The Funky Headhunter
March 19, 2018
Todd: Can't touch this!
Video for MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This"
Todd: Can't touch this!
MC Hammer: My, my, my, MY music...
Todd (VO): If you weren't there, you can't possibly understand how big MC Hammer was. I was a kid, and Hammer was probably the first rapper I knew, but also just like, one of the first celebrities I knew, period, even though I wasn't allowed to listen to rap music.
Todd: He had a level of fame and saturation that I don't think is even possible today.
Clip of "2 Legit 2 Quit"
Singers: 2 legit
2 legit 2 quit!
Todd (VO): He modeled his approach to showbiz on Michael Jackson. He wanted to be rap's "King of Pop," and arguably he succeeded.
Todd: But it sure did not last.
Clip from infamous Behind the Music episode of MC Hammer
Oprah: Isn't it true that you have 2,000 outfits?!
MC Hammer: Uh yes. Yes it is.
Todd (VO): The collapse of the MC Hammer empire is pop culture legend at this point. He might honestly be more famous today for his issues with bankruptcy than for any of his songs, because the man could just not quit spending.
Todd: He was "2 Legit 2 Quit" spending.
Clip of recent MC Hammer commercial parodying his financial rise and fall
Todd (VO): He managed to lose every last dollar he had, and several million that he didn't through a combination of extreme generosity and equally extreme self-indulgence.
Todd: But of course that's only half the story. You see, the best way to not lose all your money is to [image of...] keep making money. But Hammer was unable to sustain his career because he suddenly became very, very uncool.
Clip of MC Hammer performing in concert during his heyday
Singer: Go! Go! Go! Go!
Todd (VO): Modeling your career on Michael Jackson might have seemed like a good idea in 1990, but by 1993, no one would want to be Michael Jackson, in more ways than one. [clips of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg - "Nuthin' But a G Thang"...] Once gangsta rap took over, overnight it was 187 on Hammer's entire image. [...3rd Bass - "Gas Face", which mocks MC Hammer] He was getting attacked on all fronts: As soft, as a sellout, [...and Ice Cube's "Be True to the Game", which also mocks MC Hammer] as a corny dancing buffoon in a stupid outfit.
Todd: But there was one last-ditch effort to keep Hammer time from running out. And give him credit, he did try to change with the times.
MC Hammer: Now why would I ever stop doing this?
Montage clips of "Pumps And a Bump"; Rap City interview; Arsenio Hall performance
MC Hammer: Give me the girls with the pumps and a bump!
Just when I thought did I hit another soft spot
Todd (VO): Yup, Hammer went hardcore. No more cartoon shows or Taco Bell commercials. With his 1994 album, The Funky Headhunter... Hammer was out to prove that he was the hardest thug in the hood.
MC Hammer: Pumps and a bump, pumps and a bump...
Todd (VO): Yep, that...
Todd: ...actually happened. This is Trainwreckords.
Trainwreckords intro, followed by album cover for The Funky Headhunter
Clip of MC Hammer performing "Don't Stop" on The Arsenio Hall Show
Singers: Tick tock, ya don't stop
That OG funk, that's what it is...
Todd (VO): The reason The Funky Headhunter didn't do well is... it's kind of too obvious to even say.
Todd: I can give it to you in one sentence: Hammer isn't a gangsta, the end.
Clip of a 1994 interview of BBC's The Word featuring an embarrassed MC Hammer and host Mark Lamarr wearing "Hammer Pants" and dancing erratically
Todd (VO): I've watched a bunch of interviews with Hammer from around that time and it is so obvious. No one is buying it.
Clip of BET's Rap City is shown
Veejay [while holding the Hammer doll]: He's got a new album out and a new image. Gone are the days of the old Hammer. He now considers himself an O.G.
Todd (VO): Like look at this guy.
Todd: He can't even pretend.
Veejay: He now considers himself...
Todd (VO): And by "he," we mean only he now considers himself...
Veejay: ...an OG.
