The Commercialization of Hip – Hop: Vanilla Ice Vs. M.C. Hammer

In our first “official” partners meeting, we (Prof. Brownpants and Prof. Blooming) have decided to tackle two giants for our first properly co-written post, our first “In Situ” One on One: Vanilla Ice´s “Ice Ice Baby” and MC Hammer´s “”U Can´t Touch This”.

In early 1990´s Prof. Brownpants spent his afternoons “playing pool” and listening to Hip-hop (amongst other things), and Prof. Blooming spent her afternoons watching M.T.V. and dealing with high-school. (amongst other too).
The videos we are about to deconstruct we both know beyond an amateurish level, so we feel comfortable and prepared for this mission: our 60th post (we were supposed to do this for our 50th but due to ´events´ we missed it…).

MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This

The song was also released in 1990. It is MC Hammer´s most successful single. The album sold more than 18 million copies. It was on the Top 40 and was a best R&B song and Best Rap Performance at that time. MC Hammer wrote and produced the song.

Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby

It was released in 1990. The first Hip Hop single to top Billboard´s Chart. Written by Vanilla Ice and DJ Earthquake. Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) wrote the song when he was 16, so before you judge, we invite you to think about what you were doing when you were that age. Van Winkle described himself as the first rapper to cross into the pop market and said that although his pioneer status forced him to “take the heat for a lot of people” for his music’s use of samples, the criticism he received over sample use allowed sampling to become acceptable in mainstream hip hop.

The 1990´s were characterized by multiculturalism. Musically, movements like grunge, raves and hip hop became mainstream. MTV started segmenting and going into different areas (the beginning of it´s death?). U2 become huge all over the world, Green Day bring back punk and Britpop is born. Harry Potter´s book were released and hugely successful. In the gaming world, Nintendo and Sega (the “console wars”) witness the arrival of Sony´s Playstation. The movies Titanic, Toy Story, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix were blockbusters. And T.V. Shows like Friends were setting trends (the famous hair cut “the Rachel” after Jennifer Aniston´s hair in the series), The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (great show but memorable catchy rap song for it´s soundtracks), Full House, Married with Children and Everybody Loves Raymond were on our  T.V. Sets  Also, the internet as we know it took off.

Now that we have remembered the era around these videos, we would like to really sink our teeth in both of them:

Lyrics and memorable phrases.

Before we continue our analysis, we would like to run a short survey. We would love to hear your input on this on the comments. We think there are to kinds of people in this world, they way to recognize them is to say “Stop!”. Some of them will go “collaborate and listen” and others will go “Hammer time”. Which kind of person are you??

What´s also notable is the fact that both lyrics make pointed use of the word ´stop´, however they do it in very different ways….

“U Can´t Touch This”: With the exception of the catch phrase, and the chorus “can´t touch this”, the lyrics are about hitting the dance floor, appreciating new shoes for the dance floor and Hammer saying he is a success and will never stop “doing this”. For a full recap of the lyrics click here.

Catch Phrase: “Stop. Hammertime”.

 “Ice Ice Baby”: We don´t think he deserves as much credit as he gives himself (“I´m a lyrical poet”), but compared to Hammer´s this is Shakespeare! There is a story (sort of), it doesn’t solely rely on the chorus and it rhymes. See full lyrics here.

Catch Phrase: “Alright stop, collaborate and listen…”


“U Can´t Touch This”: Samples Rick James “Super Freak”.

“Ice Ice Baby”: Sample´s Queen and David Bowie´s “Under Pressure”.

Both songs wear their samples very obviously, however the Queen/Bowie sample is probably the most famous and was instantly recognizable, whereas unless you are a fan of the Super Freak himself or of early 80´s funk music (we so are!) then you could be forgiven for not knowing where it came from. In both cases the samples were used without permission, with James suing Hammer and Vanilla Ice retrospectively reaching an agreement with Bowie and the members of Queen. In both cases songwriting credits (and money of course) were shared with the artists concerned. Which of the original tracks we prefer is a moot point with Prof Blooming picking Queen/Bowie and Prof Brownpants preferring Rick James. Despite many hours of heated intellectual discussion we have so far been unable to reach a consensus on this issue.

