Loyal RapReviews.com readers are by now well familiar with my love of the bargain bin. Given the fact that both the compact disc and recorded hip-hop music date back 30 years, there’s no shortage of plastic wafers to choose from. Now it’s true that the popularity of the CD lagged a bit behind the popularity of the Sugarhill Gang, so vinyl and tapes still ruled the early 1980’s, but by the latter part of the decade simultaneous release on cassette and CD was the rule. The durability of discs (tapes tended to wear down, tangle or snap even when treated kindly) means there is no shortage of cheaply available material. Shelf space is at a premium even in a secondhand store so it’s often the platinum albums that hit bargain bins that much faster. No reseller wants 20 copies of “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em.” Two might seem sellable while ten times as many implies something nobody wants because far more come in than go out, and if it went plat’ there’s plenty more people out there looking to sell. Slash, reduce, unload. Buy one get two free. Hell I remember years ago a game store sold me 10 Sega Genesis sports games for $3 total and offered to give me ten more free to take them off their hands. Sorry Charlie, I don’t need three copies each of Tommy Lasorda Baseball, Buster Douglas Boxing and NBA Jam.
I digress. The point is excess quantity as a used goods merchant is much like excess pounds around your waistline – something you’d like to get rid of fast. In both cases that’s easier said than done, but a bargain bin goes a long way towards clearing them out. A CD you wouldn’t dream of buying for $10 doesn’t sound so bad when it costs less than a chicken sandwich. For the second time in 12 months I succumbed to temptation of the bargain bin and bought something I otherwise wouldn’t – a M.C. Hammer album. At such times I almost feel bad for Stanley Burrell knowing his once lucrative rap career wound up as the refuse in a dusty pile of rejects; then I remember that he blew 30 million dollars in about a year’s time at his peak of fame and feel no pity whatsoever. Besides he’s moved on with his life and is a man of God. He may still care to some degree about material posessions (you don’t often see preachers in shabby suits or tattered robes) but it’s probably of little consequence compared to the excessive conspicuous consumption of days gone by. He probably doesn’t even care if his library of discs deteriorates into dust or if people laugh at the cornball raps of his youth.
It’s a good thing he doesn’t care because we’re about to have a good laugh at his expense (for little expense).
“I chew you like gum, and spit you out
You’re nuttin but a fish, a smelt and not a trout
Fish boy liver when you see me you shiver
You talk a lot of whack, M.C. Hammer, I deliver
Breakin down beats, MC’s I devour
Rockin on the mic and you’re feelin my power”
If the rhymes of Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” seemed simplistic and corny to you, just wait until you get a load of “Let’s Get it Started.” Ostensibly this is a re-release of an lndependently produced record that sold pretty well by word of mouth in the Bay Area – 60,000 copies to be precise. I wonder how many of those are in bargain bins in Oakland now. Sure you can’t blame Capitol Records for taking a chance on a locally successful rapper to see if he’d go mainstream, and boy did Hammer ever, but I’m finding it hard to believe this album sold three million copies. I can only imagine that’s because 30% of the ten million who bought “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” wanted another Hammer album so badly they backtracked to a previous release instead of waiting for the next one. They should have just waited. In “Feel My Power” above, the best diss he can offer is that sucker MC’s are affordable items at your grocery store. Even the word “punk” packs more punch and Hammer doesn’t manage that one in “Feel My Power” even once. I’m not one in favor of rampant homophobia but you can’t help but imagine a Kool G. Rap record from the same era (late 1980’s) with competitor rappers being called sissies, queers, and fags. Hateful or otherwise it’s certainly a stronger statement than “All yo’ beats they all sound the same/If yo’ name was Joe would his be the same?/B-boy rocker, a real show stopper/Sippin on soda don’t drink no vodka.” Oh it’s clear you don’t drink no vodka Hammer. One needs only listen to “That’s What I Said” once to figure that out.
“Now now now, I go to the show, I pay my money
I realized, something’s funny
Music’s cold kickin and the crowd is hyped
But the MC on the stage, is stiff as a pipe
His hips do move but his feet don’t budge
He moves across the stage like he’s stuck on a rug
He needs the beat and the Hammer and the posse gettin busy
The show that we give, will make a sucker dizzy”
It’s conceivable that Hammer has a good point here about being an entertainer. In fact the most redeeming part of Hammer’s career may have been his dancing, as he tried to be the hip-hop version of James Brown at his live shows. That is to say, James Brown in footwork, not James Brown in raw sexual magnetism or soulful delivery or lyrical talent or showmanship… well maybe showmanship but none of the rest. Hammer did manage to fool a lot of people as long as he kept on dancing, because he was very good at dancing. Too bad he was never good at writing rhymes or delivering them. Scarily “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” was his PEAK in both categories, and that’s mediocre rap at best. This earlier album can’t even pass for mediocre. In fact one of the songs widely described as a “chart-topping hit” off this release is “They Put Me in the Mix,” which may be the most unintentionally comical song title of all-time. The song’s success is largely predicated on an up-tempo club/dance beat and scratching by Hammer’s DJ Lone Mixer. Every now and then a sample of Hammer saying “THEY PUT ME IN THE MIX” is repeated to remind us it’s his song, but he never raps a single bar. By not putting Hammer in the mix of “They Put Me in the Mix” Capitol Records scored a hit. Here’s hoping Lone Mixer got album points.
The one song that stands out now even as it did back then is “Turn This Mother Out.” I remember a PBS documentary about hip-hop where Davey D was spinning this record at KMEL, and the brief snippet you could hear on the show suggested that a late 80’s synthesizer heavy hook gave Hammer the confidence to sound menacing on the minimalistic beat. Borrowing the tape from a friend later I’d learn it sounded better as a snippet on Davey D’s radio show. Hammer gets an A for aggression, a D for the slow pace of his vocal delivery, and once again earns an unqualified F for his rhymes.
“Strong like a lion, no denyin
I’m in effect and you suckers are tryin
To get with me, you can’t hang
Doin it like this I’m in with the bang
Goin boom like thunder, and you wonder
How in the world could the Hammer be under-
-neath me, he’s gonna beat me
Say yes to the master and I will teach thee”
He doth rap like Shakespeare, but quite frankly, if he were me I would teach thee to get to a nunnery for some punani immediately. Here’s a good experiment if you get this one from the bargain bin – rip the album, open “Turn This Mother Out” with Audacity and increase the speed of the track at least 20%. Does it sound better? I know it did when I jammed a fork into my tape deck as a kid – dumb I know but it made cassettes play faster. Usually that was just good for a cheap laugh but in Hammer’s case it ALMOST made him sound like a rapper who could hang with LL Cool J or Ice Cube. The effect wore off quickly though as Hammer’s rhymes still sucked, which gave an unintentionally apt meaning to the phrase “stick a fork in him, he’s done.” It’s a miracle Hammer got even marginally better with his next disc, because he certainly couldn’t have gotten much worse. Those first 60,000 or subsequent three million who bought the re-release were clearly mesmerized either by the occasionally dope beats or Hammer’s parachute pants. 20 years later neither one is working for me. It may have only cost me four shiny quarters to pluck “Let’s Get it Started” out of a bargain bin but two would have been too much. I want my chicken sandwich back.