Clip of "It's All Good" performance on MTV
Todd (VO): I mean the big difference was that he started dressing differently. A stocking cap and a baggy Falcons jersey doesn't make you a gangster any more than it makes you a member of [image of an Atlanta Falcons player] the Atlanta Falcons. And he didn't ease into it either. It was just, BAM, thugged out. It made about as much sense as if I...
Todd: ...Todd, suddenly decided I'm not a YouTuber music critic anymore. I'm now a... [image of the United States Congress] United States Senator! Look at me, everyone! I'm now [image of...] Ronald Johnson, the senior senator serving the great state of Wisconsin! I transparently am not! No one is going to believe that.
Todd (VO): Listen to this intro.
Intro from The Funky Headhunter playing featuring a smooth-voiced narrator
Narrator: It's in this space that dwells one of the truest of macks, a street soldier definitely on a mission...
Todd (VO): [image of bullshit detector] None of that is true!
Todd: But why is it not true?
Todd (VO): Look, Hammer is not the only rapper who had to fight to establish cred after getting called "soft". It's not impossible to turn that around. [clips of "Mama Said Knock You Out" by...] LL Cool J pulled it off before him. [...and "Energy" by...] Drake pulled it off after him. Hammer didn't half-ass it either. He tried as hard as he could. Why didn't it work for him?
Todd: Well the big reason is, and bear with me here, Hammer wasn't good to begin with.
Video for "(Hammer, Hammer) They Put Me in the Mix"
Todd (VO): Now this isn't a perfect comparison 'cause, you know, Hammer was such a big personality, but he was kind of the Flo Rida of the '90s...
Todd: Big hooks, but completely forgettable lyrics.
Todd (VO): Hammer had hit after hit, but except for "U Can't Touch This," no one knows a single line from any of 'em.
Todd: And you know me, "pop" is not a bad word to me.
Todd (VO): I know all the words to "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark.
Todd: But Hammer just wasn't that interesting.
Clip of MC Hammer performing "Let's Get It Started"
Todd (VO): Sure he was flashy, but as far as lyrical skills go, he's about the same level of rapper as [clip of...] Parappa the Rapper.
Todd: Which is not to say Hammer had no skills as an entertainer.
Clip of MC Hammer performing at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards
Todd (VO): He was a great hype man, he was a consummate showman, he loved entertaining, and the dude could dance like nobody.
Todd: But hype and live shows aren't real high priorities to gangsta rap.
Clip of Naughty by Nature - "Hip Hop Hooray"
Todd (VO): What matters is lyrics, and flow, and the ability to project realness: the exact opposite of Hammer's strengths, so a change of pants wasn't gonna do it.
Todd: None of this came naturally to Hammer, even the name of the album is off.
Todd (VO): The Funky Headhunter.
Audio of "The Funky Headhunter" playing over the cassette back cover image of the album
Hammer: The funky headhunter!
Todd (VO): Not only does that not sound gangsta, it doesn't even sound '90s.
Todd: It sounds like a super old school lyric from like a [clip of "Rapper's Delight" by...] Sugar Hill Gang song or something. Here are titles from some actual gangsta rap albums from that era [images of...]: Doggystyle, Ready to Die, Bacdafucup, Lethal Injection. And meanwhile, here is Hammer like [image of MC Hammer from his heyday] "I'm the funky headhunter, y'all! I'm about to get busy! Clap your hands, everybody!"
Video for "Pumps and a Bump"
Todd (VO): But let's look at the song that introduced the world to hardcore Hammer, "Pumps and a Bump."
MC Hammer: Pumps and a bump, pumps and a bump
We like the girls with the pumps and a bump
Pumps and a bump...
Todd: Dances in his seat
MC Hammer: Pumps and a bump, give me the girls with the pumps and a bump
Just when I thought did I hit another soft spot...