Choreography, moves and background dancers.

If there´s one thing both videos are crammed full of it´s leg-jiggling, torso-wrenching, ever-so-slightly ridiculous dance moves. With Vanilla Ice it´s all about the synchronized moves with his “homeboy” backing dancers (these people are almost certainly hired for the job and not actually his “homies” at all. This is our considered opinion…). The moves themselves are fairly typical of boy-bands of the era, very New Kids On The Block and certainly have little or nothing to do with the real Hip-hop form known as Break-dancing. Dissapointing. As for Hammer we have a variety of moves, chiefly though we get the ´Running man´ (you know the one) and the ¨Hammer Dance´ (yep, we think you know that one too) both of which seemed to be designed with little more in mind than showing of his ridiculously over-sized dancing pants (trousers for the Brits amongst you). Once again the move away from ´real´ Hip-hop dancing is notable. Come to think of it Hammer seemed to be moving in to a world of dance occupied by no-one else but him. For the purposes of research we considered learning these moves for ourselves, however being that we are both well over 30 years old by now we agreed that hanging on to our dignity was much more important and thus rejected the idea. We stand by our decision (although Prof Brownpants may be tempted in to doing the Hammer dance given sufficient amounts of alcohol and sufficient trousers).

Hammer´s: Running man and the Hammer Dance.

Hair, Pants and Fashion Statements.

We consider these videos to be memorable in this category. They are still vastly remembered by many even now.

The first thing we need to comment on are of course the item of clothing (one of the few in history, like say “Madonna´s Cone Bra´s” to transcend clothes and become characters itself). Hammer pants:


 Here are both of them wearing such item of clothing:

both hammer pants

 Hammer pants have a life of their own and their deserved place in history.

Vanilla Ice´s haircut (and please, direct your attention to his EYEBROW…He did the same thing there also!)

Vanilla Ice Hair

 M.C. Hammer´s Hair


 Where are their stylists now hiding? We think they have gone under the witness protection program. We wish you luck wherever you are!

Where are they now? What does History tell us?

Having achieved global fame both artists then took the bizarre decision to follow up their dancefloor-filling hits with Hip-hop ´ballads´. In Vanilla Ice´s case it was the truly terrible “I Love You” which reached the dizzy heights of No. 52 on the Billboard chart before quickly fading away. Hammer did slightly better, covering a soul classic in The Chi-Lites “Have You Seen Her“. However, Hammer´s version doesn´t exactly improve anything, and in fact turns an already over-sugared love song in to a gigantic slice of cheese (sugar, cheese – probably best not to over-analyze the culinary metaphors we´ve just used there…). For Ice the next few years would see him have a short-lived fling with Madonna during which he appeared in her infamous Sex book, a wholly forgettable movie called Cool As Ice (nope, we´ve never seen it either), and eventually a slide in to drug addiction and a subsequent recovery. He is still recording and performing today. As for MC Hammer he subsequently dropped the MC and carried on selling records and touring as simply Hammer. A deeply religious man, he would eventually become an ordained pastor and officiated at the weddings of Corey Feldman and also Motley Crue´s Vince Neil (admit it, the thought of him conducting your wedding is actually quite cool, especially if he agreed to do it in his ´Hammer pants´). He would also subsequently claim credit for Vanilla Ice´s success, insisting he paved the way for him by being the original Hip-pop star. Vanilla Ice´s thoughts on this are not known and are of little interest to humanity. We would love to see some kind of MC battle for supremacy between the two involving both rapping and dancing. We think this could be a major global media event and if we had our own multi-million dollar production company would be working right now to make this happen. If you´re reading this and you think you can then we feel you should make it your life´s work to do so.

To remind you, we would like to conduct a quick survey: If we say to you “Stop” do you reply “collaborate and listen” or “Hammer time”? We´d like to hear from you regarding this and any further thoughts you may have. Or you can simply say “Hi!”, we like that too!

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