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.
Still, nothing could have foreshadowed the phenomenon of Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, the 1990-released follow-up. Its first single, ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ blatantly copped most of its hooks from Rick James’ funk classic ‘Super Freak,’ yet Hammer’s added catch phrases (and young listeners’ unfamiliarity with the original song) helped make it a smash. ‘U Can’t Touch This’ dominated radio and MTV during 1990 in a way few rap singles ever had, and won two Grammys (Best R&B Song, Best Solo Rap Performance). The next two singles, ‘Have You Seen Her’ (a flat-out cover of the Chi-Lites’ ’70s soul ballad) and ‘Pray’ (built on the keyboard hook from Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’), followed ‘U Can’t Touch This’ into the Top Ten, eventually pushing sales of Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em past the ten-million mark and making it the number one album of the year.
Hammer dropped the ‘MC’ from his name and used more live instrumentation on his 1991 follow-up album, Too Legit to Quit. While it sold very well (over three-million copies) and produced a sizable hit in the title track, Hammer’s stage show had become as lavish as his lifestyle; loaded with singers, dancers, and backup musicians, the supporting concert tour was too expensive for the album’s sales to finance, and it was canceled partway through. Hammer scored his last big hit with ‘Addams Groove,’ the theme to the film version of The Addams Family, and then paused to reconsider his approach. In 1994, he returned with The Funky Headhunter, a harder-edged, more aggressive record that went gold. In 1996, Hammer filed for bankruptcy. The crisis prompted a religious reawakening, and he began to write new material with an emphasis on spirituality and family.