Todd (VO): Now "Pumps and a Bump" is, in the grand hip-hop tradition, a song about ass. Which...honestly, maybe, not the worst idea. Hammer wasn't gonna sell a song about killing cops but [clip of Wreckz-N-Effect - "Rump Shaker"] booty anthems, that was still a proven seller in hip-hop. It's not specifically gangsta...
Todd: ...but it's something a gangsta rapper could've conceivably released.
Todd (VO): So it would be gangsta without it being gangsta.
Todd: I think it was a smart move.
MC Hammer: We go the pumps and bumps!
Todd: [beat] Okay, so here's the problem...
MC Hammer: Pumps and a bump, pumps and a bump...
Todd (VO): First off, calling a big butt a "bump." Now maybe I'm misremembering the '90s, but...
Todd: ...I'm pretty sure that didn't catch on. [clip of Black Eyed Peas - "My Humps"] It's better than humps or lumps, which we got ten years later, but...bump? I-I don't know, when I hear "bump," I think [image of...] oral herpes.
Todd (VO): And also, there is one major "bump" everyone was talking about after the video and it was not any girl's butts. [clips of Hammer in the thong] Nice bulge, Hammer. Yeah, right at the camera. Make it like it's going through the screen. Right into people's living rooms. [close up of the thong] Why it's almost like I can touch this. Yeah.
Todd: Yeah, that's a lot of Hammer all at once.
Todd (VO): And you may remember this move [clips of Justin Bieber - "What Do You Mean?"...] from other family-friendly stars trying to change their image. [...and Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"] But usually this only works for teenagers moving into adulthood so that they could demonstrate that they're reaching sexual maturity alongside their audience, and of course, various middle-aged pervs get to enjoy it too.
Clips of Hammerman and Hammer's doll commercials
Hammer, meanwhile, was much older than his audience of little kids. So him waving his dick and like "oh check me out, I'm growing into my sexuality." It's more like being flashed by your [image of a Boy Scout youth counselor] youth counselor.
MC Hammer: The pumps and a bump
Todd (VO): Please, Hammer... [image of scared kids] don't hurt 'em. This video actually was too hot for MTV...
Todd: ...and, uh, they had to change to this alternate version.
Clip of the second, more PG-rated video
Todd (VO): Probably for the best. A-And here's the thing: I think the actual song...
Todd: ...is honestly kinda good [shrugs].
Todd (VO): In fact, it's probably my favorite Hammer song.
MC Hammer: I don't like 'em stiggity fat! (No!)
I like 'em stiggity stacked (yeah!)
You wiggity wiggity wack if you ain't got biggity back (aw!)
Todd (VO): And even the whole album is, in a lot of ways, a lot better than his first few.
Todd: Hammer's flow is way tighter.
MC Hammer: 'Cause I come equipped, read my lips, baby
You can slippity slip out ya clothes and take a trip
Todd (VO): And his beats are a lot better too.
Female singers: All that we want...
Todd (VO): He recruited all of the hottest producers of the time. And I don't know, maybe I just never mentally aged past the mid-'90s, but that '90s G-Funk synth and bass still does it for me way more than anything else ever will.
Todd: So you know, "Pumps and a Bump" is OK.
Todd (VO): And even at the time, I remember it being decently big.
Todd: Even got a shout out from Fifth Harmony last year.
Clip of Fifth Harmony - "He Like That"
Normani: Pumps and a bump, pumps and a bump
I be that girl with the pumps and a bump...
Todd: Cannot believe that happened.
Todd (VO): But while it did get decent airplay, it sure wasn't "U Can't Touch This" big. One single does not a comeback make.
Todd: And the flaws in Hammer's new approach became especially evident in the second single, "It's All Good".
Video for "It's All Good"
MC Hammer and singers: Hey!
It's all good!
It's all good!
Y'all ready for this? (Uh-huh!)
Todd: Okay, the first problem with "It's All Good" is that it's a diss track.
Todd (VO): You don't name a diss track "It's All Good".
