M.C. Hammer

The hottest pop-music act of the year dances sideways in harem pants into the Tacoma Dome Tuesday night.

M.C. Hammer, whose ``Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em'' is the runaway best-selling album of 1990, brings his huge, splashy show here near the end of a sold-out, 60-city national jaunt. Early next year, he continues on to Europe, Japan, Australia and the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, Vanilla Ice, who was to have opened, dropped out of the Hammer show last week, because his own career is going so well. He's preparing to headline a tour of his own. The melodic dance group En Vogue will open.

The depth of Hammer's pop dominance is staggering. He's not only conquered rap and dance music, he's moved on to the mainstream. ``Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em' has logged 32 straight weeks at the No. 1 or 2 spots on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, the longest run in the Top 2 since 1963. Sales have topped the 6 million mark and may go to 10 million by the time the international tour is over.

Hammer is hot because he appeals to a wide audience. His core support comes from the dance-music scene, followed by rap-music fans. But what's pushed him over the top is the same audience that has made New Kids On the Block so huge: teenyboppers. Unlike NKOTB, Hammer's young following is not limited to females; he's also got the boys.

Parents don't have to worry about Hammer's hold on kids because he's the cleanest rapper in the business. His message is strongly anti-drugs and pro-pride. He never uses cuss words and, unlike most rappers, never puts down women. In fact, there's a strong religious tone to some of Hammer's music. One of the hits from ``Please Hammer . . .'' is ``Pray,'' and the hook repeats a positive truism: ``You've got to pray just to make it today.''

The video portrays Hammer as a kind of rap saviour, bringing peace to warring gang members, stopping a drug dealer from victimizing kids, making homeless alcoholics give up the bottle.

Hammer's puritanism has led to some dissension in his ranks. The strict discipline he maintains for his band and entourage - including a curfew, fines for such things as missing a dance step in concert, and mandatory exercise and rehearsal sessions - have caused some to leave the Hammer camp.

The most notable losses have been Kent ``Lone Mixer'' Wilson, who used to be the show's turntable wizard, and his brother, Kevin ``Kevy Kev 2 Bigg'' Wilson, who was Hammer's popular ``hype man,'' the guy who pumped up the audience, urging the crowd to yell Hammer's name and get involved in the action. ``2 Bigg'' was second only to Hammer in the show and is a familiar presence in all the Hammer videos.

And Hammer has been dissed by some other rappers, who call his music ``candy rap'' or ``light rap'' because of its soft edge. He's also been put down because for his liberal use of material from other sources, the ``sampling'' of previously recorded material.

``U Can't Touch This,'' the biggest hit from ``Please Hammer . . .,'' samples freely from Rick James' 1981 hit ``Super Freak.'' Although Hammer pays him royalties for using the material - unlike many rappers - James is livid about it. ``That's not sampling,'' he says, ``that's stealing.'' He can't stop Hammer from sampling his music, because the practice is legal under current copyright laws, as long as only a portion of the work is used.

Nearly all the tracks on ``Please Hammer . . .'' are remakes of old hits or borrow heavily from them. ``Pray'' incorporates music from Prince's ``When Doves Cry,'' and there are remakes of the Jackson 5's ``Dancin' Machine,'' Marvin Gaye's ``Mercy, Mercy Me,'' the Chi-Lites' ``Have You Seen Her'' and Earth Wind and Fire's ``On Your Face.''

While some might criticize Hammer's methods, no one can deny he's raised the performance level in rap considerably. A rap show used to consist of rappers pacing back and forth barking into a microphone while a disc jockey manipulated the music at a turntable/tape machine mixer.

Hammer's show, however, is a monster extravaganza. Talk about getting busy! Not only does he dance nonstop - jumping, turning, twisting, moving sideways in his own ``spider dance'' - there are 30 more people on stage who are constantly in motion: 15 dancers, 11 backup singers, two deejays and two musicians. All are dressed in distinctive Hammer fashions, featuring the baggy harem trousers known in rap circles as ``diaper pants.''

The show is 90 minutes of pure action, with Hammer (real name: Stanley Kirk Burrell) rapping 16 songs from his two albums (his debut was 1988's ``Let's Get Started.'') He's proud to point out that his shows are not recorded; he does all of his raps live.