MC Hammer and Stephanie
It's been six years since MC Hammer (né Stanley Burrell) tested the reality TV waters as an original cast member of VH1's The Surreal Life. Now he's back with A&E's Hammertime (Sundays, 10 pm/ET) — but this time, he's running the show (literally), with family in tow. Hammer has gone from huge success with 1990s hits like "U Can't Touch This" to his bankruptcy in 1996. In recent years, his life has been quieter and largely out of the public eye. TVGuide.com spoke with Hammer about why he chose do Hammertime now, what sets it apart from other music artists' reality shows and if Hammer pants are his biggest gift to pop culture.
TVGuide.com: You've been living quietly in Tracy, California, for 12 years. What led you to do Hammertime now?
MC Hammer: Since I did the first Surreal Life ... I've been getting offers for reality shows, you know, [multiple] times a year. But this particular time, I thought it would maybe [be] something that my family and I could bring to the genre, but I would have to have a certain amount of control, and that would come in the capacity of executive producer and creator of the show...
[O]nce those things were in place, I felt that it was a great time to put on a show that would both be family-oriented, and say to people, in the midst of ... these hard economic times, you can still have family and have love. With the whole world being aware I went through a bankruptcy, I thought it would be good time to say, in a very public way, "I went through these things, but yet here's my family ... we still love one another, and my children have turned out just fine."
TVGuide.com: What were some of the non-negotiable things you wanted to have in the show, or boundaries that you established?
Hammer: Well, the boundaries were just no stunts. Meaning that, there wouldn't be any manipulation. Because there's a ton of manipulation in reality TV ... to create drama. ... We are who were are, and the way we live our lives is just that, and whatever drama comes from that, then so be it.
TVGuide.com: How is Hammertime different from reality shows with other music artists, like MTV's Run's House?
Hammer: Well, you have to remember that the very basis of a show [is] the people. ... That's the uniqueness of our show. Our unique members of our family [which includes his wife, their five children, a nephew and a cousin], and the way our family is, quote unquote, governed, between my wife and I are our unsaid rules within the house.
TVGuide.com: What will viewers — especially people who knew and loved you as a music star — learn about you?
Hammer: I think the biggest thing that's surprising is the intellectual geek side. ... I've lectured at Stanford twice this year, Harvard once, and now Harvard has invited me back again [in] August, to lecture on social media and branding.
TVGuide.com: The world we see in Hammertime is so different from the way you once lived. Has it been tough to make that transition to a domestic, intellectual life?
Hammer: Not at all. Because I started off in East Oakland [Calif.] ... for 17, 18 years, on welfare. I didn't come close to having to be on welfare again, so was it a big transition? Mentally? Not from where my beginnings are.
TVGuide.com: When you were touring the world as a rapper, how did you picture how your life would be now? Do you ever look around, and feel surprised at how things turned out?
Hammer: When I look around — it's not fair to you, because you don't know the details -- but you absolutely cannot pay me to change my world currently, compared to what was perceived as the top of the world. ... When I look around, I say that I'm a very, very blessed guy.
TVguide.com: Knowing what you know now about the challenges that the entertainment industry and fame entail, does it ever concern you that a few of your children want to go into the music business?
Hammer: No, not at all. I think the challenges of everyday life are even more so. If it's just challenges we're talking about, being a musician is no tougher than a guy or a woman who has to get up 5 o'clock in the morning and go to work by 7:30 or 8 and doesn't get home until 8 or 9 in the evening. ... I wouldn't say that I'd be overly concerned if they got a music career where they only have to get up in the morning, and they go to the studio for a couple months, lay down an album, and then they got eight months left to just go on the road and tour. That's a tough life I'm not worried about them having [Laughs].
TVGuide.com: Speaking of the music side, what are you up to these days, apart from Hammertime?
Hammer: I'm doing a lot of things in social media. I have a company called DanceJam.com. I have a social media music label called Full Blast, and a bunch of artists. And then of course, I'm out touring...
TVGuide.com: You've given some great gifts to pop culture, including the concept of "Hammer time" and "Hammer pants." What would you consider to be your greatest, most lasting gift to pop culture?
Hammer: The joy. The joy. When people listen to Hammer's music, they get excited. And the memories are always memories of having a good time. So, to have given that to pop culture is invaluable.