MC Hammer

Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em

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Still the biggest-selling rap album of all time at ten million copies (though the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill is gaining rapidly), Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em proved that rap music was no longer just a specialty niche genre, but had the crossover potential to be a commercial juggernaut. But in an art form so conscious of preserving its integrity, this wasn't the way to go about it -- at least not from a creative standpoint. Hammer builds the majority of the songs here on obvious samples from easily recognizable soul and funk hits of the past, relying on the original hooks without twisting them into anything new (or, by implication, his own). That approach confirmed the worst fears of hip-hop purists about how the music might hit the mainstream. Taken on its own terms, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em is a pretty slick -- if unsubtle -- pop confection. Hammer certainly has good taste in source material, if nothing else; the hits "U Can't Touch This" and "Pray" crib from Rick James' "Super Freak" and Prince's "When Doves Cry," respectively, and the ballad "Have You Seen Her" is a flat-out cover of the Chi-Lites' hit (with some updated lyrics). Other tracks sample Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Jackson 5. Throughout the record, choruses are repeated ad infinitum for maximum memorability, which either makes it irresistible or irritating, depending on your taste. Hammer has improved as a rapper -- his delivery is often more subtle, and he even attempts a little bit of verbal flash here and there. He still isn't technically on a par with the average MC of the time -- he's a little too stiff, flowing awkwardly around the beat. Of course, his simple style also makes him easy to understand, and coupled with the highly danceable production and a great set of borrowed hooks, it's easy to see why Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em was so popular -- and why it now functions chiefly as a nostalgia piece.

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