Picks and Pans Review: Too Legit to Quit

updated 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Hammer

Unlike that other corporate giant Coca-Cola, Hammer knows better than to mess with success. The riff master of rap may have dropped the M.C. prefix from his name, but he isn't about to tamper with the formula that took him to stardom.

He still uses a strong musical background and a chanting chorus as a foundation for his gruff-voiced but inspirational declamations. But he has forsaken sampling other people's music—the foundation of his monster 1990 breakthrough, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em. Instead, with the help of producer Felton C. Pilate II, he has composed and recorded original accompaniments. The results may not always be striking, but they are eclectic.

There's "This Is the Way We Roll," which owes debts to both the disco soul of K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the elemental funk of James Brown; the swanky rap-ballad "Love Hold"; the goofy Parliament-Funkadelic groove of "Burn It Up"; and the churchy throwdown of "Do Not Pass Me By," which is legitimized by the presence of the gospel diva Tremaine Hawkins and a 35-voice choir.

Many songs evince a laudable social conscience. "Brothers, Hang On" decries the "gangsta" ethos that ends in jail or death. Black-on-black violence is lamented in the moody Marvin Gaye-influenced "Street Soldier."

One of the oddities of this release is that on many tracks—"Brothers, Hang On," "Count It Off," "Good to Go" and "Gaining Momentum"—Hammer employs the rolled R's and clipped cadence of Latin rapper Gerardo. Maybe he thinks this strange affectation gives him street legitimacy.

Lord knows he could use it. Hammer's style encompasses neither the vehemence nor the ingenuity that distinguishes the best rap. His music is energetic and well-crafted, but it's also calculated and plastic, each release a hit-seeking missile.

The title of the record is unintentionally ironic. Ubiquitous pitchman, inspiration for a Saturday morning cartoon and a line of dolls, this busy bee has done everything but found a chain of dance schools. Hammer will forever be the Man Who Made Rap Safe for the Masses, with all that title implies. (Capitol)

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