MC HAMMER | Retrospective

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MC HAMMER

MC HAMMER is one of the artists you’re likely to hear more than just one song from on THE BEAT.

MC Hammer still holds the record for the most records sold by a rap artist. His 1990 release “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” had sold over 15 million units and helped him win three Grammy awards that year.

ABOUT MC HAMMER

Stanley Kirk Burrell (born March 30th, 1962), is MC Hammer from Oakland, CA This multi-Grammy award winning artist is one we feature here on The Beat Chicago.

MC Hammer has Hammer has sold about 30 million albums in the US alone. He has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.  He still holds the record for the most albums sold by a rap artist.

Hammer’s history begins with his father and mother.  His father was a professional poker player and gambling casino manager (at Oaks Card Club’s card room), as well as warehouse supervisor. He grew up poor with his mother (a secretary) and eight siblings in a small apartment in East Oakland. He recalled that six children were crammed into a three-bedroom housing project apartment. The Burrell’s would also frequent thoroughbred horse races, eventually becoming owners and winners of several graded stakes.

In the Oakland Coliseum parking lot the young Burrell would sell stray baseballs and dance accompanied by a beat boxer. Oakland A’s team owner Charles O. Finley saw the 11-year-old doing splits and hired him as a clubhouse assistant and bat boy as a result of his energy and flair from 1973 to 1980.

Before Hammer’s successful music career (with his mainstream popularity lasting approximately between 1988 and 1998) and his “rags-to-riches-to-rags-and-back saga”, Burrell formed a Christian rap music group with CCM’s Jon Gibson (or “J.G.”) called Holy Ghost Boys. Some songs produced were called “Word” and “B-Boy Chill”. “The Wall”, featuring Burrell (it was originally within the lyrics of this song he first identified himself as K.B. and then eventually M.C. Hammer once it was produced), was later released on Gibson’s album Change of Heart (1988). This was Contemporary Christian music’s first rap hit ever. Burrell also produced “Son of the King” at that time, releasing it on his debut album. “Son of the King” showed up on Hammer’s debut album Feel My Power (1987), as well as the re-released version Let’s Get It Started (1988).

Once signed to Capitol Records, Hammer re-issued his first record (a revised version of Feel My Power) with additional tracks added and sold over 2 million copies. “Pump It Up” (also performed during Showtime at the Apollo on September 16, 1989), “Turn This Mutha Out”, “Let’s Get It Started” and “They Put Me in the Mix” were the most popular singles from this album, all of which charted. Not entirely satisfied with this first multi-platinum success, Hammer’s music underwent a metamorphosis, shifting from the standard rap format in his upcoming album. “I decided the next album would be more musical,” he says. Purists chastised him for being more dancer than rapper. Sitting in a leopard-print bodysuit before a concert, he defended his style: “People were ready for something different from the traditional rap style. The fact that the record has reached this level indicates the genre is growing.”

MC Hammer was very good friends with Arsenio Hall (as well as a then-unknown teen named Robert Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice, despite later rumors that there was a “beef” between the two rappers which was addressed during the height of both their careers on Hall’s show, and who he would later reunite with in a 2009 concert in Salt Lake City, Utah), and as such, Hammer was first invited to perform the song “U Can’t Touch This”, prior to its release, on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1989. He also performed “Dancing Machine” in a version that appeared in the same-titled movie.

Hammer used some of the proceeds from this album to install a rolling recording studio in the back of his tour bus, where he recorded much of his second album.

In 1989, Hammer was featured on “You’ve Got Me Dancing” (with Glen Goldsmith), which appeared on the Glen Goldsmith album Don’t Turn This Groove Around. The track was Hammer’s first release in the UK. Hammer also appeared in Glen Goldsmith’s music video for this song. The single failed to chart.

Notorious for dissing rappers in his previous recordings, Hammer appropriately titled his third album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” released on February 12, 1990 (with an original release date of January 1, 1990).

The album sent Hammer and hip-hop into the stratosphere. The first release, “U Can’t Touch This” (which sampled Rick James’ “Super Freak”). Despite heavy airplay and a No. 27 chart debut, “U Can’t Touch This” stopped at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart because it was released only as a twelve-inch single. However, the album was a No. 1 success for 21 weeks, due primarily to that single. The first time ever for a recording on the pop charts.

Follow-up successes included a cover of the Chicago’s very own Chi-Lites 1971 #1 song, “Have You Seen Her”. Other hits from the album that featured monster budget videos include “Pray” (a beat sampled from Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Faith No More’s “We Care a Lot”), which was his biggest hit in the US, peaking at No. 2. “Pray” was also a major UK success, peaking at No. 8. The album went on to become the first hip-hop album to earn diamond status, selling more than 18 million units to date. The album continues to be – to this day, the best selling ever hip hop album.

During 1990, Hammer toured extensively in Europe which included a sold-out concert at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. With the sponsorship of PepsiCo International, Pepsi CEO Christopher A. Sinclair went on tour with him during 1991.

A movie also accompanied the album and was produced in 1990, called Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em: The Movie (with portions of his music videos included within the movie). At the same time, he also appeared in The West Coast Rap All-Stars posse cut “We’re All in the Same Gang.” Music videos from this album and the previous albums began to receive much airplay on MTV and VH1.

M.C. Hammer also contributed a track, “This is What We Do”, on the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack on SBK Records.

A critical backlash began over the repetitive nature of his lyrics, his clean-cut image, and his perceived over-reliance on sampling others’ entire hooks for the basis of his singles—criticisms also directed to his contemporary, Vanilla Ice.

