The release of Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, the second album by an ex-Navy officer from California, proved to be a touchstone moment.
Born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland, California, he had his first taste of fame at the age of 11 as a bat boy and clubhouse assistant for the Oakland A’s. Reggie Jackson nicknamed him Hammer for his resemblance to Hank Aaron, a.k.a. The Hammer. It stuck.
Hammer made his first steps on the way to pop stardom thanks to an investment by baseball players Mike Davis and Dwayne Murphy, selling copies of his first record from the back of his car. A copy found its way to Capitol Records and earned Hammer a recording contract.
His 1990 single U Can’t Touch This combined a rhythm track based on Rick James’ Superfreak and an exuberant dance routine. The single crashed into the US charts at #27 and was a global hit.
Pray was based on Prince‘s very recent When Doves Cry and was also successful.
MC Hammer ultimately became better known for his baggy trousers and dancing than for his lyrical chops and his records were shamelessly populist, sampling wholesale chunks from well-known hits. But Please Hammer… sold 11 million copies and was for many years the biggest selling hip-hop album in the world.
At his peak in 1991, he was earning upwards of $33 million a year. But it all disappeared due to his lifestyle (he kept a staff of 200 people on the payroll and notoriously rolled with an entourage 40 deep).
Hammer filed for bankruptcy in 1996 with a staggering debt of over $13 million and was forced to sell off his $30 million house (complete with 17-car garage, 33-seat theatre and a baseball diamond) for a fraction of what he spent to build it.
Eventually, he rebranded himself as a minister – a gig that helped pay the bills for a while – before dipping his toe into the startup waters as a consultant for tech companies.