MC Hammer can’t touch Donald Trump—or at least that’s the impression I get towards the end of our amusing phone interview, when his publicist all but shrieks please hammer, don’t hurt ‘em! after I ask the hip-hop icon if he’d had any interesting encounters with The Donald during his early ‘90s heyday.
“Um, so… you would have to ask me that question after the election, because who would want to...”—he pauses briefly—“…nevermind, I’m not doing no politics,” Hammer says, with a naughty chuckle. “But that was a good question, and yes, I did encounter Donald in my goings in the ’90s.”
And with that, his publicist ends our interview, hopping onto the line to exclaim, “We’re gonna have to wrap it up, unfortunately, but thank you so much for your time!”
Though MC Hammer and The Donald’s ’90s shenanigans are on pause for the time being, the occasion for our interview is his latest tech initiative: partnering with the real estate site Trulia to help internet shoppers find their dream home. The enterprise is a cheekily ironic one, given that the performer famously shelled out $12 million for a state of the art, 11,000-square-foot megamansion with two swimming pools and a guardhouse in 1991, only to unload it for $5.3 million six years later after declaring bankruptcy.
“This has a nice tech twist to it,” he says. “Trulia and I collaborated on creating a site that would make the home-buying process less painstaking and draining. We incorporate music, video, hip-hop, and visuals. What you do is go to Trulia.com/Hammerfy, and then you input the different amenities that you want—location area, close to a school, all the things you want in a house—and out pops a customized music video based upon your input.” There are, Hammer says, 3,000 different possibilities, and the opportunity came about because, “I got friends who know some friends.”
This may surprise you—as it did me—but, on top of selling 50 million albums and taking home three Grammys, MC Hammer has always been at the forefront of technology. He was one of the earliest celeb adopters of Twitter (as well as an early investor in the company), and has delivered speeches everywhere from Stanford to Harvard about the social media site. He also served as one of the founders of DanceJam, a YouTube for dance videos, and has hosted a number of TechCrunch conferences.
“Tech is wonderful,” gushes Hammer. “I’m extremely focused on AI right now. I think the AI stuff is, in the immediate future, going to be the biggest disruptor in tech. It’s going to change everything.”
So Hammer isn’t worried that, to quote tech genius Elon Musk, AI could be mankind’s “greatest existential threat?”
“I think there are various applications of AI,” he replies. “What I’m talking about is making AI your best friend: an AI application that, right now, would know that I’m on this phone call with you, it’d already have pulled up your profile and told me any public information about you, but at the same time it knows my schedule for the rest of the day, knows how long this call would be, and would then beep my Apple Watch and let me know when the time is up, what the freeway looks like right now, looking at the gas stations, reminding me that I have a doctor’s appointment and that my kids are out at 3 p.m. When it becomes your best friend, it thinks for you in its totality.”In other words, Hammer wants a J.A.R.V.I.S. to his Iron Man. “Exactly like that,” he says. “I have lunch after this. If it sees that I’m by the kind of restaurant I like it would already know it, it would make the reservation, it would recommend I don’t get anything with high sodium in it, and the whole nine yards. That type of AI is going to turn things around and make the world completely different. It’s not something to be afraid of—it should be embraced.”
One real friend of Hammer’s was the late Prince, who passed away earlier this year from an accidental opioid overdose. In fact, while Prince was famously protective of his music, Hammer claims to have been the only artist Prince ever let sample one of his songs.
“On Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, my second biggest song on the album is called ‘Pray,’ and it’s based on ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince,” Hammer recalls. “And I’m the only artist that Prince ever allowed to sample his song. On that same album, one of the final two songs on the album is a song called ‘She’s Soft and Wet,’ and it’s from one of the first albums in Prince’s career, and he let me cover that. Also, the entire Too Legit to Quit album was made at Paisley Park with Prince. Big-time. So I was there for two months with him.”
I ask him if, as the Charlie Murphy story goes, Prince was a skilled basketball player. “I shot on that court, yes,” says Hammer, with a laugh. “He’s a good ball player.”
Hammer is amiable and serious in conversation, but the one question that seems to irk him a bit during our chat concerns Suge Knight. You see, though they were friends since the late ‘80s, Hammer signed with Suge’s Death Row Records in 1995. He left the label one year later following the death of Tupac Shakur, and by 1997 had completed a full-180, starting up a TV ministry called M.C. Hammer and Friends on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
When asked what it was like to be employed by Suge and if he has any memorable stories from their time together, his voice drops. “Not none that I would share,” he says sternly. “My perspective is different. I knew Suge Knight before there was a Death Row, so for me, he’s a friend. I have a bunch of friends and everybody’s life didn’t turn out the same, so I don’t have any stories that would place a positive light on him. I wouldn’t do any negative stories, as I wouldn’t want him to do any negative stories on me.”
Do you know why people are constantly trying to kill him? I ask, referring of course to the 2014 incident at 1Oak nightclub where the former hip-hop mogul was shot seven times at a party hosted by Chris Brown. “You’re asking me about Suge being shot!” he exclaims. “Come on, man!”
On a lighter note, seeing as Hammer is one of the Bay Area’s native sons, having grown up in a small apartment with 8 siblings in a housing project in East Oakland, I ask if he’s a big Golden State Warriors’ fan, and if so, how he feels about the team losing in the NBA Finals to LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers (mind you, this is before the team acquired Kevin Durant to form the most ridiculous, NBA Jam-esque squad in league history).
“Am I a Golden State fan? I am THE Golden State fan,” he says, laughing away. “I got a headache! And it’ll continue all the way until we win the championship next year. I got six months to make up four points. That’s all we lost by, is four points. If Durant comes, he’s worth about 25 points, so the four points is solved!”
Hammer says he plans to tour in the fourth quarter of this year, and has another single that he’ll drop later this summer. He also feels he was given a bad wrap as a “sellout” in the ‘90s for hawking products in commercials, when he was simply ahead of his time—the first hip-hop businessman.
“I’m used to it,” he says. “From telling other musicians to have diverse revenue streams to putting on a big show to technology, Hammer knows.”