Lessons Learned: MC Hammer on innovation, faith and Charles O. Finley

John Shinal · July 31, 2008 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/dc

Your fortune can change, it can go up or down

Few businesses are as tough as the entertainment business.

The percentage of professional musicians who make a living solely from their work is puny, and those who taste creative success often fail to build a profitable business based upon it.

MC Hammer, who recently started DanceJam, is among those who've tasted the ultimate level of success in Hollywood. Yet he's also learned some hard-won lessons.

"Your fortune can change, it can go up or down... business doesn't always go according to plan, but you don't let that stop you from continuing to create," Hammer says.

In 1990, Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" was a Top 10 single in three countries, hitting No. 8 on the U.S. charts. The album sold 10 million copies, the all-time best-selling rap album for a time.

Hammer's innovative thinking had a big impact on the music industry and on Hollywood, where bands would ask for "the Hammer cut" for their early MTV videos. Those edits, which Hammer helped put together in the studio, were designed to match the feel of a live performance, Hammer tells Vator.tv's Bambi Francisco in this in-depth interview.

For a time, Hammer also mastered the business side of the music industry as well as its creative side. But he spent a lot of money on his entourage, something he defended when Francisco probed him about his past. Yet he also was frank about some of his decisions, including the one to pay more than 200 employees out of his own personal royalties.

"Would I do that again? No." 

Yet he is resilient. "You never fall from fame," says the man whose influence once extended into pop culture, as millions of people who never bought his album nevertheless echoed his catch phrase, "can't touch this".

The Oakland, California, native also points out that even a place as rich as the San Francisco Bay Area has a history of chewing up young companies. "Lots of businesses in Silicon Valley crashed and burned," and the dotcom era was followed by billions of dollars in bankruptcies, Hammer says. 

Many people don't realize that Hammer, who was borned Stanley Kirk Burrell and nicknamed by Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson, has been  part of the business world since he was 13 years old. Hammer began serving as an executive vice-president to the late Charles O. Finley, the flamboyant and controversial owner of baseball's Oakland Athletics.

In this third part of our conversation with Hammer, he called Finley one of the greatest marketers in the history of the sport (behind Bill Veeck of the Chicago White Sox) who pioneered many marketing activities that were considered non-traditional -- even controversial -- in the early 1970s.

Think flashy blocks of color in the midst of traditional pinstripes. Hammer says he learned a lot from Finley, a baseball innovator. 

In this interview, the man who once put out the album titled "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'em" fielded so many tough questions that when Francisco asks him to show off a few moves, he replies: "I've danced around enough in this conversation."

Hammer also points out that he included a song called "We Got to Pray in Order to Make it Today," on that same album, and alludes to faith as a big part of his life. "I am absolutely a minister," he says. 

"The biggest lesson in life is humility," he says, then adds with a laugh that humility is what allows him "to answer questions from left field," after Francisco pressed him about his past. 

To learn more about Dancejam, Hammer's new startup for dance enthusiasts, watch our earlier interview, in two parts here and here.

Among Hammer's role models are those who build a company, market it successfully, then keep control of it and keep it profitable. He called Russel Simmons, who built the Def Jam rap label into an entity with "cultural relevance," "an inspiration."

"People would buy an album just for that label," Hammer says of Simmons' brand management acumen. "Berry Gordy did the same thing at Motown." 

Simmons , meanwhile, successfully extended his brand from rap music to hip-hop clothing, because "he knows how to market himself as a brand," Hammer says.


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