Here comes the Hammer! I was not a huge fan of rap when M.C. Hammer hit the scene. I would barely admit to it but I liked Tone-Lōc and Young MC’s few songs, but they were popular so I barely considered them rap. At that point most people still thought rap was a fad that was on its last legs. Gangsta rap was getting to be the thing, and 2 Live Crew’s nastiness was really making suburban white adults fucking hate rap even more than they already did, while their suburban white children couldn’t fucking get enough of it!
At that time in my life and in music history I listened to very little contemporary stuff. M.C. Hammer was not threatening. He was not obscene (well, “Soft and Wet” sounds nastier than it is, but other than that…). He was not violent. He did not disrespect women. Hammer was a positive alternative to a lot of the shit out there, and most of what was out there was just stupid shit. And he understood that a lot of his own people would talk shit about him and his message. This is some of what he wrote about that in the liner notes:
Who will be hurt? Those who we call crabs who always attempt to pull a positive black man down. The crabs being our very own. Not the white man. But the black man. Most blacks are killed by blacks. Most negative talk about blacks, originate from blacks. To those perpetrators, I’m going to hurt you. I’ll speak out against you with all my heart, until you understand we need each other. Black is black.
Word. “Help the Children” and “Pray” (which I just now realized samples Prince!) are great message songs, and I remember them well. “Crime Story” is Hammer’s version of life in the ‘hood. It’s a plea for black people to stop killing each other, and to stop teaching their kids that crime is the only way to get through life. I’m not sure how many people listened this instead of NWA’s “Fuck tha Police,” but I think it’s a nice effort to get a better idea out there.
When “U Can’t Touch This” came out, I probably saw the video first since I only listened to classic rock and oldies radio stations. And I fucking loved that video! The song really took me by storm, and I was surprised by that. I remember spending one weekend playing Monopoly with my sisters and rewinding the video which I had recorded from MTV over and over and over. I had not purchased the CD yet, thinking this would be the only decent song. We must have seen the video a few hundred times during that Monopoly game. To this day, it reminds me of that marathon Monopoly game.
Oh, the tragedy that was early 90s fashion. 1990 was still pretty much the 80s in fashion and hot messiness. There are a lot of biking shorts in this video, but nobody is riding a bike. You see, in 1990, biking shorts were worn as everyday clothes. I was very excited to get a pair in my senior year, especially since we were allowed to wear them to school, but only if they were worn under shorts. Stupid. But I had some cut-off jeans I wore over my black biking shorts, and I thought that was going to be my new look. Add to that the layers—it was always about the layering!—of tank tops I wore, and yeah, I was pretty fly. But what I really wanted was one of those skin-tight dresses that reminded me of the Barbie outfits my sister and I would make from balloons we popped at our grandparents’ house on New Years’ Eve. Not that I had occasion to wear something like that when I was 17. But I knew I could get the boy I liked to fall madly in love with me if only I could dress like a street whore.
I didn’t think about samples back then. Everyone knew that Rick James was upset about the uncredited use of “Super Freak” in “U Can’t Touch This,” and I understand. At least Hammer owned up to it and gave I’m Rick James, bitch! a space next to his name on the writing credits, which earned him more money to put up his nose and kill himself years later. And Vanilla Ice sampling Queen and Bowie? Fucking hell. He tried talking around that shit when we all knew he straight up stole it, so he should have had more class like Hammer and just admitted what he stole.
Listening to this album 22 years later and with more analytical ears, I definitely hear more samples than I did before. “Yo!! Sweetness” samples another Rick James song. This was one of my favorite songs on the album back in the day, but I did not know enough of the Rick James catalogue at the time to pick that out. And it’s pretty much in the background of the song the whole time. And though the Marvin Gaye bit on “Help the Children” is not a sample, it is still something I didn’t notice until today. Same thing with “Dancin’ Machine.” I didn’t know it from The Jackson 5, but it is pretty much Hammer’s version of that song. Prince allowed Hammer to sample “When Doves Cry” for “Pray,” and it was the first of only a few times he allowed his music to be used this way. Again, how I did not notice this only 6 years after I was so obsessed with Purple Rain, I have no idea. I just didn’t listen to music that way back then. The way Hammer used samples makes sense to me, but that’s not to say that the choppy way some performers sample stuff is bad, but Hammer just knew how to do it the best way. It sounds more like part of his music, and that is how it should sound.
This is one of the few contemporary albums I listened to in high school, so it will always be tied to my senior year. There was a Hammer vs. Vanilla Ice thing going on in my school, since everyone was white and nobody listened to hard core shit like Ice T or NWA. I thought Vanilla Ice was lame, though I secretly liked “Ice Ice Baby.” But I was very open about my admiration for M.C. Hammer. The kids who liked Ice thought they were pretty hard core. Right. Hanging out at the mall is so street! Word to your mother. You know, once she picks you up outside the food court.
And that’s why we pray. Please, Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em. Just school ‘em and rule ‘em.