MC Hammer was mocked in music videos by 3rd Bass (including a rap battle with MC Serch), The D.O.C., DJ Debranz, and Ice Cube. Oakland hip-hop group Digital Underground criticized him in the CD insert of their Sex Packets album by placing Hammer’s picture in it and referring to him as an unknown derelict. Q Tip criticized him in “Check the Rhyme,” asking, “What you say Hammer? Proper. Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop.” LL Cool J dissed him in “To tha Break of Dawn” (from the Mama Said Knock You Out album), calling Hammer an “amateur, swinging a Hammer from a bodybag [his pants],” and saying, “My old gym teacher ain’t supposed to rap.”, though this could have been seen as a response to Hammer calling him out in “Let’s Get it Started”, when he was mentioned along with Run-DMC and Doug E. Fresh as rappers that Hammer claimed to be better than. (LL Cool J would later compliment and commend Hammer’s abilities/talents on VH-1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop, which aired in 2008). However, Ice-T came to his defense on his 1991 album O.G. Original Gangster: “A special shout out to my man M.C. Hammer: a lot of people dis you, man, but they just jealous.” Ice-T later explained that he had nothing against people who were pop-rap from the start, as Hammer had been, but only against emcees who switch from being hardcore or dirty to being pop-rap so that they can sell more records. It had gotten so ignorant that the popular Living Color show’s Tommy Davidson did a parody of Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” spoof on the show, see below.

Despite the criticisms, Hammer’s career continued to be highly successful including tours in Asia, Europe, Australia, and Russia. Soon after, M.C. Hammer Mattel dolls, lunchboxes, and other merchandise were marketed. He was also given his own Saturday morning cartoon, called Hammerman, which he hosted and voiced.

After publicly dropping the “M.C.” from his stage name, Hammer released Too Legit to Quit.

In 1991. Hammer answered his critics within certain songs from the album. Sales were strong (over five million copies), with the title track being the biggest hit single from this record. The album peaked in the Top 5 of the Billboard 200. Another hit came soon after, with “Addams Groove” (which appeared on both The Addams Family motion picture soundtrack and the vinyl and cassette versions of 2 Legit 2 Quit), reaching No. 7 in the U.S. and No. 4 in the UK. His video for the song appeared after the movie. The budget for the 2 Legit 2 Quit video (directed by film director Rupert Wainwright) was one of the biggest ever for any music video.

The music video features several athletes making cameo appearances including José Canseco, Isiah Thomas, Kirby Puckett, Jerry Rice, Rickey Henderson, Deion Sanders, Andre Rison, Wayne Gretzky, Chris Mullin, Roger Clemens, Roger Craig, Ronnie Lott, Lynette Woodard, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, David Robinson, and former football head coach Jerry Glanville. As a result of the appearance of various Falcons team members in the video, the 1991 team became known as the “2 Legit 2 Quit” Falcons, utilizing the song as their team theme song. The full-length version of the video also featured cameos from Danny Glover, Mark Wahlberg, Donnie Wahlberg, Eazy-E, DJ Quik, 2nd II None, Tony Danza, Queen Latifah and Milli Vanilli

Hammer set out on a tour for this album, with a stage show which had become as grandiose and lavish as his lifestyle ⁠— ⁠loaded with singers, dancers, and backup musicians, the supporting concert tour was too expensive for the album’s sales to finance, and it was canceled partway through. In 1992, Boyz II Men joined Hammer’s high-profile 2 Legit 2 Quit tour as an opening act. While traveling the country, their tour manager Khalil Roundtree was murdered in Chicago, and the group’s future performances of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” were dedicated to him. As a result of this unfortunate experience, the song would help advance their success.

Music videos were produced for all four singles released from this album (including “Do Not Pass Me By” and “This Is The Way We Roll”), all which charted.

At the end of the “2 Legit 2 Quit” video, after James Brown enlists Hammer to get the famous glove of Michael Jackson, a silver-white sequined glove is shown on the hand of a Michael Jackson look-alike doing the “2 Legit 2 Quit” hand gesture. In a related story, M.C. Hammer appeared on The Wendy Williams Show (July 27, 2009) and talked about his hit reality show Hammertime on A&E, his marriage, his role as a dad and the reasons he eventually went bankrupt. He told an amusing story about a phone call he received from “M.J.”, regarding the portion of the “2 Legit 2 Quit” video that included a fake Michael Jackson, giving his approval and inclusion of it. He explained how Michael had seen the video and liked it, and both expressed they were fans of one another. Hammer and Jackson would later appear, speak and/or perform at the funeral service for James Brown in 2006.

During 1991, Hammer was also featured on the single “The Blood” from the BeBe & CeCe Winans album, Different Lifestyles. In 1992, the song peaked at No. 8 on the Christian charts.

In retrospect, you can perhaps understand why some would be quick to write off Hammer as a one hit wonder, given the ubiquity, even today, of his classic 1990 single ‘U Can’t Touch This’; it’s certainly synonymous with Hammer’s name. In truth, though, not many one hit wonders sell fifty million records worldwide, or can boast further chart success as Hammer can – take ‘2 Legit 2 Quit’, for instance. He was also the first rapper to achieve diamond sales status for a hip hop record. It’s also true, though, that Hammer can boast more than just commercial success and material wealth; he has had a clearly appreciable impact upon the genre of hip hop in general, too.

Hammer helped to pioneer pop rap by incorporating elements of freestyle music, and later on, was more than happy to roughen up his image a little in order to help maintain his relevance in the hip hop world. He introduced the concept of choreographed dance to his genre, too, and not in any way that was gimmicky or intended as a novelty; BET would eventually go on to declare Hammer the seventh greatest dancer of all time.

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