A Cry of 'please, Hammer, Don't Stiff Us!' Brings Relief from M.c.
02/04/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
Judging by M.C. Hammer's success, his two initials might stand for Mind-boggling Conquest (actually, they're simply rap-ese for "emcee"). His hot-as-a-howitzer album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, topped every other LP in sales last year; his 250-concert world tour—via private 727—dazzled fans in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Australia and the Caribbean; and his Oakland-based Bust It Productions entered a multimillion-dollar deal with Capitol Records, with plans for Hammer to produce albums for 10 new groups.
"I attribute all my success to a blessing from God," Hammer, 27, a devout Christian, has said. Last week, however, he agreed to settle a more temporal debt. Attorneys for the rap star and former Oakland A's outfielders Dwayne Murphy, 35, and Mike Davis, 31, announced that Hammer had pledged to provide the players with "a very handsome and well-deserved return on the investment they made in him at the start of his career." For the players, it was the end of an often bitter dispute that only days earlier had prompted Murphy to complain, "I'm not trying to be greedy. I just want what Hammer owes me."
The squabble goes back to 1987. Hammer, then known as plain Stanley Kirk Burrell, needed funds to help him get started in recording. He knew Murphy and Davis from his years as an A's gofer, so he began hitting them up. "He'd play tapes, do some dancing," recalls Davis. "He said he needed someone to believe in him." Davis, also deeply religious, quickly signed on. Murphy did, too, but only after watching Hammer perform at a local club. "After I saw him dancing, I thought maybe it would work," he says. They each coughed up $20,000, and Hammer provided them with identical contracts that read, in part, "The artist agrees that 10 percent of all royalties, endorsements, concerts, promotions and all other monies earned from being the artist shall be paid...as long as the artist is still working in the entertainment business." A few months later, the players took out an additional $125,000 bank loan in Hammer's behalf, and in return, they say, he made an oral agreement to increase their stakes to 15 percent each. "We thought the money would start to flow," says Murphy.
It didn't. And there was, allegedly, another problem: Hammers brother, Louis Burrell, earlier had become the ballplayers' business manager, and Murphy and Davis say he poured more than $2 million of their money into disastrous investments, including Troop Club, a chain of clothing stores that later went broke. Meanwhile, Hammer kept hedging his debts, and worse yet, the pair contend, began acting differently toward his old friends. "It was like we didn't exist," says Murphy.
Late in 1988, Hammer made the first of two $20,000 payments to the players, which they took to be down payments on their stake in his newfound wealth. But months later, when they asked him to start repaying the $125,000 bank loan, Hammer told them to put the $40,000 toward that. A series of stormy meetings ensued, but the players' cut never materialized. At one point, Murphy says, Hammer yelled, "I'd rather pay an attorney a million dollars before I pay you a dime."
By last February, Davis, who had since jumped to the L.A. Dodgers, was in danger of losing his house. "Troop Club was going under, and lawsuits were coming at me from every direction," he says. Hammer made a $60,000 payment toward the bank loan, but when he failed to pay off any more of the debt over the next several months, Murphy and Davis called in a lawyer. Rancorous negotiations ground on until a settlement was announced on Jan. 22—five days after PEOPLE, which had been investigating the story for a month, called M.C. Hammer's lawyer to get his answer to Murphy and Davis's charges. Hammer will now pay the players an undisclosed lump sum.
Davis, now playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, and Murphy, back home in Danville, Calif., after playing in Japan, say—publicly at least—that all is forgiven. The ballplayers "had every confidence" that Hammer would pay, said their lawyers in a carefully worded statement released after the settlement. "They will be rooting for him to enjoy continued success in his career."
—Charles E. Cohen, Dirk Mathison in San Francisco and Jack Mason in New York City