1990’s three most important words? How about “Stop! Hammer Time”? My brain is twitching a bit right now, as I think about the Hammer phenomenon and Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. On one hand it’s laughing at the pants, the dance and the overall cheese factor that’s attached to the MC Hammer name now. On the other hand, my brain is trying to force me to stop shaking my hands in the air, gospel style, as I sing “we need to pray just to make it today.”
The majority of the albums in this series are going to be looked at because they are simply awesome and the writer still enjoys the record. Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, on the other hand, is more of a nostalgic record than anything else. That’s not to say it isn’t awesome in its own right (it is) or deserves less scorn than it gets (it does) but my enjoyment of the album stems from the memories more than anything else.
Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em was released just after my 14th birthday. I remember taking the money my grandmother gave me, purchasing the CD, and immediately dancing around — the most uncoordinated white boy you’ve ever seen. I loved this shit from the start. The Hammer pants were fascinating, the rip-off of “Super Freak” for “U Can’t Touch This” was on point, and MC Hammer was simply the man.
I will never apologize for my love of pop rap. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince started it out for me in the late ‘80s and then Young MC was unstoppable in my boom box. Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em is one of the most successful and best examples of the genre. You could call it rap or hip-hop, but in reality it was pop music and while artists these days seem to chop up and spit back small snippets of classic tracks, back in the day songs were just taken wholesale and sampled on a regular basis. I remember the album being criticized heavily for this. Rick James was sampled twice – both in “U Can’t Touch This,” for which he got a songwriting credit, and “Yo!! Sweetness” where he wasn’t given a credit for the use of “Give It to Me Baby.” Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” was the basis for “Help the Children,” and the Jackson 5’s “Dancin’ Machine” as well as the Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her” were reworked into rap tracks without even as much as a name change; more remarkably, Prince was used twice. The megahit “Pray” uses “When Doves Cry” and he does a rap version of “Soft and Wet” (Hammer put a “She’s” before the title). Seeing that Prince has sued countless artists (bankrupting some of them) and is known as a fickle bitch, I’m surprised that every penny Hammer earned from this record isn’t in the purple one’s pockets right now.
The reality is that I miss pop rap. Having peaked around ’97 with Puff Daddy and Ma$E (admit it, that shit was great while it lasted) it’s become a lost art. Eminem pulls it off pretty nicely on his more humorous tracks and Justin Timberlake is somewhere in the neighborhood, but pop rap now normally consists of alternative dudes thinking they’re fly enough to be dabble in the genre or guest spots on pop songs from Lil’ Wayne. Oh, and Timbaland getting cozy with crap artists like Miley Cyrus. Hammertime was groundbreaking; a slew of artists got on the train. From Hammer I moved on to Paperboy, Domino, Positive K and others that may have only had 15 minutes of fame, but owe 14 minutes of that to Mr. Stanley Burrell being on the scene.
I knew the craze was big, but looking back and seeing 21 weeks at #1 for the album and being the first hip-hop album to go diamond (10 million in sales) is pretty amazing any way you look at it. I still think it was pretty daring for the label to release a song as overtly religious as “Pray” as a single — and lo and behold, it ended up being Hammer’s biggest hit, hitting #2 on the pop charts (“U Can’t Touch This” only went to #8).
Of course Hammer went gangsta, then religious — having his own show on the Trinity Network called MC Hammer and Friends (MC standing for Man of Christ now) but he’s kept on releasing albums. Wikipedia even says that his 2006 record Look Look Look has sold 300, 000 copies, which can’t possibly be anything but a typo (300, maybe? I mean, has anyone ever heard the song “Hyphy, Dumb, Buck, Krump”?) but it doesn’t matter because Hammer’s always going to be 2 Legit 2 Quit for me.