Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hammer's Words to Third Bass

MC Hammer finally addresses a story MC Serch of the defunct rap group Third Bass has been telling for years. Although he doesn't confirm or deny what happened, Mr. Stanley Burrell's careful word choice and knowledge about the trio's commercial in impact is revealing.

For those who don't have dog-eared copies of The Source magazines in their attic sealed in plastic containers, the story went something like this. Serch, along with members of Run-DMC, (members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who Hammer dissed at least twice) abashed Hammer with their song and video,"The Gas Face." In the clip, an over sized hammer with eyeglasses is toppled and carried away as Hammer is dissed for about ten seconds straight. Also, on their debut, "The Cactus Album," they rapped "the cactus turned Hammer's mother out."

In certain communities, speaking ill about someone's mother is an invitation for violent confrontation. Since MC Serch and Pete Nice, as white boys, were visitors with passes in the hip-hop world, this might seem like a rather bold and unnecessary insult, in retrospect. Actually, it was more of the clever wordplay that filled the duo's first record that made it so appealing. "Turn this Mutha Out," was a single from from Ham's second album, "Let's Get it Started." They weren't talking about his mom, but his music. 

Getting Done
According to legend, that's not how the Hammer saw it. The former Oakland A's batboy allegedly called a Def Jam executive and said, "Don't send your boys to Cali. They're gonna get done." As much as Serch lampooned Hammer and his music, this time the dancing man in the baggy pants and space goggles was taken seriously.

In the above interview with, Hammer says "It's ridiculous that you [Serch], want that [the alleged contract on his life] to be your claim to fame." It's hard to characterize this comment as a denial of the sequence of events Serch has shared. He could of killed (whoops) the issue once and for all, just by saying it never happened. But he didn't. 

Hammer goes on: "I didn't know who that dude was ... " Well, if he didn't know then, he certainly did his research, as Hammer is able to pull estimated sales figures for Third Bass albums out of thin air. Predictably, he considers himself above discussion about the group, as his platinum-selling titles dwarf their "wood" status. (Actually Stanley, wiki lists two of the three Third Bass albums as "gold.")

Please, Hammer Don't Hurt 'em
Was Serch's story about a supposed hit legit? It's hard to say. Hammer made pop rap, but he is from a rough section of East Oakland. He also hung out with Suge Knight and flirted with a gangsta image while signed to Death Row. But this is same artist who made gospel rap with a group called "Holy Boys" before he blew up and is now a minister. Death threats certainly aren't very Christian. What I can't get past is why Serch would think creating a story about being threatened by a pop rapper would enhance his reputation.

20 years later, who's ahead?
So where are they now? Who's making the best use of that rapper's pension fund and trying to take their 15 minutes of fame into overtime? In the interest of allowing us all to sleep better at night, I've taken a look at this issue.

Third Bass rhymed circles around MC Hammer back then. Their disses of him were clever, artful and humiliating. Yeah, I would've been mad too, Ham. Their music holds up pretty well, but you might not realize it as it's seldom heard on the radio. With only three releases, their catalog is considerably smaller than Hammer's, but it doesn't contain the missteps and screw-ups that his does. Pumps and Bump anyone? Hip-hop purists viewed much of Hammer's work as treasonous back in the day, but in retrospect and in comparison to today's ring tone rap, it really isn't that bad. I kind of like this one, in a nostalgic sort of way. But if the aim of the game is to create compelling work that holds its value years afterward, and I think it is,  Third Bass knocks this one out of the park.

Long Ball
Airbody knows Hammer squandered millions of dollars on elaborate stage shows and funky pompadour hairdos for his 32 back up dancers. But his biggest mistake might have been not retaining the publishing rights to his hit records. It's a terrible and unfortunate situation when an artist has to part with the music that they made. This is part of the reason has to humble himself with self-effacing  commercials like this one. 

and this ...

Serch's catalog may not be filled with platinum hits that are part of the popular culture landscape, but it hasn't changed hands. Not only does the rapper retain the rights to his own music, he owns other artists' music, including Nas' "Illmatic," which is considered one of the greatest hip hop records of all time. Jay-Z made note of this during his feud with the Queensbridge rapper, reminding him that when he sampled Nas' voice he paid "Serchlite Publishing." 

The rap careers of Serch and his partner Pete Nice seem to be over, but Hammer never stopped releasing music, even if you didn't care. He's put out three albums since 2000 and shows no signs of stopping. Serch's most recent release consisted of unreleased music from the 1990's, which succeeded in proving that there is a reason why some songs never come out. Hammer might not hit like he used to, but he keeps swinging, while Third Bass can't step up to the plate. 

Both Serch and Hammer have worked in the post-career graveyard of reality television, but only one of them has their own show that airs on A&E Sunday nights. The reality is Hammer is a rare pop icon who can appear on the Today Show and while MC Serch and Pete Nice are largely forgotten rappers. A tarnished image beats no image. Score one for Hammer.

Final tally: 1-1. Tie goes to the running man. 


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