Todd: Now this song is actually aimed at [album cover for Whut? Thee Album] Redman. Apparently Redman had been taking some shots at him.
MC Hammer: Now this ain't the name calling game
See, I can refrain from using names to get fame
Todd (VO): Yeah, he's not gonna name names even though he totally does at the end.
MC Hammer: Talkin' about my mama's where I draw the line Redman...
Todd (VO): But listening to the chorus, you think that Hammer was trying to squash the feud and make nice.
MC Hammer: 'Cause it's all good! (hey!)
Todd: Secondly... Todd (VO): Hammer still danced... a lot.
Clip of MTV performance
MC Hammer: [while dancing] It's all good...
Todd (VO): A lot. I mean it was his primary skill, he had to. Of course he did make sure to dance like a gangsta, you know there's a lot more stomping involved, he made sure to keep that goofy grin off his face, but still it exposes the lie pretty clearly. The way you dance like a gangsta...
Todd: ...is you don't dance.
Todd (VO): It made his entire hardcore pose look like just choreography. He treated it like dance steps that he learned and performed. Now say what you want about the thong in "Pumps And a Bump" but this video is the real embarrassment to me.
Clip of MC Hammer grimacing while grabbing his hands
MC Hammer: It's all good
Todd: [imitating MC Hammer] "GRR!"
Todd (VO): "I'm a toughie!"
Todd: The lyrics don't really sell it either.
MC Hammer: I thought you knew and boy you still can't touch this
Todd (VO): There's a lot of callbacks to his previous singles.
MC Hammer: Homeboy, you better pray just to make it today
They put me in the mix, too legit to quit
Todd: Yeah, you know the songs that he's trying to make people forget?
Todd (VO): I-I think he's trying to re-contextualize his old hits into his new image, but it does not work. [clip of "I'm Bad" by...] LL Cool J [...and "Forever" by...] and Drake already had hard songs in their past that they can call back on when they needed to reestablish their cred. [clip of "Pray"] Hammer didn't have that. He had nothing. So these callbacks are actively undermining it.
Todd: It's just reminding people that this guy...
MC Hammer: You wanna beat the G, I beat you like hizzos
In the backseat of my caddy, you'll be callin' Hammer daddy
Todd: ...is actually this guy.
Clip of MC Hammer dropping to the ground with his parachute pants in Taco Bell commercial
MC Hammer: Yo sweetness!
Now that's the way the Hammer runs for the border.
Todd: The need to sell how hard he is is a big problem with the album.
Audio of "Something for the O.G.'s" playing over the Arsenio Hall performance
MC Hammer: Something for the O.G.'s, something for the O.G.'s, this is how it should be done
Todd (VO): It just never stops. Every other line uses the word "gangsta" or "G" or "O.G."
Todd: Some words I don't remember hearing were [text bubble showing...] any profanities which, you know, is a pretty big tell.
Audio of "Break 'Em Off Somethin' Proper" playing over Arsenio Hall performance)
MC Hammer: King of rock? You ain't the king of sh--
Todd (VO): [album cover for The Funky Headhunter] There's not even the parental advisory sticker, I don't think.
Male singers: That O.G. funk, that's what it is...
Todd (VO): Also, I'm not sure if he knows that O.G. stands for original gangsta?
MC Hammer: All about the true O.G.'s
Not gangstas with pins...
Todd (VO): MC Hammer wasn't a gangsta, but he especially wasn't an original gangsta; he was not originally a gangsta and everyone knows that!
Todd: His other big move is to lean on his success to get respect.
Back to "It's All Good"
MC Hammer: (They thought you was a sellout)
I'm sellin' out tours 'cause sellin' CDs, I'm the one...
Todd (VO): You know, you know, "I made millions of dollars," as far as anyone knew at the time, he still had it so...
Todd: ...there you go, "I'm rich, bitch."
Audio of MC Hammer's "The Funky Headhunter" over his Arsenio Hall performance
MC Hammer: Suckers getting mad 'cause over 20 million sold
And now they try to diss 'cause they can't get gold...
