The Oakland rapper with the soul of an ad man, M.C. Hammer dominated the record charts in 1990 with his second album. (Actually his second-and-a-half: the self-released Feel My Power was given four new tracks and reissued as Let’s Get It Started.) Far less talented as a musician (his dancing skills are exceptional) than he is as a salesman, Hammer’s primary influence would appear to be Madison Avenue. His records use familiar songs to establish audience rapport, adding on simple, repeated catch phrases that people can easily remember when it comes time to make consumer decisions. It was only a matter of weeks before the title of the ubiquitous “U Can’t Touch This” (to the music of Rick James’ “Superfreak”) entered the vernacular. Still, it’s hard to give critical credence to a mediocre MC who pretty much borrows classical songs whole, tacks on a modern beat and substitutes his own clumsy vocals. Unless we’re talking the art of the deal, Hammer’s no artist.
Besides duffing up BB King, P-Funk, Rick James and Queen, Let’s Get It Started has the moderately exciting “They Put Me in the Mix” and a lot of boring boasts. Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em takes commercial advantage of Prince (“Pray,” “She’s Soft and Wet”), Marvin Gaye (“Help the Children”), the Chi-Lites (“Have You Seen Her”) and others. Beyond the intrinsic worthlessness of Hammer’s own records, his crossover success — which helped make rap the dominant sound entering the ’90s — opened the door to an even shallower purveyor of recycled rhyming, Vanilla Ice.