Over the years I’ve seen several attempts to categorize MC Hammer’s “Inside Out” as a return to form following his hardcore G-Funk shift on “The Funky Headhunter.” Having revisited the album for this review I can tell you straight up that nothing could be further from the truth. While he may not have any “Pumps and a Bump” style music videos this time around, Hammer’s musical direction hasn’t changed at all. The first single “Sultry Funk” featuring VMF feels like it’s picking up right where the last album left off, and for me this isn’t unwelcome at all. I unapologetically enjoy Hammer’s swang here and VMF doesn’t embarrass the track as a guest.
Of course that may have as much to do with the sampling of Parliament and Cameo to give the song its titular “Funk” but if it works, it works. I think when people say it was a “return” for Hammer they are referring to tracks like “Goin’ Up Yonder,” which is a straight up gospel song complete with a heavenly choir and promises to “be with my Lord.” That doesn’t mean it’s LESS funky, that just means it’s more religious. “Why do Islam, Jews and Christians fight? One Lord, one God, one love, one hope.” I realize such sentiments border on naivete but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little refreshing given that cynicism and nihilism are more frequently heard from rappers — especially from the era this album was released in.
Even though this song hints at his shift toward being a full time minister and part time rapper, he hasn’t forgotten his roots in California’s rap scene. It might come as a surprise to some people to hear Stanley Burrell record a tribute to Eric Wright. On paper MC Hammer and Eazy-E had almost nothing in common other than being successful rappers. Nevertheless on “Nothing But Love” Hammer says “it’s a shame some of the things I read, since my homie is gone, let him rest in peace” and judging by the memories he shares of spending time with E I’d call it sincere. Even though one was a promiscuous G and the other was a man of the cloth, I’m going to take his heartfelt dedication at face value as “real recognizes real.”
In time “Inside Out” can’t help but reveal his feelings about the Lord on tracks like “He Keeps Doing Great Things For Me.” It makes me want to get on a soapbox and ask why we presume something omnipotent and omnipresent has to be masculine by definition, but that’s beyond the scope of this review so I’ll let it go. Even though the finale “A Brighter Day” takes its cues from “If You Want Me to Stay” by Sly and the Family Stone, it’s a not unpleasant mix of funk and optimism with only a slight hint of his faith. At this point I’m even doubting myself for wanting to praise Hammer for being subtle instead of hitting you over the head with a Bible like so many Christian rappers do, but that’s really only half of the story.
The most shocking thing about “Inside Out” is that even as Hammer’s commercial influence and mainstream popularity declined, his sound became more refined and his lyrics more thoughtful. Perhaps he really was so embarrassed by “Pumps and a Bump” that he doubled down on his rap lyrics, or it may be that Hammer had a really good ghostwriter that never got the credit they deserve. He’s not going to hang with Black Thought or Gift of Gab as a rap orator, but compared to how bad his earliest records are he actually matured into a decent emcee — not spectacular, but entirely tolerable to listen to. It makes me suspect that I’m being contrarian on purpose and liking this record because people had already written Stanley Burrell off as a joke, but he’s not ashamed to save he loves the Lord so I’m not ashamed to say I enjoyed his album. Give this one another chance.