Real name, Stanley Kirk Burrell; born in Oakland, Calif.; youngest of seven children; married; wife's name, Stephanie; children: Akeiba Monique. Education: High school graduate; took undergraduate classes in communications. Addresses: Home-- Fremont Hills, CA.
Hailed by Entertainment Weekly as "rap's most pervasive, persuasive ambassador," M. C. Hammer has a reputation for pursuing his goals with remarkable energy and tenacity. His first dream in life eluded his grasp, however; if he had achieved it, he would be a professional baseball player today. Instead, Hammer has had to settle for being the world's most successful rap artist.
Hammer was born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland, California. He was the youngest of his parents' seven children. "We were definitely poor," he stated in describing his youth to Rolling Stone writer Jeffrey Ressner. "Welfare. Government-aided apartment building. Three bedrooms and six children living together at one time." Despite the rough neighborhood he grew up in, Hammer stayed out of trouble by immersing himself in his twin passions, baseball and music.
As a boy he'd be at the Oakland Coliseum to watch the Athletics play as often as possible. If he couldn't see the game, he'd hang around the parking lot hoping for a glimpse of one of his heroes, among them superstar pitcher Vida Blue. When the team was idle Hammer amused himself by copying the dance moves of James Brown, the O'Jays, and others. He showed the first glimmerings of his interest in business when he began writing commercial jingles for his favorite products.
One day his two interests collided in a way that would profoundly influence his life. He was dancing in the Coliseum's parking lot when the Athletics' owner, Charlie Finley, passed by. A comment by Finley on the young dancer's style led to a conversation, and eventually to a job working in the team clubhouse and going on the road as bat boy. Hammer quickly became a sort of mascot for the team. Finley even gave him the honorary title of executive vice-president, while the ballplayers began calling the former Stanley Burrell "Hammer" because of his striking resemblance to batting great Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron.
After graduating from high school, Hammer tried to break into the world of professional baseball as a player, but to no avail. He briefly pursued a communications degree, but was unsuccessful in that field too. Dejected and at loose ends, Hammer considered getting involved in the lucrative drug trade thriving in his old neighborhood. "I was a sharp businessman and could have joined up with a top dealer," he told Ressner. "I had friends making $5000 to $6000 a week, easy.... I thought about that just like any other entrepreneur would." Hammer turned away from the fast money, however--making a moral choice that reverberates in his current image as a deeply religious, socially conscious performer--and joined the Navy for a three-year hitch, serving in Japan and California.
When his stint with the military ended, Hammer applied the discipline he'd acquired in the service to launching a career in music. His first musical venture was a rap duo he dubbed the Holy Ghost Boys. Religious rap might seem to have limited commercial appeal, but Hammer talked two record companies into taking a chance on producing a Holy Ghost Boys album. He and his partner went their separate ways before the project could be completed, however.
Two of Hammer's friends from the Oakland A's helped him make his next move. Mike Davis and Dwayne Murphy each invested $20,000 in Bust It Records, Hammer's own company. He hawked his debut single, "Ring 'Em," on the streets. At the same time, he was auditioning and working with musicians, dancers, and his female backup trio, known as Oaktown's 3-5-7. Striving to put together a more sophisticated act, Hammer held rehearsals seven days a week, sometimes for fourteen hours at a time.
Shortly after the release of his second single, "Let's Get Started," Hammer teamed with Felton Pilate, a producer and musician from the group Con Funk Shun. The two worked long hours in Pilate's basement studio to bring out Hammer's first full-length album, Feel My Power. Produced on a shoestring budget and marketed without the tremendous resources of a major record company, Feel My Power nevertheless sold a remarkable 60,000 copies.
