Hive Five: Business Lessons From MC Hammer’s Career

MC Hammer at a Denver Nuggets game, November 2006. Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Forbes magazine estimates that Hammer earned $49 million between 1990 and 1993. You’d think you’d be set for life, right? You’d also think you wouldn’t employ 200 people with an annual payroll of nearly $7 million and purchase a $20 million, 40,000 square-foot house with Italian marble floors and solid-gold toilet.

Earlier this week, Hammer appeared at the Web 2.0 Summit to announce WireDoo, a new search engine which, according to TechCrunch, will “allow user to search relational terms” and render Google obsolete. We’re skeptical. Hammer’s career is a business school case study in money management and the rapper/entrepreneur can learn a little from past ventures. Here’s five lessons from Hammer’s past that we hope he keeps in mind this latest operation.

1. Give Proper Credit to Collaborators

Perhaps thinking that no one would equate the beginning of “U Can’t Touch This” with Rick James‘ “Super Freak,” despite it being, you know, the same song and all, Hammer conveniently forgot to include James in the songwriting credits. James sued and settled with Hammer for an undisclosed sum. Two years later, presumably not knowing you’re allowed to be sued more than once, Hammer admitted that the hook from “Here Comes the Hammer” was lifted from Texas singer Kevin Christian’s “Oh-Oh, You Got the Shing” and settled with Christian in 1994. Thou shalt not steal, Hammer!

2. Exercise Frugality

In 1991, Hammer released 2 Legit 2 Quit and, flushed with cash from 1990′s diamond-selling Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em, became slightly excessive, in the same way Kanye is slightly self-assured. The video for the album’s lead single of the same name cost $2.5 million and remains one of the most expensive ever produced. When it came time to hit the road, the rapper assembled every singer, dancer and backup musician in California to support him, but was forced to cancel the tour prematurely as album sales were unable to support the lavish production. At least hand gestures are free.

3. Be Yourself

After Hurt ‘Em and Too Legit To Quit sold a collective 400 billion copies, Hammer’s pop-rap was supplanted by Dre and Snoop’s G-funk invasion. He needed to come back and reinvent himself. And boy did he. “Pumps and a Bump,” the lead single from 1994′s The Funky Headhunter, featured Hammer going hard in a Speedo — in multiple ways. The rapper took his cue from Dre, Das EFX and that creepy, old Italian guy at a nude beach, but many would point to this video as the beginning of the end of Hammer’s mainstream success.

4. Don’t Try the Patriotic Angle

Wondering how 9/11 affected Hammer? Check out the video for “No Stopping Us (USA),” the lead single from 2001′s patriotic album Active Duty. The video features Hammer, clad in a military uniform and American flag bandanna, kneeling before a priest before appearing as the most patriotic pimp in the country. “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y/Here we come bringin’ pain from the sky,” rhymes Hammer. Pain indeed.

5. Only Go After Competition You Can Beat

On Kanye West’s 2010 track “So Appalled,” Jay-Z rhymed “I lost $30 million, so I spent another 30/’Cause Unlike Hammer, $30 million can’t hurt me.” Hammer wasn’t amused, releasing the Jigga diss track “Better Run Run” and accusing the rapper of consorting with Satan. The Internet quickly convened and released the joint statement, “Please Hammer, you can’t hurt ‘em,” chuckled at the video and moved on.

 

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