It’s not uncommon for a pop star to become known for one particular song. But it’s a rare and strange privilege indeed for a musician to become utterly synonymous with a pair of trousers.
Stanley Kirk Burrell – known to us as MC Hammer – is, understandably, rather pleased with the enduring popularity of his iconic “Hammer pants”: “They’re good pants! They’re comfortable, and they’re back in fashion now. That song has become part of culture around the world in a very special way.”
“That song” is, of course, Hammer’s seminal single ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ staple of 90s-themed club nights and undeniable bop floor-filler. The uneducated few may dismiss it as cheesy, but it still has resonance twenty years after its release – its most recent incarnation was on the new season of ‘Glee’.
So, does MC Hammer ever get annoyed at being asked what time it is? “No! That song has brought me so much, I could never be ungrateful towards it. I could never be ungrateful towards any of my songs; they’re all like my children, and they’ve all brought me to the place where I’m at today.”
MC Hammer’s current position might surprise you. While he’s still involved with music production, recording and songwriting, and is a quiet mentor to Jay-Z, Kanye and the like, he invests most of his energy in the development and promotion of social media and new technology.
Having appeared on one of the first YouTube videos (back when it was run from two computers), he has set up the dance community website DanceJam.com, is a close friend of most of the head honchos of Silicon Valley, and travels the world as a keynote speaker on technological matters.
“Social media isn’t just important in people’s social lives, or even the music industry,” he says. “It’s important to all businesses, all companies. It’s an authentic and organic platform that can help us understand the behaviours and needs of different people, and it can shorten the distance between an artist or entrepreneur and their consumers.”
And, even as a child, Hammer was all about being the best entrepreneur he could be. “When I was a kid, I’d look at other kids selling lemonade on the street outside their house, and I’d want to be bigger than them. So I went to sell my lemonade outside the Oakland Coliseum baseball stadium.”
It was through baseball that Hammer first cut his teeth in the world of business. He won the title of “Executive Vice President” of the Oakland A’s team, before setting up the record label that would launch his career as the first hip-hop artist to have an album certified diamond.
“No matter what path I’ve taken in my professional life, I’ve always tried to stay ahead of the game – and that’s the advice that I’d give to anyone, regardless of what business they want to go into,” he says firmly.
What advice does he have for budding musicians? “All the new young artists of today should, from the start of their career, be heavily involved in social media from every aspect,” he declares.
This might seem like an easy request for members of the Facebook generation, but Hammer demands total commitment. “They should be connected 24/7 – video platforms, user-generated content, creating a community of followers through their mobile phones and laptops. Other than when it’s time to rehearse and perform, there shouldn’t be a minute of an artist’s day that isn’t spent working with social media to create their fanbase.”
And what of more traditional ways of creating a public persona; like, well, interviews? “The thing is, all areas of the media are running to catch up with the power of the internet!” Hammer rubs his hands with glee. “When 4G data transfer becomes commonplace, the way that 3G is now, there won’t be a single media outlet or business in the world that won’t have an iPad app or a Twitter account, some way of connecting it to the internet and the rest of the world as a whole. It’s one of the fastest and easiest ways to create personal relationships across all spectrums. Anyone who’s not involved in social media is doing themselves a disservice in the long run.”
And what does the future hold for Hammer? He coyly drops some hints about big-name collaborations and musical projects in the near future, and remains overpoweringly positive:
“I’ve had different levels of success over the past thirty years, but I’ve always learned from different situations and come out better prepared to stay one step ahead.”
After all, if “that song” has taught us anything, it’s that it’s always time for some Hammer.