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Rap Flashback – Hammer Time

MC HammerMarch 30th, 1962 marks the birth of Oakland’s Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known to the world as 3 time Grammy winner MC Hammer (or just Hammer).  Hammer took the music world by storm in the late 80s and early 90s utilizing a ‘James Brown w/ a Hip Hop twist’ dance approach, shiny, baggy pants, and several major hits which include ‘Pray’, ‘Too Legit To Quit’, ‘Let’s Get It Started’, and his most successful song, ‘U Can’t Touch This’.  To date, he has sold over 50 Million records.

Before his mainstream success as a rapper, Hammer served as a bat-boy for Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics.  In 1973, then A’s Owner Charles Finley saw an 11 year old Hammer entertaining fans for money at the Oakland Coliseum parking lot. The young man was dancing and doing splits, much to the enjoyment of his crowd.  Finley hired the future pop icon as a bat-boy on the spot, a job Hammer would keep for 7 years.  Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson credits himself with giving Hammer his future stage name.  As Jackson puts it, “hell, our chief executive, the guy that ran our team, uh, that communicated [with] Charlie Finley, the top man there, was a 13-year old kid. I nicknamed him ‘Hammer,’ because he looked like Hank Aaron” (Rebels of Oakland: The A’s, the Raiders, the ’70s..  HBO. December 10, 2003).

Hammer’s mainstream success in the early 90s was met with much criticism within the Rap community.  Branded a sell-out by many top Hip Hop artists at the time, such as LL Cool J and Ice Cube, Hammer would eventually lose steam within the Rap community and never regain the success of his 1990 release, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em.  He tried in vain to keep up with the times and assimilate to the Gangsta Rap trends of the mid-90s, releasing The Funky Headhunter in 1994 on Suge Knight’s Death Row Records.  Though the album went gold, Hammer’s popularity as a rapper continued to wane, and several subsequent releases would not garner much airplay.

That said, Hammer at his peak more than left his mark on Pop Culture, and while some may have claimed he “sold out” and joked about his subsequent financial struggles, I would argue that Hammer was ahead of his time.  Many of the artists who dissed him went on to achieve major crossover success themselves.  How many movies and TV shows have LL Cool J and Ice Cube done?  Hindsight is always 20/20, but it seems very hypocritical for the same rappers who dissed Hammer to follow his mainstream path towards commercial success.  Mind you, we here at JP Lime Productions are huge fans of both Cube and LL, but a spade is a spade, no?

Let’s face it, Hammer was a trendsetter.  He pushed Rap to new financial dimensions in the early 90s, and paved the way for many future Hip Hop artists and entrepreneurs.  Weren’t Puffy’s late 90s shiny suits reminiscent of Hammer’s clothing?  Would Hip Hop’s Platinum Age of the mid-90s, which spawned such successful and important artists as Biggie, Nas, Tupac, & Jay Z have even had a platform if Hammer hadn’t pushed Rap music to the mainstream?  Why were legendary 80s rappers such as Run DMC, Rakim, and KRS One topping out at gold or barely platinum sales while their mid-90s counterparts named above routinely went multi-platinum?  Hammer’s success had something to do with that.  At his peak, his brand of Hip Hop may have been safer and more pop-friendly than that of the Tupacs and Jay Zs of the game, but it was because of the visibility Hammer helped create that high ranking record executives considered rappers a means for lucrative record sales.

It is for these reasons that he should go down as one of the most important Hip Hop artists to bless a stage.  Simply put, MC Hammer raised the bar for the heights that Hip Hop was supposed to reach.  He was a true game changer, and for that, we here at JP Lime Productions salute Hip Hop’s first, true pop star.  You (still) can’t touch this!

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