I remember the day that M.C. Hammer released the video for the song 2 Legit 2 Quit…
It seems like a weird day to remember, if you weren’t there, but if you weren’t, I can assure you: It was huge. It was a huge, culturally important day.
At least, it felt like one.
His classic album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” had completely dominated the previous year, spinning out monster hit after monster hit on its way to eventually selling twenty-two million copies worldwide, putting hip-hop on the commercial map in a way that no one had previously thought possible. He was more than a popular recording artist, he was a cultural force, a milestone, and nothing in pop music would ever be the same. And, just as importantly, he knew so.
Much Music, a television station that at the time played music videos, made a day of it, setting up a countdown clock in the corner of the screen ticking down to the video’s premier as I, like many my age, stayed tuned in, breathlessly awaiting this new missive from a man who’d quickly made himself one of the biggest stars on the planet. As I said, he was an important force in popular culture, a man in the midst of his moment, and there was a sense of bigness to the release of this new video, a video that was expected to lead the way forward, both for the man himself and the genre he’d managed to lead out and into the mainstream.
Obviously, a good deal of this was marketing, but I was thirteen years old at the time and very susceptible to marketing at that stage of my life. Regardless, the moment felt big.
And Big, if nothing else, the video most assuredly was. To this day the eighth most expensive music video ever made, 2 Legit 2 Quit ran a shocking 15 minutes long, featuring appearances by James Brown, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Wahlberg, Easy-E, Tony Danza, Queen Latifah and the actual Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, among many, many others. It was an assault to the senses, a video where everything was happening simultaneously, more dancing, more pyrotechnics, more hype, more sound, more fury, always MORE. It was a man at the peak of his powers who didn’t believe there was any such thing as overreach. Hammer was ascendant and believed he would never descend.
He ended the video with a straight-up run at Michael Jackson, implying that the now former King of Pop himself conceded that Hammer was the better dancer and, more bizarrely still, we all took him at his word, seeing nothing at all out of place in this claim. At that moment at least, they were equals, two titans hovering over the rest of pop music like colossi, unimpeachable, unrivaled except perhaps by one another…
Of course the moment didn’t last, no moment ever does, and by two years later the world was pretty much over Hammer, but his quick descent from the pop firmament is as irrelevant as the speed of his equally meteoric rise, to my mind. What matters is that he was there, he had his moment and he grabbed hold of it, owning it with more confidence than most could even imagine themselves capable of. There is no doubt that 2 Legit 2 Quit, though overblown at the time and hopelessly dated with hindsight, was exactly the statement that Hammer wanted to make, the purest distillation of artist and art, the most “Hammer” that Hammer ever got. It was what came when he was allowed to work without limitations of any kind and, even if it did signal the beginning of the inevitable end for him, in this it was his masterpiece.
And, as artists, we should all be so lucky as to have such an opportunity, even if only for a moment…