On Jan. 13, 1990, MC Hammer released “U Can’t Touch This,” which he’d premiered on The Arsenio Hall Show in late 1989. The good-natured boast, laid over the hook of Rick James’ “Superfreak,” proved irresistible. Hammer’s hydraulic dance moves and outlandish fashions — harem pants and gold lamé, together at last! — were cartoonish, but the song’s overwhelming cultural saturation soon made Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em the first rap album to sell 10 million copies.
“There’s always a solo male artist who pushes pop music forward, from James Brown to Michael Jackson to Bobby Brown when he left New Edition, and then MC Hammer,” says Hammer, now 47. “On [1989’s] Superfest tour, Bobby and I would indirectly compete to put on a great show. At the time, Bobby had a van with a crown on top of it, because he had called his album King of Stage. I remember saying, ‘Hey, Bobby, you’re the king of the stage right now. But I’m gonna need the keys to the van.’ And he laughed and I laughed, and about a year later he was handing me a Grammy.” The single actually only made it to No. 8 on the Hot 100, but it was still inescapable. “What’s surreal is the life it has today,” says Hammer, currently starring in the A&E reality show Hammertime. He points to millions of hits on YouTube and an appearance in the recent DJ Hero game as proof that “U Can’t Touch This” lives on. “It carved its own groove.”