Daudi Abe – 6 'N the Morning ("A Mind Full of Rhymes...")
A Mind Full of Rhymes and a Tongue of Steel
As the rebellious side of hip-hop music in Los Angeles began to attract attention, another side of the culture, from the Bay Area, was about to rise and would parallel the popularity of what was becoming known as ‘gangsta’ rap. If West Coast hip-hop was to be commercially successful it required an MC who could transcend hip-hop and cross over onto commercial hit radio and video. It was at this juncture in the evolution of West Coast hip-hop music that MC Hammer came along. Hammer was a product of Oakland, and had worked as a bat boy for Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s in the 1970s. He got the nickname “Little Hammer” from players who thought he looked like home run king “Hammerin” Hank Aaron. Hammer self-released his debut album, Feel My Power, in 1987. It sold over 50,000 copies, which led to a deal with Capitol Records and their re-release of the album in 1988 with a new title, Let’s Get It Started.
Musically and lyrically, Hammer positioned himself as sort of a ‘medium core’ b-boy. Not hard enough to fill his album with profanities, but edgy enough to claim ‘true’ to hip-hop status. Due to his later fame, it is largely forgotten that MC Hammer, like Eazy- E, went out of his way to explicitly align himself with hip-hop culture in his early work. For instance, the song “Let’s Get It Started” contained lots of high energy, shouted choruses and references to beats, parties, honeys, and other things that were relevant to hip-hop kids about that time:
Now you’re party wasn’t jumpin and your DJ was weak
Instead of dope beats he was spinnin up ZZZs
All the fly girls who came with the beat in mind
They all up against the wall like a welfare line
It also included a shout-out to b-boys:
Makin lots of money from top to bottom
Whatever’s in effect yo b-boys have got em
The album began with an intro called “Turn This Mutha Out,” an example both of Hammer’s toeing the commercial language line (instead of “Turn This Muthafucka Out”), and his hip-hop vision of starting the party and rocking the crowd (aka ‘turning it out’). Other song titles such as “Cold Go MC Hammer,” “You’re Being Served,” and “They Put Me In The Mix,” all employed standard hip-hop slang that would have been recognizable to those familiar with the culture at the time.
MC Hammer started attracting widespread attention with the release of the video for the single “Pump It Up (Here’s the News).” While he had danced in earlier videos and was developing a reputation as one of hip-hop’s premier entertainers, this performance laid the groundwork for his eventual rise to mainstream cultural icon. Hammer and Oaktown’s 357, his group of three female back-up dancers, put it down performance wise like it had not been done in hip-hop before. Nelson George wrote at the time, “His ‘Pump It Up’ suggests that this super-nimble dancer, backed with a crew of female and male dancers, is bringing new ideas and energy to hip-hop performing.”
Hammer’s early self-generated image was consistent with his desire to be associated with more traditional aspects of hip-hop culture. There were several examples of this in the inset photo for the album Let’s Get It Started, for instance the number of people who appear in the picture. Besides Hammer himself, there are ten other people in various poses surrounding him. The scene is similar to the image on the NWA and the Posse album cover. Both are examples of artists wishing to portray themselves as having a ‘posse,’ an urban philosophy of strength in numbers.
The second significant aspect of the photo is the way that Hammer is standing. He is striking what is commonly known within hip-hop culture as a classic b-boy stance. He is not smiling, which gets the point across that this is a serious matter. His arms are folded and he is leaning back slightly, which indicates that he is waiting for you to make the next move. Finally, the sunglasses on does not allow you to get a good read on exactly what or who his eyes might be looking at.
The third notable hip-hop visual connection was the gear being sported in the picture. Several people wore Troop sweatsuits. During late 1980s, Troop was one of the most recognizable clothing brands within hip-hop culture. Often featuring loud colors and oversized lettering, Troop was an early example of brand name hip-hop fashion and an easy way to promote yourself as a ‘true’ b-boy.
Hammer also displayed the brash confidence often associated with hip-hop culture, which is frequently labeled as arrogance by the mainstream. Indeed, it would have been hard to argue that he wasn’t arrogant when he stated in the ‘Special Thanks’ section of the album liner notes:
…and all the Old School Rappers and to whomever think they’re the King, Prince or whatever of Hip-Hop, MC Hammer is in effect and will take all titles one at a time, or all at once, now what’s up? Yeah boy!
No question Hammer had his sights set on a large identity early on, as these were clear shots at two of hip-hop’s top acts. Run-DMC was known as the Kings of Rock and/or the ‘Kings from Queens,’ while LL Cool J had dubbed himself the ‘Prince’ of hip-hop. The beginning of the video for “Pump It Up” featured three men dressed suspiciously like Run-DMC, saying things like, “Oh man Hammer, why you dethrone us like that?” As things turned out, Hammer would indeed find himself with plenty of titles, not all of them flattering.
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