It's Hammer time again.
At least, he and his record company hope it is. After all, his last album, "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em," sold some 10 million copies, topping the Billboard album charts for 21 weeks. Consequently, they're doing everything imaginable to make sure the rapper's new album, "Too Legit to Quit" (Capitol 98151, arriving in record stores today), can not only touch that, but top it.
Don't hold your breath, though. Even though his new album boasts many of the same strengths that made "Please Hammer" a multiplatinum phenomenon, it lacks both the confidence and spontaneity of its predecessor. It's almost as if Hammer is trying so hard to be legit that he forgets to have fun. You can't blame him for feeling defensive. Hammer -- he no longer calls himself an "M. C." -- has been pounded in rap circles recently for having introduced the pop-rap plague, and frequently finds himself lumped in with genuine no-talents like Vanilla Ice.
Worse, his two biggest singles, "U Can't Touch This" and "Pray," are based on sampled singles -- Rick James' "Super Freak" and Prince's "When Doves Cry," respectively. Granted, a lot of rap records rely on sampling, but usually the rappers re-arrange the borrowed beats into an entirely new groove. Hammer, though, simply hitched a ride on a couple recognizable riffs and that, his ++ critics contend, is cheating.
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't, but Hammer won't be making that mistake again. Although his new album includes two cover tunes -- an anti-racism remake of Timmy Thomas' "Why Can't We Live Together" and a gospel-rap rethink of the religious standard "Do Not Pass Me By" -- Hammer is too intent on proving his legitimacy to make much use of samples. Instead, his grooves are generated by live musicians, and the music he raps is his own.
Yet for all his effort, what Hammer winds up with isn't all that original. His up-tempo raps are still built around the sort of rhythmic chants that powered the likes of "Let's Get it Started" and "Here Comes the Hammer," an approach that's beginning to sound slightly tired. Worse, Mr. "Too Legit" seems so strapped for ideas that he opens side one with "This Is the Way We Roll," then closes it with "Rollin' On." (Maybe he was on a roll . . .)
Then there are the message tunes. A missionary at heart, Hammer has always been a bit preachy, but his sermonizing in "Brothers Hang On" is both unoriginal (Ice-T did the "crime kills" routine far more effectively on his "Power" album, and that came out three years ago) and painfully long-winded (running time: 7:10). At least we only have to suffer through it once; not so "Street Soldiers," a state-of-the-ghetto meditation Hammer liked so much that he reprises it at the end of the album.
Toss in a silly, shuffling movie theme ("Addams Groove") and a self-aggrandizing challenge to Michael Jackson ("Burn It Up"), and Hammer's listeners will likely be so bored that they'll all-too-gladly quit "Too Legit."