Tuesday, December 6, 2011

December 6: MC Hammer, "U Can't Touch This"

Artist: MC Hammer
Song: "U Can't Touch This"
Album: Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em
Year: 1990

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

Throughout the long history of recorded music, there have been a small handful of songs that were so massive, so impossible to get away from upon release, that in some ways they have almost become cliché.  That is to say that the song becomes so big that it crossover from being a work of music to representing a moment in history, and the impact that such songs have on culture in general is often immeasurable.  One can easily find examples of this idea across every generation and nearly every style of music, and yet it seemed that this random chance was almost a regular occurrence during the first few years of the 1990's.  With a handful of new genres bursting into the mainstream almost simultaneously, the idea of "pop music" almost completely lost any sense of meaning, as there were massive sales numbers in everything from heavy metal to light rock to hip-hop and almost every other genre one can find.  However, it was within the world of hip-hop music where a massive amount of sub-genres began to emerge, and it was the dance-club anthems from the now-legendary MC Hammer that in some ways stand as a style onto their own.  Few performers of the era were as instantly recognizable our outright talented as MC Hammer, and there may be no bigger song from the entire decade than his iconic 1990 single, "U Can't Touch This."

In many ways, there is not a single aspect of "U Can't Touch This" that is anything less than unforgettable, and it all begins with the head-bobbing beat and the irresistible musical hook.  It was this hook that brought a great deal of controversy to the song, when Rick James successfully sued MC Hammer for his unauthorized use of his classic song, "Super Freak."  However, this was eventually settled out of court (with James receiving co-author credits), and it in no way impeded the run-away sales figures that "U Can't Touch This" achieved.  This connection to the funk-disco classic also helps to show the strong link between that style and hip-hop, and using this as a basis, one can see many similar connections in other songs of the era.  It is the way that the groove from "Super Freak" manages to dance under the fantastic beats that makes the song so fantastic, and one can see this as creating an entirely new style of hip-hop music.  In the case of "U Can't Touch This," there is no getting past the fact that this song was made for dance clubs, and even after more than two decades, the way that the hook blends with the beat can still quickly light up any party.  It is also the fact that "U Can't Touch This" presented such a stark contrast to the so-called "gangsta rap" movement that had been building elsewhere on the West Coast which solidifies its historical significance, along with the fact that there are few musical hooks from the decade that are more memorable than the one found here.

However, while the music that backs "U Can't Touch This" has certainly etched its way into the history books, it is the lyrical and vocal delivery of MC Hammer that has also managed to become a part of history itself.  There is a relaxed, smooth sound to Hammer's rapping style, and it is this purposeful concentration of the lyrical content that makes the song stand apart from many of the other new styles of hip-hop that were emerging at the same time.  It is also the raw energy within his voice that aided in the overall appeal and success of "U Can't Touch This," as it is clear that at every turn, MC Hammer is enjoying every second of what he is doing.  When one combines this with the straightforward, upbeat rhymes, it is easy to understand why "U Can't Touch This" was such a massive hit, and many of the lines from the song have become parts of popular culture that are still widely used to this day.  Whether it is one of his fantastic rhymes or the iconic saying, "Stop! Hammertime!," even later generations have no problem in knowing exactly from where these terms have been lifted.  This reality shows the timeless quality of "U Can't Touch This," and it is also the rather honest and positive feel that one can sense in every part of MC Hammer's vocals on the track that have enabled it to rise above other singles from the time, as well as remain fresh within the modern world of music.

Due to the fact that the music and lyrics have attained such an unforgettable status, it is not surprising to see just how many different areas of popular culture have utilized the song or parts of the song.  From cartoons to films to television shows, references to "U Can't Touch This" are just as common today as they were during the heyday of the song; and one can see this reality as the final proof as to the songs' massive impact beyond "just" the world of music.  Furthermore, a number of video games and commercials have found creative ways to recall the song in part or full, and when it comes down to it, it is almost impossible to find any area of popular culture that does not continue to utilize "U Can't Touch This."  However, even when it was first released, the song was held in high regard, as it shot into the top five on the sales charts in more than ten different countries, eventually being awarded the Grammy for "Best R&B Song" as well as the newly-created "Best Solo Rap Performance."  With all these awards and accolades, one can easily make the case that "U Can't Touch This" was one of the most pivotal moments in music history, as it enabled the hip-hop style to crossover into a number of other different musical genres.  From the unmistakable musical arrangement to the superb vocals across the song, there is simply no other track in history quite like MC Hammer's extraordinary 1990 single, "U Can't Touch This."

No comments: