Should you happen to run into Stanley Burrell today, give him an extra big hug and treat him to an ice cream soda, because the hip-hop star known to the rest of the universe as MC Hammer is celebrating his 49th birthday today. Hammer has had quite a roller coaster of a career, as he went from breakout success to bankruptcy and back again two or three times. It’s an incredible trip that is still going strong.
Hammer grew up poor in Oakland, California, and first got into the entertainment business as a batboy and clubhouse assistant for the Oakland Athletics baseball team when he was only 11 years old (he was noticed by A’s owner Charles Finley, who saw the young Hammer break dancing in the parking lot of the team’s stadium). That’s where he picked up his nickname, as people in the organization thought he looked like Hank Aaron (who was nicknamed “Hammerin’ Hank”). Though he dreamed of being a professional baseball player, he ended up enlisting in the Navy and serving for three years.
When he got out, he got down to the business of music. He first formed a Christian hip-hop group and then formed his own record label where he sold singles out of the trunk of his car. That lead to 1987’s Feel My Power, his first solo album, which performed well. But he became an absolute superstar with 1990’s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt’Em, which contained the smash single “U Can’t Touch This.” That turned him into a household name and made his songs, dance moves and even his clothes ubiquitous. To get a sense of how big a star he was, how many artists have had a type of pant named after him?
Hammer followed up Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt’Em with 1991’s successful Too Legit to Quit, but by the time 1994’s The Funky Headhunter reached store shelves, tastes in hip-hop had already shifted. He spent the rest of the ’90s bouncing around the music industry, re-discovering his faith and filing for bankruptcy. But he has made an impressive comeback in the past few years, getting involved in television production and mixed martial arts. His signature will always be “U Can’t Touch This,” but at 49, Hammer continues to push the evolution of his own narrative.