'Dope' Star Shameik Moore: I'm 'Grinding' My Way to Greatness

"I'm done asking permission when I can just do it myself," 22-year-old actor, dancer and performer says

"I'm done asking permission when I can just do it myself," 22-year-old actor, dancer and performer Shameik Moore (The Get Down) says. Credit: Koury Angelo for Rolling Stone

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Since he was a kid, Shameik Moore has been in constant motion – and constantly striving. "When I started, I was dancing," he tells Rolling Stone. "But then, I wanted to be singing while I was dancing on stage. With my dancing, I became popular in the community as a little boy – I was battling grown men and winning. I started doing music videos, and then I got a commercial within four or five months. But after I saw myself on television, I was like, 'I want to speak next time, because nobody really knows who I am. They saw me for couple of seconds, but that’s not enough.' At first, I just wanted to be on television, but that's not enough no more. I'm not easily satisfied. I want the next step. As soon as I accomplish one step, I want the next."

Moore punctuates this recollection with an impish laugh, undercutting his bravado. But his ambition is no joke: The 22-year-old has already segued from sketch comic (Cartoon Network's Incredible Crew) to Sundance sensation (2015's coming-of-age romp Dope) to a star of Baz Luhrmann's lavish salute to hip-hop's early days, the Netflix series The Get Down.

Later this year, the rising star, who is the son of reggae bassist Errol Moore, will drop his first album, the R&B-influenced Worth the Risk, which features the silky lead single "Ride the Beat."

"I'm done asking permission when I can just do it myself," he explains. "At a certain time, artists like Aaliyah and Usher, their mystique was on a different level. But social media changed that – now, everybody can be a star. You can come from all different types of areas and situations. You can be from South Side Chicago, make basically a gospel album [Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book] and win a Grammy."

But he also acknowledges that social media also be a brutal gauge of progress. "The truth is, numbers matter," he says about followers. "I care about my numbers because it represents where I'm at. It's like, 'This is how people are actually reacting to you.'"

Despite his huge aspirations, Moore has retained a sense of humility and perspective. Although he grew up in Atlanta, his family hails from Jamaica, and at an early age he understood poverty – and how lucky he had it in the States. "I went to Jamaica a lot growing up," he remembers. "We were bathing with water in buckets. My [Jamaican] family lived in the country. In Atlanta, I had a shower and we would go to the grocery store. My uncles and cousins would find a goat and kill it."

With so much going on in his life (he's also interested in screenwriting and fashion) Moore wouldn't seem to be someone who dwells on the past. But, as he explains, "Knowledge from the past allows you to make smart decisions in the present in order to create the future." And he definitely has his eyes fixed on what's ahead, envisioning what people might think of his legacy 100 years from now. "I think it would be amazing to be able to look at James Brown at 22 and know exactly who he was and the type of things he was dealing with," Moore says. "I would like that: ‘When Shameik Moore was 22, he was having girl problems, too – he was feeling like this as well.' I want to be relatable, and I want to affect people in a positive way. I'm not comfortable laying on the beach yet. I'm grinding."