'Dope' moves: Shameik Moore blasts off from Atlanta

The actor and musician's journey from Lithonia to Hollywood's red carpet

Shameik Moore can't contain the excitement in his voice. Even through the telephone, his energy is infectious. It's his moment and he's savoring it. And why shouldn't he?

Dope, his first film as a leading man, was written and directed by The Wood's Rick Famuyiwa and executive produced by Pharrell Williams. Recently, the Sundance sensation made an even bigger splash in Cannes, with Moore holding court alongside fellow Dope castmates Zoe Kravitz, model Chanel Iman, rapper A$AP Rocky, and producer Sean "Diddy" Combs' adopted son Quincy Brown. And to cap it off, he flew to Cannes from New York where he's working as one of the four leads in Netflix's "The Get Down," about hip-hop's early days.

"I love my life. Every single day I'm smiling and looking forward to the next day," Moore confesses. It's a long way from Lithonia, where he's from, and then it isn't. Moore, who just turned 20 in May, is living proof of the new Atlanta where any and everything is possible. And, in true Atlanta creative ease, it was music first.

Just as the classic hip-hop film Breakin' changed a few lives back in the 1980s, before Moore was even a remote possibility, 2004's You Got Served gave his life new meaning. "I went to Christian school until I was in sixth grade. Hip-hop music wasn't really allowed," reveals Moore, whose parents are both Jamaican. "When I saw You Got Served, it changed my life and I started dancing like that because I was kind of removed from R&B and hip-hop."

Having a reggae musician for a father didn't bridge that gap, either. "Reggae is like their way of gospel music almost," Moore says, explaining what motivates the genre's artists. "Most of the stuff they sing about is really powerful and has meaning. A lot of them sing about Jah God and their beliefs."

So the young man had a lot of catching up to do with his music of choice. Starting with dance, Moore, in very a "America's Best Dance Crew" fashion, found his fit with the dance crew Young Superstars. Managed locally by Chyna Williams and Johnny Lofton, co-founders of the creative collective WE Entertain, where Moore's loyalties still lie, momentum built quickly. By 12, Moore and his crew, YouTube stars themselves, were dancing in the video for Soulja Boy's massive hit "Crank That" and Keri Hilson's "Turnin' Me On." At 13, he added acting to the mix. "After I got my first Cartoon Network commercial and saw myself on TV, I was like I'm gone have to talk next time," he recalls.

Not long after, Moore, who attended Lithonia and North Druid Hills high schools before being homeschooled, landed guest roles in both Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" and BET's "Reed Between the Lines." He also showed up in films shot in town such as Queen Latifah's Joyful Noise and the Hallmark Channel's The Watsons Go to Birmingham. His first real breakthrough, however, came courtesy of Nick Cannon and his Cartoon sketch comedy, "Incredible Crew." The 2013 series allowed Moore to further hone his creative gifts. Last year, encouraged by his Los Angeles representation, he decided to boldly pursue Hollywood, sending out more than a hundred taped auditions from Atlanta. Dope was his first callback.

Much like Famuyiwa's 1999 film, The Wood, Dope (also set in Famuyiwa's native Inglewood neighborhood in L.A.) is a dramedy centered around Moore's Malcolm, a geek from the hood with his heart set on attending Harvard, but who gets unwillingly drafted to sell drugs. Because Malcolm and his two best friends — a lesbian named Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), their Latino friend — also have a hip-hop band, Moore, who raps and sings, worked closely with Pharrell on the music.

"He was doing things that I do, like bouncing to music and hearing little beats in his head and then he would sit down and be quiet and start writing a song ... Like how he moves in a room, these are the things that I do in a studio and I'm sitting here watching this respected man and talented man and I'm thinking, 'Wow I can do this,'" Moore says. "I'm just looking at him and I'm seeing the possibilities for me."

With having the best of both worlds squarely on his to-do list, Moore, who records as King S.A.M. Shameik Alti Moore, is preparing to release his own music. "We are about to put out this project 30058," he says. "30058 is the ZIP code I grew up in Lithonia. For me, that represents Atlanta ... It just represents where I come from."

Where he comes from isn't bad. After all, it's launched him into the stars.

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