Todd (VO): "I went gazillion times platinum, you have to respect the cash."
Todd: No! No! They did not have to respect that! In fact, that's the whole reason they don't respect you!
Clip of vintage KFC commercial featuring MC Hammer dancing for popcorn chicken
Todd (VO): I mean, yeah, you made a lot of money, but that's because you're a pop doofus who dances for KFC.
Todd: But here's the really ironic thing: in real life, Hammer is serious as fuck.
Clips of MC Hammer being interviewed for Rap City and MC Serch discussing the time Hammer sent out gang members after him
Todd (VO): He may not have been a thug, but he was from the streets, and because he was generous enough to employ his entire neighborhood, he had all sorts of gang connections and he was not afraid to use them. Many of the people who stepped to him have stories about coming close to death because they beefed with Hammer.
Video for "Don't Stop"
But he just couldn't make it come across. No matter how much bass he puts in his voice, it doesn't sound convincing. He doesn't sound hard, he just sounds defensive and butthurt and like he doesn't know what he's doing.
MC Hammer: I got the dance steps that got you pumping in your boombox...
Todd: You're a gangsta because you have the dance steps? [shrugs and scoffs]
Clip of Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg - "Fuck Wit Dre Day"
Todd (VO): And as much as I love '90s hip-hop, constant diss tracks and feuds at the time, I...I don't think they've aged all that well. Go back to it and everyone sounds whiny and thin-skinned, and it all kinda seems like just a waste of time.
Todd: Did Dre have to spend the entirety of The Chronic telling Eazy-E to eat a dick?
Todd (VO): [sighs] Who benefited from that in the end?
Todd: And Hammer might have been the most thin-skinned of all because he takes on just goddamn everybody.
Clip of MC Hammer performing on The Arsenio Hall Show with the audio of "Break 'Em Off Somethin' Proper"
Q-Tip (sampled): What you say, Hammer
MC Hammer: We about to break 'em off somethin' proper!
Todd (VO): Okay, a little backstory.
Todd: One of the first acts to call Hammer a sell-out was [clip of...wait for it] A Tribe Called Quest, who took aim at him in their single, "Check the Rhime".
Clip of "Check the Rhime"
A Tribe Called Quest: Check the rhime...
Todd (VO): "Check the Rhime" is an all-time classic, for the record.
Todd: [sings] You're on point, Tip? All the time, Phife. Yeah, I love that song.
Clip of a vintage Pepsi commercial featuring Hammer
Todd (VO): Anyway, they specifically made fun of Hammer's Pepsi commercials.
Announcer: We secretly replaced his Pepsi with Coke.
MC Hammer [off key singing]: Feelings...
Todd: [sarcastically] OH NO!
Todd (VO): Coke products have taken away all of his talent. Fortunately, Pepsi will restore him to the epitome of coolness that is MC Hammer.
Todd: God, the Cola wars were weird.
MC Hammer: [sipping Pepsi] Proper!
Todd: Anyway, I guess Q-Tip didn't like that, so he took some shots.
Clip of "Check the Rhime"
Q-Tip: And proper
What you say, Hammer
Rap is not pop
If you call it that, then stop
Todd (VO): So of course Hammer had to fire back.
Todd: And he did it by sampling Q-Tip directly.
Q-Tip (sampled): What you say, Hammer
MC Hammer: Break 'em off, break 'em off somethin' proper
Todd (VO): Yep. So...here we are, Hammer vs. Q-Tip.
MC Hammer: I'm selling millions
Not the run of the mill
And like Big Daddy says, I'm wondering how you got a record deal
Todd: [visibly fed up at this point] He got a rap deal because he's a better rapper than you, Hammer! How dare you, how dare you?!
MC Hammer: Step right up and be the next contestant
A Tribe Called Quest is a bad investment
I'm breakin' em off something' proper...
Todd: [huh?] Burn?
