Childhood & Early Life
Hammer was born Stanley Kirk Burrell on March 30, 1962, in Oakland, California. He was the youngest of his 6 siblings and lived in a government housing project apartment in East Oakland. His father, Lewis Burrell, worked as warehouse supervisor while his mother was a secretary.
Interested in baseball from his early boyhood, he spent time around the ‘Oakland Coliseum’ and entertained by dancing during the breaks. ‘Oakland Athletics’ owner, Charles Finley, watched him perform in the Coliseum’s parking lot and hired the 11 year Burrell as ‘batboy.’ Burrell’s resemblance to the baseball player ‘Hammerin’ Hank Aaron earned him the nick-name ‘Hammer.’ The ‘MC’ part came from ‘Master of Ceremonies’ as he performed at various clubs while on the road with A’s.
He played baseball (second base) during high school years and wished to be a professional player, but was not selected. After passing out from school, he joined communications study, but later enlisted for US Navy and served as aviation storekeeper for 3 years.
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After being honorably discharged from the US Navy, Hammer began playing in clubs and formed ‘Holy Ghost Boys,’ a Christian rap music group with Jon Gibson. One of their songs, ‘The Wall,’ became a hit. Two former A’s player, Mike Davis and Dwayne Murphy, helped him financially to start his own record label, ‘Bust It Records.’
Hammer released his debut album, ‘Feel My Power,’ through his own label, ‘Oakland Records,’ in 1987, and the album sold over 60,000 copies. He released a single, ‘Ring ‘Em,’ and marketed it on his own. Hammer formed a troupe with dancers, musicians and vocalist, and presented stage shows and live shows at clubs.
Through his album and one of his live acts, he earned a multi-album deal with the ‘Capitol Records’ in 1988. His first album through ‘Capitol,’ was ‘Let’s Get It Started,’ a revised version of ‘Feel My Power.’ With its charted numbers, ‘Turn This Mutha Out,’ ‘Let’s Get it Started,’ ‘They Put Me in the Mix’ among others, the album sold more than 2 million copies and was certified double platinum. Hammer toured around with his live show promoting the album, and installed a recording studio at the back of this tour bus, where he recorded songs.
His next album, ‘Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em,’ was brought out on February 12, 1990. The single, ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ from this album proved most successful and is considered as his signature song. This was followed by the cover versions of ‘Have You Seen Her’ (original by Chi-Lites) and ‘Pray,’(based on keyboard hooks of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’), which made to the Top 10. The album remained on the top of the charts for 21 weeks, which was a record. It sold over 18 million copies and was first hip-hop album to attain a diamond status. It is the all-time best-selling album of the genre. It also won him several awards, including a Grammy. A movie, ‘Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em: The Movie,’ was produced in 1990.
This successful album also brought on controversies and criticism. The track, ‘U Can’t Touch This,’ had ‘samples’ from Rick James’ ‘Super Freak,’ and James took legal action against Hammer. Later, the case was settled out-of-court. He faced criticism for borrowing/sampling others’ music or classic hooks and also, for repetitiveness of his lyrics. A number of music artists taunted him and his music in their music videos. (In the initial songs of his career, Hammer had ridiculed many of those artists). After the criticism, he dropped ‘MC’ from his name.
In reply to the criticism, he released ‘Too Legit to Quit’ in 1991. The album sold over 5 million copies and was in Top 5 on the ‘Billboard 200.’ The title track was the most popular number of this album, followed by ‘Addams Groove,’ which reached number 7 on the US charts. Hammer spent large amounts on lavish stage shows, tours and expensive music videos for the promotions of this album, but the album’s sales were not sufficient to finance it, so he had to cancel the tour midway.
His next album, ‘The Funky Headhunter,’ (1994) was released through the ‘Giant Records’ label. It included songs, ‘Pumps and a Bump,’ and ‘It’s All Good.’ The tracks continued to show disrespect to other rap-artists.
His next productions, ‘V Inside Out,’ (1995) and ‘Too Tight,’ (1996) too did not do well. Compilation of his earlier hits was released as ‘Greatest Hits’ (1996) and then as ‘Back 2 Back’ (1998), through EMI. His ‘Gospel’ based music album, ‘Family Affair,’ was released in 1998, which included ‘Set Me Free,’ ‘Our God,’ ‘Never Without You,’ among others.
Hammer’s November 2001 production, ‘Active Duty,’ paid homage to the 2001 attack victims. This was followed with ‘Full Blast,’ but both these albums did not have any charting singles. ‘Look Look Look’ released in 2006 and sold 300,000 copies. However, he couldn’t regain the popularity of his initial albums. He released a few more singles after 2010.
He was a part of many TV shows and films, including cartoon-show, ‘Hammerman,’ ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘The Right Connections,’ ‘Deadly Rhapsody,’ ‘The Surreal Life,’ among many others. He appeared as a dance judge on the show, ‘Dance Fever’ (2003). ‘Hammertime’ (2009) was his reality TV series on ‘A&E Network,’ which dealt with his daily life.
Hammer established ‘Oakland Stable’ in 1991 for thoroughbred horses. He was also involved with various business ventures from clothing lines, to tech start-up and product endorsements.
Hammer sported a lavish lifestyle with a huge mansion at Fremont, California, sprawling estate and luxury cars. He also spent a large amount of money on his stage shows, staff, and relatives. With $13 million in debt, he filed for bankruptcy in 1996. In 1997, he turned to faith and became a preacher with a Christian Ministry TV show.