, Jive, 1990.
- Funke, Funke Wisdom, Jive, 1991.
- Greatest Hits, Jive, 1993.
- Interlude, Wrap, 1994.
- Jive Collection Series, Vol. 2, Jive, 1995.
- Panther, 1995.
- Gang Related, 1997.
- Storm Trooper, 1998.
- Cypress Edge, 1999.
- Brother, 2000.
- Out Kold, 2001.
- Crossroads, 2002.
- The New Guy, 2002.