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MC Hammer released his track ‘U Can’t Touch This’ in January 1990 before releasing his third album Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Em. This paper reviews the hit single as it delves into its Merriam Function and the views three separate people had on it.
MC Hammer, a popular hip-hop and pop-rap artist released his song ‘U Can’t Touch This’ (Burrell, James, & Miller, 1990)which went onto become his most successful single. Receiving five nominations, winning two awards and reaching the top of the charts in multiple countries, the song is still remembered today by many and is considered by me to be good music. The song was written by Stanley Kirk Burrell, Rick James, and Alonzo Miller and performed by Stanley Kirk Burrell, commonly known as MC Hammer. The beat of the song encourages any person to get up off their chair and dance to its hip-hop rhythm.
The song’s melody is simple with MC Hammer singing the same lines repeatedly. It mainly uses computer generated beats and a bass guitar. The song does not make use of acoustic instruments such as a guitar or piano. The melody of the song offers little variation and instead repeats the same riff throughout the recording. The riff used is the same as that in ‘Super Freak’, a signature single by Rick James, However, three times during the song an electric melody is introduced for a few seconds always to serve as a dance interval. MC Hammer also incorporates the use of human voices as a harmony to the melody. The song is four minutes and sixteen seconds in length.
In 1964, Merriam A. P created Merriam’s Functions of Music. These are ten ways or functions that a person engages with the music in a culture or society (Schubert, 2009). Music can serve as a stimulant or means of emotional expression. This is one of the biggest ways music is used commercially in areas like movie soundtracks. Music could also serve the purpose of communication or enforce conformity to social norms. This is especially used in classrooms to educate children on social etiquette or to reinforce values held by the community.
Thirdly, music could serve as aesthetic enjoyment or entertainment. These two functions relate to MC Hammer’s song that offers entertainment to the listeners in the form of the witty lines MC Hammer raps. An additional function that music serves, which also applies to this song, is a physical response. A song can be used to encourage people to physically move in a specific way such as an upbeat song encouraging a runner to run faster. ‘U Can’t Touch This’ is an upbeat song that invites the listener to move and dance. This call to dance is clearly reflected in the line MC Hammer raps “Dance to this…” Through the music video, MC Hammer even created a specific dance move. For those that viewed the video, the song may evoke the desire to perform that dance move.
Different Points Of View on the Hit Single
The first person to listen to the song was my father. Immediately upon hearing the song, his eyes light up as the familiar tune played, a tune he liked. The song reminded him of ‘them days’ when he younger in university and it brought back fond memories. He noted that in the late 1980s and throughout the1990s, the hip-hop and rap music scene was being transformed with the likes of N.W.A. At that time, hip-hop had a meaning and served the function of emotional expression and communicating the harsh reality many people experienced in the ghetto. However, with MC Hammer, his music served for entertainment and had a light tone compared to some of the heavy reality-filled hip-hop songs of that time. He was not the only artist to release more carefree hip-hop jams but he was definitely one of the most popular. One of the most distinctive features of this tune that stood out for my father was the beat. The type of beats created virtually and used in this song is no longer used presently. In fact, the beat immediately allows one to place the song in the 1990’s as it was the type of beat was commonly used then. Another feature that made the song so enjoyable to my father was the lyrics. The lyrics use the slang and jargon of that time making it easy for my father to relate and understand what MC Hammer was trying to say. For a listener like myself, I wouldn’t be able to fully understand their meaning.
This was also stated by the second person, a friend of my age. They too struggled to grasp the full meaning of the lyrics and understand what MC Hammer was trying to talk about in every line. However, they understood the general message of the song; MC Hammer is rapping about his talent and stellar ability to create music and then perform it. From the lyrics “You talking about the Hammer you talking about a show” to “… let me bust the funky lyrics”, MC Hammer was clearly setting a self-admiring tone to the song. One interesting function that my friend noted was symbolic representation. The song stands a symbol of the 1990s and the rhythm of that time. Referring to the song as a ‘throwback’ my friend went on to explain that it was an old-school song that represents her parent’s generation and that era. A melodic feature that stood out for my friend was the electric harmony previously mentioned. It’s played three times through the song and my friend found all three times annoying. Instead of the sound encouraging her to move or dance, it irritated her. The song, in general, was tolerable but she didn’t enjoy it. She didn’t like the song but recognized it as a hit of its time. She agreed with the first person’s view that the song also serves the Merriam function of entertainment but disagreed on its function of physical response. It didn’t serve that function for her and didn’t make her want to get up and move.
The third and last person to listen to the song was a male friend my age. He heard the song and immediately got up to dance and do the popular dance move. Throughout the song, he continued to dance to the beat as he sang along to some of the lyrics he knew. This song wasn’t new to him as his uncle would constantly play and dance to it when he was younger. For him, the song served the functions of emotional expression, entertainment, physical response, and communication. The emotional expression came from the memories of childhood it invoked and the emotion of happiness it brought out. Entertainment came out from the enjoyable tune and how pleasant it was to him to listen to the tune. The physical response was due to all dancing and how the song made him feel like moving. Lastly, the function of communication came from the lyrics of the song. This friend had a clearer understanding of the lyrics and this may be due to the fact that he had the reference of his uncle to ask for explanations and meanings. What stood out the most for him in this song was the popular phrase “can’t touch this” where MC Hammer refers to himself as being too talented to be competed with. This friend agreed that the song is good music and thoroughly enjoyed the track.
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The song ‘U Can’t Touch This’ was written by Stanley Kirk Burrell, Rick James and Alonzo Miller and performed by Stanley Kirk Burrell also known as MC Hammer. Released in 1990, the song was a big hit that was recognized internationally and is what I consider to be good music. The views offered from the three parties are varying in nature. Two agreed that the song is good music and they both enjoyed listening to it. In both, it invoked dancing and participation. The third view, however, was differing and the person thought the tune annoying and old. They struggled to relate to it and didn’t enjoy the song or think it good music. However, if going with the majority, the song can be concluded to be good music and all parties involved definitely agreed that it is a memorable tune.
- Burrell, S. K., James, R., & Miller, A. (Composers). (1990). U Can’t Touch This. [M. Hammer, Performer] On Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. Hollywood, Florida, United States of America.
- Schubert, E. (2009). The fundamental function of music. Musicae Scientiae, 13 (2), 63-81.