As I drove up to New Jersey last Monday, I entertained myself by listening to a selection of CDs. (For my younger readers, please have your parents explain to you what a CD is) I dug through my CD collection to find a good mix of music, and one of the CDs I came across was a true classic: To the Extreme by Vanilla Ice.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I love early 90s party rap, and Vanilla Ice pretty much epitomizes that brief, but wonderful musical era. As I listened to Vanilla “kick his juice”, I had to wonder if To the Extreme was the greatest early 90s rap album ever recorded.
Eventually – driving the New Jersey Turnpike gives one plenty of time to think about such things – I realized that there was another contender to the title. While Vanilla Ice is undoubtedly a shining example of all things early 90s, there is another man who might have been even more of a symbol of the times.
That man is M.C. Hammer. And his album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em could very well be considered a contender for greatest album of this period.
So I tried to decide which album truly deserves the title of “Greatest Early 90s Party Rap Album.” Was To the Extreme the illest? Or was Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em even more dope?
To determine a winner, I’ll break the albums down Dr. Jack style!
At first glance, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em (PHDHE) seems like it would be fitting as the title of a gangsta rap album. But then you remember that gangsta rap album titles usually contain references to drugs, sex, or actual acts of violence. And a gangsta rap album title would never use the word ‘please.’
(Note: After writing that, I realized that Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s 1999 album was titled N**** Please so I guess I was wrong)
We all knew that the album title was really kind of a joke. Hammer might have pretended to be “hard” but really, how threatened could you be by someone wearing genie pants?
As for Vanilla, if there was one word that could be used to describe the 90s, I might choose ‘extreme.’ Remember how everything in the 90s was ‘extreme?’ You’d get ads like “Kids, you loved Hi-C before. But wait until you try…Hi-C Extreme!” and “Take your constipation relief to the extreme with Metamucil Extreme!”
By saying that his album was “to the extreme,” Vanilla went about as early 90s as he possibly could. The only other thing he could have done was used the even more extreme spelling of ‘Xtreme’ or ‘X-treme.’
Edge: To the Extreme
Both album covers show off some great early 90s hairstyles. I forgot how it used to be trendy to have lines and patterns shaved into your hair.
Vanilla’s cover has the benefit of showing off his awesome outfit, while Hammer’s suit is really kind of bland. On the other hand, PHDHE does make use of some spiffy fonts and font changes, so I’ll give it a slight edge.
PHDHE starts off on a good note with “Here Comes the Hammer.” It became a minor hit for Hammer, and was a solid choice as opener. It supplied some energy, but didn’t overshadow the rest of the album.
On the other hand, To the Extreme starts off with the album’s biggest hit, “Ice Ice Baby.” (Although, as I’ll discuss later, at the time of recording, they may have still thought that “Play That Funky Music” was going to be the top track on the album)
There’s something to be said for not blowing your load on track one, but it’s hard to go against Ice Ice Baby.
Edge: To the Extreme
Both “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby” heavily sampled past hits. (Although according to Vanilla, he changed the bass line of “Under Pressure” by one note, so the songs are really completely different) And both became huge hits that are still referenced (albeit usually in a mocking fashion) in pop culture today.
Making a baseball analogy, I’d say that both songs are surefire Hall of Famers. But while U Can’t Touch This would be like a George Brett (Excellent player, definite Hall of Famer, but probably not in the all-time great discussion), Ice Ice Baby is probably the Babe Ruth of early 90s songs.
I remember attending a school dance in the 7th grade, and Ice Ice Baby began to play. The reaction was unbelievable. Based on the screams, I think that it was legitimately the greatest moment in some people’s lives up to that point. And who knows, it might still be.
Edge: To the Extreme
“Play That Funky Music” was originally supposed to be Vanilla’s breakthrough hit. “Ice Ice Baby” was actually originally only a B-side release on its single until DJs started playing it to a huge reaction. “Play That Funky Music” did pretty well in its own right, climbing to #4 on the Billboard Top 100. Unfortunately for Vanilla, he made the cover without permission, and was eventually sued for royalties.