Early in 1988 Hammer was catching an act at an Oakland music club when he was spotted by Joy Bailey, an executive at Capitol Records. She didn't know who he was, but his presence and attitude impressed her. She introduced herself and later arranged for him to meet with some of the company's top people at Capitol's Los Angeles headquarters. With his music, dancing, and keen business sense, Hammer convinced Capitol that he was the man who could lead the company successfully into the booming rap music market. He walked away from the meeting with a multi-album contract and a $750,000 advance. The record company didn't have to wait long for proof that they'd made the right decision; a reworked version of Feel My Power, titled Let's Get It Started climbed to sales of more than 1.5 million records.
Touring and appearing at hip hop shows around the nation in the company of well-established rap performers Tone-Loc, N.W.A., and Heavy D and the Boyz didn't keep Hammer from working on his next album--he simply outfitted the back of his tour bus with recording equipment. Such methods enabled him to turn out the single "U Can't Touch This" for about $10,000, roughly the same cost of Feel My Power. He predicted to Capitol that the album would break all rap music sales records, and his boast was no idle one. Backed by a unique marketing campaign (which included sending cassettes to 100,000 children, along with personalized letters urging them to request Hammer's music on MTV), "U Can't Touch This" had already sold more than five million copies in late 1990, easily surpassing the record formerly held by the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill. The song also became the theme song for the Detroit Pistons basketball team during and after their second NBA championship campaign in 1990.
After the release of Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, whose immensely popular "U Can't Touch This" was described by Entertainment Weekly as "shamelessly copp[ing] its propulsive riff from Rick James' 'Super Freak,'" James himself took legal action against Hammer. The two entertainers reached an out-of-court settlement, with Hammer paying James for "borrowing" James's early 1980s hit song. As reported in Jet, Hammer told James, "I felt good using music from a person I idolized. Ya'll used to come out and do a show. Then I'd do my thing at the club to Super Freak." According to Jet, the performers reconciled, with James telling Hammer, "Keep doing it."
Before each performance on his tour, Hammer leads his fifteen dancers, twelve backup singers, seven musicians, and two deejays in prayer, then puts on the most energetic show possible. His future ventures include an action-comedy film tentatively titled Pressure, an album to be produced by Prince, and a longform video for which 100,000 advance orders have already been placed. Furthermore, he has signed a contract uniting Bust It Records with Capitol in a $10 million joint-venture agreement. The rapper also makes commercial endorsements for Pepsi and British Knights athletic wear and a Saturday morning cartoon series focusing on the pre-Hammer childhood of Stanley Kirk Burrell. He hopes to someday break into a film career, telling Rolling Stone' s Steve Hochman: "I'm not a singer-want-to-turn movie star. I've always been an actor."
For now, however, it looks like M. C. Hammer will endure in his present field. "I'm on a mission," Hammer told Ressner. "The music is in me, and I have to get it out." As Entertainment Weekly phrased it, "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."
by Joan Goldsworthy
M. C. Hammer's Career
Worked for the Oakland Athletics baseball team as a bat boy during high school years; served for three years in the U.S. Navy upon graduation from high school; formed first rap group, the Holy Ghost Boys, and founded music production company, Bust It Records; first debut single, "Ring 'Em," released in the mid-1980s; signed with Capitol Records, 1988. Performs in concerts worldwide.
M. C. Hammer's Awards
Grammy Award (with co-composers Rick James and Alonzo Miller) for best rhythm and blues song, 1990, for "U Can't Touch This"; Grammy Award for best rap solo, 1990, for "U Can't Touch This"; Grammy Award for best music video (long form), 1990, for Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em the Movie.
- "Ring 'Em," Bust It Records.
- "Let's Get Started," Bust It Records.
- Feel My Power Bust It Records (revised version released as Let's Get It Started ), Capitol, 1989.
- Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em Capitol, 1990.
November 2005: As a result of his filing for bankruptcy in 1996, Hammer's copyright assets were put up for sale by a court-appointed publishing administrator. Source: Hollywood Reporter, www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/brief_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001393140, November 1, 2005.
- Ebony, January 1989.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 28, 1990.
- Jet, November 5, 1990.
- New York Times, April 15, 1990.
- Rolling Stone, May 17, 1990; July 12, 1990; September 6, 1990.