MC Hammer: A Tribe Called Quest is a bad investment
Todd (VO): Is that like a pun or a reference or something?
Todd: What are you talking about?!
Clips of 2Pac - "Hit Em Up" and "Changes"
Todd (VO): Now when we talk about rap beefs in the '90s, it always comes back to Biggie and Tupac. How they died, what a tragedy it was, what a stupid, pointless waste. And how we all need to increase the peace and stop the violence.
Todd: But if you ask me...
Todd (VO): ...Hammer vs. Q-Tip... there's never gonna be a rap beef more depressing than this. It's Q-Tip...
Clips of "Can I Kick It?..."
Q-Tip: Can I kick it?
A Tribe Called Quest: Yes you can!
Q-Tip: Can I kick it?
A Tribe Called Quest: Yes you can!
...and "U Can't Touch This"
MC Hammer: Every time you see me
The Hammer's just so hype
I'm dope on the floor
And I'm magic on the mike
Todd: [beat] Can't we all just get along?! This is like finding out [images of...] Carl Sagan and Mister Rogers got in a fist fight!
Suge Knight: Man, what about Run-DMC?
Todd: Oh right! And he took some shots at Run-DMC too. [shrugs] Why the hell not?
MC Hammer: Been around for ten years but they been dead since '89!
Todd: Big words coming from a guy who was passe after '91. Did any of these people even notice that Hammer was attacking them?
Clip of "Don't Stop"
MC Hammer: They diss and they diss and they diss but I don't fall...
Todd (VO): It's just forced. Like I said, the tragedy is that Hammer actually demonstrated some lyrical skills for the first time and has some fantastic production. I think he could've been a really good rapper and that he just didn't really focus on that part of his act when it mattered.
Singers: Don't stop 'til you get enough...
Todd (VO): This album is not that bad, there's a lot of good stuff here, but it was never going to succeed because it's all in the service of such a bad idea.
Todd: Honestly, he might've had a better chance if he just stayed MC Hammer.
Clips of Tag Team - "Whoomp! There It Is"..."
Todd (VO): Pop rap wasn't dead in 1994. It had more of an edge but it was still around.
...and the 69 Boyz - "Tootsie Roll"
69 Boyz: Let me see the tootsie roll!
Todd (VO): Could've had those G-Funk beats without having to use the word "gangsta" every other line. If he had, I think he could've survived.
Todd: After Biggie and Pac died, everyone wanted to cool things down.
Video for Will Smith - "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"
Todd (VO): Will Smith's big solo move was just around the corner. Hammer could've waited it out. [clip of "Pumps and a Bump"] As it was, Funky Headhunter sold one-time platinum, which was a big step down for him, [clip of ending Arsenio performance] but also just big enough that people will always remember the image of Hammer at the most flop-sweaty, wannabe phase of his career. And I gotta be honest, as many elements as I liked from this album and as much of a nostalgia buzz I got from it...
Todd: [sighs]...the whole project just made me feel kinda sad.
Clip of MC Hammer and his wife from the infamous Behind the Music episode
Todd (VO): The whole MC Hammer story reads like Shakespearean tragedy now. His crime was that he just wanted to be loved.
Todd: In the end, I don't think gangsta Hammer is how Hammer wants to be remembered.
Vintage clip of MC Hammer performing "U Can't Touch This"
Todd (VO): That isn't what Hammer was about. He was about fun and good times and that's why there's still a lot of affection for the man even now.
Todd: Do him a favor: forget about this album. Remember him at his height.
Todd (VO): Whatever you wanna say about the guy, he has a substantial legacy in helping to make hip-hop the cultural powerhouse it is today and you have to respect that.
Todd: And I am definitely saying that because I don't want Hammer to call his homies and have them kill me. Peace.
Gets up and leaves
End of first "Pumps and a Bump" video
Closing Tag Song: Todd plays "U Can't Touch This"
"The Funky Headhunter" is owned by Warner Music Group.
This video is owned by me.
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!