Hip Hop Owes MC Hammer an Apology
While RAP music is the soundtrack, Hip Hop is the culture. This culture, which started on the East Coast of the United States, has grown into a global, multi-billion dollar industry.
I say this with no fear, no shame, and no apologies. I do not care who comes for me after this, because this is the truth. All of Hip Hop owes MC Hammer a long overdue apology.
Before I begin, let me disentangle some terms here. Hip Hop is a culture: it is a way of life. It encompasses dress, speech, slang, cars,idioms, attitudes, political views, ways of thinking about God, age, and all of the other things that complete a culture. RAP is the music that provides the soundtrack to that culture.
Properly speaking, RAP is an acronym. It stands for Rhythm & Poetry and was began formerly by The Last Poets on Malcolm X’s birth in 1968. But, people have used the word to mean other things. For example, Isaac Hayes had a series of talks on To Be Continued. They were called, “Ike’s Rap.”
Of course, the Queen of talking what’s real, Millie Jackson, made a RAP song as a joke that became one of her biggest hits.
Talking what’s real is called RAPping. Talking what’s real in a way that rhymes is OFFICIALLY Rhythm & Poetry.
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, there came a Superstar out of Oakland, California. His entourage was huge, his music was that good old James Brown type, his lyrics were okay, but his music was for dancing and dancing until sweat broke out and deodorant expired. His breakout song carried a Rick James beat that all of us knew anyway, but it was retouched and F-U-N-K-Y. I remember where I was and what I was doing. I was a student at Finch Elementary School in Centreville, Mississippi. I was a nerd who loved to dance, and when this song came out, dancing was all I wanted to do!
MC Hammer. I copied your EVERY move! I remember jacking myself up trying to jump up and land in a full split. I never got the Chinese Typewriter, but I came close. My mom never bought me Hammer pants, but I did get a sweet clown suit that I wore until I could not wear it any more.
Hammer’s star rose exponentially. He was physically fit and not afraid to brag on it. He participated in one of the first, if not the first, inter-generational music beef that I remember. Remember the controversy surrounding James Brown and Michael Jackson? Everybody wanted to know who James Brown was going to pass his legendary crown of funkyness to. Then Hammer came out with this video:
James Brown made his intentions clear, and this video was one of the first (if not the first) mini-movies in musical video form that Hip Hop ever had!
Hammer was EVERYWHERE! He was on Amen. He had his own style of clothes being fabricated. He had a cartoon. He had commercials. He had endorsements.
Then entered the haters. Okay, I will say that part of Hammer’s demise was due to the immense size of his entourage and the amount of people that he had on his payroll. Hammer was trying to help the hood. But overwhelmingly, his demise was due to sheer hatred and jealousy. After a while, there began to be whispers that Hammer was a sell-out. Back in those times, to be called a “sell-out” or a “perpetrator” could end careers. RAP purists wanted authenticity, and apparently, Hammer was not it? Before long, the same people who had been bumping Hammer in the previous year called him “lame.” The same people who were trying to do the Chinese Typewriter were ashamed to even admit that they had a Hammer tape in the cassette deck. Sales fell off for Hammer. Tours were cut short. Hammer’s endorsements dropped him. There were no more tv appearances. Hammer fell off. And with no REAL, tangible reason for it. I call gate on that. I smell the stench of jealousy.
As an elementary school student, I did not (and still do not) understand Black jealousy in motion. Why were people criticizing Hammer? What did he do that was so wrong? His sells began to drop off. His financial ruin, in which he had to sell his mansion and file for bankruptcy, became the stuff of jokes and laughter throughout Black America. We were relentlessly cruel, too. People were glad that this giant came tumbling down.
Today, I am still puzzled. Hip Hop has grown into a global, multi-BILLION dollar industry. Brands whose names are mentioned by RAPpers experience a serious boost in sales. In the 1990s, a golden age of RAP music and the RAP video, some brands were conspicuously placed in RAP videos for added advertisement. I am convinced that RAPpers saved Cadillac from certain doom. Cadillac had become known as a car for old, white people who were in retirement age. Then, white people managed to stereotype Black people with Cadillacs, as evident in Ronald Reagan’s Greenville, Mississippi campaign speech. Nobody was checking for Cadillac until RAPpers mentioned them and drove them in videos. Cadillac sales skyrocketed after several RAPpers were seen driving the Escalade in their videos. And the company is still around today.
RAPpers today enjoy endorsements, movie roles, television shows, commercials, and fashion brands. Nobody is calling them a “sell-out.” Snoop Dogg has a cooking show with Martha Stewart, and his street credit has not been harmed one iota! Other RAPpers have landed reality television shows and still some are movie directors and game show hosts. They are, in essence, out here hustling. And nobody thinks any less of them for it. It’s a cold world. Those who do not know how to make money three or four ways often suffer.
But before the diversification of today, we had yesterday when people were still subject to the terms set forth by their record labels, and had to depend on sales and concert tickets in order to be successful. Then along came Hammer and showed us like six ways that RAP artists could earn money by taking part fully in Hip Hop culture: fashion, television appearances, and other things. He liberated us from the need of record contracts, in a way, and all before the Internet and Youtube.
For that, somebody needs to call Hammer and say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my jealousy. I’m sorry for my pettiness. I’m sorry for helping to destroy your career. If not for your career, I would not have thought to build my own in such a diverse way.” Who will do it?
For the record, my favorite Hammer song is still one of instruction.
If you gone be the first, the truly groundbreaking first, MC Hammer’s demise has shown us that you better!
If you like this article, clabpack (press the hands). Or, I will see you in African American Studies class.