MC Hammer PhotoStanley Kirk Burrell
BORN: March 30, 1962, Oakland, CA

Considered either the ultimate success story or consummate fraud, Oakland's MC Hammer, a one-time jack-of-all-trades for the Oakland Athletics baseball team, dominated the charts in 1990 with Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. The single "U Can't Touch This," despite a rather feeble rap and recycle job on Rick James's single "Superfreak," was an enormous crossover smash. Hammer live puts on a fine show as far as dancing, sound, light effects, production, and such. But from a technical standpoint, everything, from his rhymes to his enunciation, qualifies as the ultimate in "wack" (weak) performance. He does have great taste in cover songs, picking choice items from Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, The Chi-Lites, and Prince, among others. He's since dropped the MC from his name.

After staying in the limelight as a race horse owner and Evander Holyfield's promoter, Hammer returned to the rap wars in 1994 with The Funky Headhunter. It featured a leaner, harder sound, with assistance and material provided by gangsta-rap producers, and featured Hammer sporting a more street look. He previewed the new style on Arsenio Hall's show early in the year, then issued the CD in March. It debuted at number two on Billboard's R&B charts, then dipped the next week to six. Skeptics voiced their doubts about the new Hammer, especially in the hip-hop press.

In 1996, Hammer filed for bankruptcy, his taste for luxury having gotten the better of his dwindling income; his mansion was sold at a fraction of its cost. The crisis prompted a religious reawakening, and he began to write new material with an emphasis on spirituality and family. The album Family Affair was slated for release on Hammer's own Oaktown 3.5.7. label, but plans were aborted at the last minute; only 1000 copies were pressed, and were never distributed nationally, save for limited Internet downloads. Several projects were rumored to be in the works, including another album (War Chest: Turn of the Century) and a soundtrack to the film Return to Glory: The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man, but none ever appeared. Finally, Hammer released a new album, the patriotic-themed Active Duty, through his own WorldHit label in late 2001. ~ Ron Wynn, All Music Guide