”Here Comes the Hammer!” proclaimed Stanley Kirk Burrell, a.k.a. M.C. Hammer, on the first track of his album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, released last February. And Hammer kept on coming all year. Bolstered by such hits as ”U Can’t Touch This,” which shamelessly copped its propulsive riff from Rick James’ ”Super Freak,” his second album commandeered the No. 1 spot on the pop chart for 21 weeks in 1990. With sales of more than 7 million, Please Hammer surpassed the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill to become rap’s biggest-selling album ever — and its biggest groundbreaker.
Hammer proved to be more than just a rhymer. His nonstop, baggy-pants, impossibly fluid style of dancing became the year’s step of choice. By the end of 1990, he had landed two major endorsement deals (with Pepsi and British Knights sportswear) and his company, Bust It Records, had entered into a multimillion-dollar producing venture with Capitol Records. And with such triumphs, the 27-year-old Hammer came to symbolize rap’s first big push into heartland America: One of the first releases on Bust It/Capitol was ”Go for It” — the theme song for Rocky V.
Success didn’t come without its price. Pointing to his heavy reliance on electronically ”sampled” musical licks, other rappers accused him of being a mediocre rhymer and a crossover-obsessed showman. The former batboy for the Oakland Athletics is clearly rooted in hip-hop culture, but his image is that of a hard-working, upwardly striving professional — a buppie, in fact. Offstage Hammer wears expensive Italian suits, praises God, condemns drugs, and speaks fluently on such topics as finance and marketing. He even talks in elegant platitudes. As he told one reporter, ”We try to keep our organization disciplined because we have goals, and in order to achieve those goals we must be disciplined.” Hammer is cultural evolution in fast action, the rapper as wheeler-dealer and sleek entertainer — and the next logical step for a form of music that is quickly becoming part of the fabric of American life.