[12 June 2009]
Contra Costa Times (MCT)
TRACY, Calif. — MC Hammer’s home in rural Tracy is certainly nothing to sneeze at, even though it pales in comparison to the spectacular Xanadu-like monstrosity he occupied in the Fremont, Calif., foothills just before his very public financial free fall. It doesn’t have two swimming pools, or parking space for 17 cars, wondrous waterfalls, or even a gold-plated gate emblazoned with his name.
But what it does have is plenty of room for a more grounded life with the woman who has stood by him for 23 years, six loving children and a collection of sparkling mementos that stand as testament to incredible showbiz achievements.
In other words, the iconic rap star, also known as Stanley Burell, isn’t complaining.
“Just look at this neighborhood,” he says, surveying his surroundings while standing in front of his ranch-style abode situated on a two-acre corner lot. “It’s like something out of a storybook. There are well-groomed lawns. It’s quiet and peaceful. There’s room to spread out and grow. This place is a real blessing.”
Hammer, 47, arrived in Tracy 12 years ago to, as he puts it, “reorganize and refocus” his life after tumbling from the top of the music charts and declaring bankruptcy. Since then, he has become entrenched in the community. He fishes and pumps iron at a local gym. He can be regularly seen tooling around in his bright orange Dodge Challenger or cheering on the Tracy Raiders youth football squads.
And now he’s ready to open up that private life for public view via a new A&E reality series called “Hammertime.” A 10-episode run kicks off on Sunday, introducing viewers to not only the modern-day Hammer and wife, Stephanie, but their five kids, A’Keiba, 21, Sarah, 15, Stanley Jr., 13, Jeremiah, 11, and Samuel, 4, along with their nephew Jamaris, 18.
“This show reflects who I really am,” Hammer says. “You see the real father, the husband, the uncle, the businessman and then the entertainer — not some figment of someone’s imagination derived from a five-minute music video.”
But can a series built around the easygoing Hammer and his charming brood find ratings traction during an era of reality TV teeming with conflict, controversy and outrageous drama? In the back-to-back episodes that air Sunday, the Burrells pretty much come off as normal people doing a lot of normal things. There’s a spring-cleaning session (Hammer puts the house on lockdown), a smile-inducing “Take Your Dad to School Day,” a trip to a high school track meet and some fun times at an open-mic night.
In one sequence, Hammer is forced to gently scold son Jeremiah for a disappointing report card. In another, he and a misty-eyed Stephanie are seen rummaging through some long-lost photos of the rapper in all his parachute-pants, “U Can’t Touch This” glory.
“I wouldn’t want to change anything or do it with anybody else,” Hammer says of the woman he met during a revival in East Palo Alto. “My best friend is my wife.”
Clearly, this is not “Jon & Kate Plus 8” with its marital strife and tabloid-ready dirt. And clearly Hammer is not the second coming of Ozzy Osbourne. This is reality TV in a mostly genial, G-rated mode and its star makes no apologies.
“I have no interest in what has become of reality TV — all the nonsense,” says Hammer, who appeared in the first season of “The Surreal Life.” “That is not who I am and it never has been.
“There’s a big part of American life missing from the genre,” he adds. “A lot of people out there get up at 6 in the morning and work hard to send their kids to college and guide them through life. That’s real American family life.”
The show makes only cursory reference to those past money woes in the introduction, and that’s just fine for the man who emerged from the ordeal with a smile on his face and even poked fun at himself in a few memorable Super Bowl commercials.
“One who dwells on the past can never conquer the future,” says Hammer, who insists he doesn’t give any thought to what he left behind in that big Fremont mansion.
“I drove down the hill, went out the gate and didn’t even look back,” he says.
Nowadays, Hammer juggles his household duties with speaking engagements and an occasional concert. He’s also heavy into social media (nearly 800,000 people follow him on Twitter), is an avid blogger and oversees an online dance community (DanceJam.com). He even has a Hammertime iPhone application. Coming soon: A new album and maybe even an autobiography.
“It’s America’s story — from ‘68 to the current day,” says the guy who spent time as a batboy for the Oakland A’s during their glory years, did a stint in the Navy and has served as a pastor — all in addition to selling 50 million records worldwide. “... I have a unique perspective on things.”
And an indelible place in pop-music history. Hammer may not prefer to dwell on the past, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t proud of his role as a hip-hop pioneer and of those voluminous record sales. Leading a couple of visitors through the foyer of his home, he shows off four Grammys, a couple of MTV video awards and several other shiny honors he accumulated during his glory days.
Unlike fickle fame or finances, these are accomplishments that will always endure.
“Willie McCovey hit 500 home runs in the 1960s and ‘70s. Now here we are in 2009 and McCovey still hit 500 home runs,” Hammer points out. “That’s how I feel. I don’t care what the (pop-music) performers are doing right now, or how many records they’re selling. Just call me when they get to 50 million.”