On the other hand, Prince gave full permission to Hammer to sample “When Doves Cry” in the song “Pray.” Surprisingly, on the Billboard charts, “Pray” fared even better than “U Can’t Touch This,” peaking at #2.
Vanilla’s “Go Ill” makes good use of DJ Mark the 45 King’s “The 900 Number,” (You might recognize it from DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”) it has a good beat, and is surprisingly catchy, despite some laughable lyrics. (“I like my coffee, but can’t stand Sanka”)
Hammer’s “Yo Sweetness!” is as big and stupid as songs go, but I have a soft spot in my heart for it. In 7th grade, my school took a week-long trip to Cape Henlopen. And on the bus ride back, a girl stole my baseball, and wouldn’t return it unless I kept singing “Yo Sweetness!” and pointing in my friend’s face. Good times.
By the way, one day I’d like to see a guy actually try to pick up a girl in a bar by going into an elaborate song and dance number. I’ve got to think that if it was good enough, and all the people in the bar started to join in, the girl would have to be a bit impressed.
Cover of Dancing Machine
Oddly, both albums cover the Jackson 5’s classic song “Dancing Machine.” I got the feeling that Hammer’s version was more of a tribute to the Jacksons, while Vanilla just wanted to use a good beat. Regardless of the reason, I prefer Vanilla’s version a bit more.
Edge: To the Extreme
Hammer samples “Mercy Mercy Me” to make his “touching” song Help the Children. It is long, slow, and painful to listen to.
And yet, it is a musical masterpiece compared to Vanilla’s “I Love You.” The release of this song probably marked when most people stopped considering Vanilla Ice to be awesome, and began to think, “Wait a second, this is kinda lame.”
Hammer’s signature look was flashy, baggy pants that looked something like a genie would wear. They assisted him in doing the “Hammer Dance” which consisted of him shimmying side to side.
Vanilla’s most famous outfit is the black and silver jumpsuit with the words “Word to your mother” on the back which he wore for his legendary appearance on Saturday Night Live.
When it comes down to it, Vanilla’s outfit was goofy, but he probably felt he needed something special for his SNL appearance. And most of his normal attire was sadly considered trendy at the time.
On the other hand, nobody else really ever tried to make genie pants work.
Egde: To the Extreme
Embarassing post-album sellout
Hammer decided to star in a very, very poorly animated cartoon called Hammerman in which he was a superhero assisted by a pair of magical, talking shoes.
Vanilla got a role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze where after he saw the ninja turtles defeat some bad guys, he performed his new song “Ninja Rap.”
Honestly, both of these were really awful.
Follow Up Success
Vanilla’s career essentially tanked after To the Extreme. He tried to milk the most out of his 15 minutes of fame though, even starring in the movie “Cool as Ice.” Since then, he’s tried to remake himself several times in an attempt to remain slightly relevant. I believe he’s tried to be a metal band frontman, a motocross rider, and now, I believe he now tours as a nostalgia act.
Hammer managed a little bit of musical success after PHDHE, scoring a somewhat big hit with “Too Legit To Quit.” (Everyone take a few seconds to do the hand motions please)
But Hammer’s biggest problem was that after gangsta rap became popular, he tried to remake himself into a more hardcore rapper. People didn’t really buy it.
While Ice Cube can go from gangsta rapper to Disney star, it’s difficult to go in the opposite direction. Once people have seen you in genie pants and dancing with the Addams Family, it’s hard to take you seriously as a bad ass.
So after all of that, I have the albums even at 10-10. I’ll let the deciding factor be the actual quality of the music on the album.
While To the Extreme is a “fun” album, the musical quality isn’t really all that great. There are some catchy beats, and Vanilla isn’t a horrendous rapper, but he isn’t that good either. And some of the lyrics are cringingly bad, even for the early 90s.
On the other hand, Hammer does have some legit talent. If he had come around in a different era, he might have been able to sustain his success for longer. Unfortunately, he came around in a time when being known for genie pants and cartoons would soon cause him to be left behind by the ever-rolling relevancy train.
Anyway, after factoring in the musical quality of the albums, I will give the overall edge, and title of “Greatest Early 90s Rap Album” to…
Congrats to Hammer! Too bad he won’t get any additional money from this. I have a feeling he could probably use it.