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Rap Biographies: MC Hammer

MC Hammer
There had been hit rap singles and albums before him, but MC Hammer was the man who truly brought rap music to a mass pop audience. Armed with a flamboyant wardrobe (particularly his trademark baggy parachute pants) and a raft of sampled hooks lifted straight from their sources, Hammer's talents as a dancer and showman far exceeded his technique as an MC. Still, he had an ear for catchy source material, and that helped his second album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, become the best-selling rap album of all time. Even if he was never able to duplicate that level of success, and even if his street credibility was virtually non-existent, Hammer still broke down numerous doors for rap music in the mainstream, demonstrating that hip-hop had the potential for blockbuster success in the marketplace.

MC Hammer (later Hammer), born Stanley Kirk Burrell on March 30, 1962, is an American rapper who was popular during the 1980s and early 1990s, known for his dramatic rise to and fall from fame and fortune, his trademark parachute pants, and for leaving a lasting influence on hip hop culture and music. He became a preacher in the 1990's and now has his own television program. He lives in Tracy, California with his wife and 4 children.

In the past Hammer wanted to be a professional baseball player, but he did not catch on in any professional organization. (he received his nickname due to his colleagues noting his similarities with baseball player Hank Aaron, nicknamed "Hammerin' Aaron") He instead joined the Navy and upon his return began performing music in clubs and started his own record label, Bust It.

MC Hammer was born Stanley Kirk Burrell in Oakland, CA, on March 30, 1962. A member of a strongly religious family, he landed a job as a bat/ball boy for the Oakland Athletics baseball team, where he entertained fans by dancing during breaks in the game, and earned the nickname "Hammer" for his resemblance to all-time home run leader "Hammerin'" Hank Aaron. An aspiring ballplayer himself, he failed to catch on with a professional organization following high school, and enlisted in the Navy for three years. Long a fan of funk and soul, he became interested in hip-hop upon returning to civilian life, and began performing in local clubs; with the financial help of several Athletics players, he also started his own record label, Bust It, and recorded a couple of popular local singles. With ex-Con Funk Shun mastermind Felton Pilate producing, Hammer recorded an album titled Feel My Power in 1987. After impressing a Capitol Records executive with his already elaborate live show, he was signed to a multi-album deal, the first of which was a revamped version of Feel My Power retitled Let's Get It Started. Producing an RB hit in "Turn This Mutha Out," Let's Get It Started went double platinum.

His debut album was Feel My Power (1987), produced by Felton Pilate (of Con Funk Shun). The album sold over 60,000 copies, which led to several offers from major labels.

Burrell initially refused to sign a contract from Capitol Records, but he eventually did after a substantial signing bonus was added to his contract. His debut album was then re-released as Let's Get It Started. The album eventually went triple-platinum (more than 3 million units sold). The title song, "Turn This Mutha Out", and "Feel My Power" saw heavy rotation on R&B/Hip-Hop radio stations.

His second album, 1990's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em included the highly successful single "U Can't Touch This", which sampled "Super Freak" (Rick James); "Have You Seen Her" (cover of the Chi-Lites); and "Pray" (sampled from Prince's "When Doves Cry"). The album eventually went on to become the first hip-hop album to reach diamond status (more than 10 million units sold). During 1990 Hammer toured extensively in Europe which included a sell out concert at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. He became sponsored by PepsiCo, and PepsiCo International CEO Christopher A. Sinclair went on tour with him in 1991.
A critical backlash began brewing over the repetitive nature of his lyrics, his clean cut image, and his perceived over-reliance on sampling others' hooks for the basis of his singles. He was mocked in music videos by 3rd Bass and Ice Cube. However Ice-T mentioned him on his 1991 album OG: Original Gangster: "A special shout out to my man MC Hammer; A lot of people diss you man, but they just jealous. Fuck em!". Despite the criticisms, MC Hammer's career remained highly successful. Soon, MC Hammer dolls, lunchboxes, clothing, and other apparel were marketed. He was even given his own Saturday morning cartoon, Hammerman.
After dropping the MC from his stage name, Burrell released 2 Legit 2 Quit in 1991. Burrell took the opportunity to answer his critics on certain songs on the album. Though the album was, by and large, no more critically accepted than his first, sales were strong and the title track was yet another hit. Another hit came soon after, with "Addams Groove" (which appeared on both The Addams Family motion picture soundtrack and the vinyl version of 2 Legit 2 Quit).

Later, Hammer switched record labels and signed with Giant Records. To adapt to the changing landscape of hip-hop, his next album was a more aggressive record titled, The Funky Headhunter. (The accompanying video to The Funky Headhunter's first single, "Pumps and a Bump", was banned from heavy rotation on MTV with censors claiming that the depiction of Hammer in speedos was too graphic.)
In 1995, Hammer released the album Inside Out, which critics claimed was unfocused. The album sold poorly (peaking at number 119 on the Billboard Charts) and Giant Records dropped him from their roster. Because of dwindling album sales and a garish lifestyle, Hammer, who was $13 million in debt, filed for bankruptcy on April 3, 1996.

Hammer next signed with Death Row Records, then home to gangsta rap stars Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. The label did not release any of Hammer's music while he was with them. However, Burrell did record music with Shakur. Their collaborative efforts are yet to be released. After the death of Shakur in 1996, Burrell left the record company. In 1996, Burrell signed with EMI, which saw the release of a compilation of Hammer's chart topping songs. The album, Greatest Hits, featured 12 former hits and was released in October, only six months after his bankruptcy.

In 1997, MC Hammer (who by that time had readopted the MC) was the subject of an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show and the VH1 series Behind the Music. In these appearances, Burrell admitted that he had already used up most of his fortune of over $20 million. Much of this money was spent on a large mansion that Burrell had built in Fremont, California, 30 miles south of where he grew up, along with keeping an entourage that numbered to as much as 20-plus individuals. VH1 also produced a dramatic movie about his life in 2001 entitled Too Legit: The MC Hammer Story.

Following the September 11 attacks, in late 2001, Hammer released the patriotic album Active Duty on his own WorldHit label. He donated portions of the proceeds to 9/11 charities. In 2004, he released the Full Blast album. Neither album managed to peak on the Billboard Charts.

In February 2006, the first single off Hammer's new album Look 3X was released. The song was titled "Look" and a music video was produced for it.

Hammer now frequently posts about his life on his blog "Look Look Look."
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