Hammer-ing a new message
By Michelle J. Mills

The public has watched Hammer go from rap star to ruins and now to a reverend. Recently we got an opportunity to sit down with this motivated man and find out what makes him tick.

Hammer, whose real name is Stanley Burnell, has made his mark in the music industry with a decade-long career. His 1990 release, "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" still stands as the best-selling rap album of all time and helped Hammer earn an estimated $33 million in 1991. Hammer and his "posse" wowed audiences with intricate dance routines topped off with plenty of flash and style leading to a long list of successful albums, singles and videos. He has also delved into acting, appearing on "Saturday Night Live" and the Showtime movie, "Right Connections." And as moost of you know, Hammer managed to spread his earnings around, starting his own record company, Oaktown 3.5.7, and buying 17 cars, a Boeing 727 and a Kentucky Derby racehorse. By 1996, Hammer was facing debts totaling nearly $14 million and was forced into bankruptcy. He claims he had allowed other professionals to run his company while he was on the road with eight or nine shows each week and admits to living too lavish of a lifestyle.

In 1997, the Los Angeles real estate section reported that Hammer had sold his California mansion for $5.3 million. The 11,000-square-foot custom-built home overlooking the San Francisco Bay was actually valued at $9.4 million. In 1998, a fan was awarded $2.7 million in a judgment against Hammer and his security guards for injuries he claimed he received during a 1990 concert in Syracuse, New York. Sounds tough? Things have never looked better for Hammer, he found an answer to all his problems- a new focus.

Hammer, raised Pentecostal, has never strayed far from his roots. But in 1991, he walked into a church "dying on the inside; a spiritual man dead." He looked inward to find the way to reignite the flame of life and found a promising spark. "I wanted to make a bigger commitment," explained Hammer. "Being outside of the will of God is a very uncomfortable and lonely place for somebody who has a personal relationship with Jesus and so it just came to the point in my life where I was tired of being away from who I was, it was time to come home." Hammer continues, "Nothing else surpasses love. It's like having your father and knowing he's right here, but you're not speaking and all your needs are being met, continuously being blessed, loved, nurtured, and yet, you're still not sure your father and you share any love; any commitment. It's a one-way relationship. "I wanted to get out of a one-way relationship and back in the marriage; get back in the covenant. So I didn't want to be a 'casual Christian' any longer, but I wanted to have my intimate relationship with Christ, so that was my peace." Hammer has answered his calling in many different ways. At one time, he preached at a small church and would set up a P.A. outside a liquor store between sermons inviting people to visit. He later settled down at his current church, Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, where he preaches on Sunday nights. The church is also the home of the well-known Pastor Dick Bernal who had urged Hammer to start speaking there. "Men of God are very envious and jealous of one another and also, they are insecure," says Hammer. "A lot of insecurity with preachers, very insecure. And Dick Bernal was a gentleman who, when God put him in my life, it was at a  time when I'm preaching everywhere. I'm going everywhere. I 've got 3000 requests to speak and I was preaching everywhere that God sent me to speak. I was like, 'Lord, I don't know when am I going to speak at home. Where is the anchor going to be?' Men around here are scared; preachers here are scared. "So Pastor Dick said 'Why don't your preach here every Sunday night?' I was like, 'Every Sunday night? I've got TV, movies, music, but you know what? If you want me to I'm going to make my schedule make it work.' So I've been there 7 or 8 months and his ego is down the street somewhere, he doesn't bring it to the church. "He didn't need me," Hammer goes on. "His church, his people, gave him $8 million. But Pastor Dick is something else, he just said, 'Do what God told you to do.' It's the most wonderful situation." So Hammer spreads the word of God and encourages his parishioners to go into the streets with the gospel. He reminds them that gangs, drug abusers and other needy people don't come in to the church asking for help, you need to go out to where they are to help them. The greatest gift you can give is yourself. But Hammer's not just preaching it, he devotes time to prison and youth ministries. He has a sharp focus on youth- as in immaturity.

Hammer clarifies, "You can be 50 and still be young." And on top of this, there's his music. Hammer is trying to revive the positive aspects of rap and clean it up. He recently released, "Family Affair," featuring the single, "He Brought Me Out," and has followed that closely with a new release, "Pop Your Collar." "I've done about 100 songs in the past 2 1/2 years and just decided that now was the important time to release one of the albums which is the latest music that I have created in the last two or three months." What should fans expect? "Hammer music, whatever you decide is Hammer music." With a gleam in his eye, Hammer explains, "Hammer music is songs that cause people to have joy and songs that pray and help each other and 'You Can't Touch This.' Just real life, real world, real songs that deal with the real me. "I deal with the body, the soul and the spirit. It goes beyond any category. But those who actually have the Holy Spirit, when they hear the records, the Christ that's on the records, the anointing is felt." Hammer's new efforts have been described as secular gospel by some, but he says that there has always been a gospel influence in his work. "Music is spiritual," Hammer says. "If you have people making negative music, they draw those with negative spirit and they do negative things. If you have music that is positive, it will draw those who are seeking something more than positivity which, in the end, is they're seeking God. And so the music I do is all positive, I don't so anything out of my calling. So even when I do songs about love, the love between a man and a woman, I don't do songs about lust. I do songs about love. "I want to help God. I want the young men today to begin to understand what it is to appreciate a woman. On the album ('Pop Your Collar') I included three or four love songs, teaching men how to speak again to women; teach them commitment through song, and things like that." His show has not lost its edge. "I toured all summer and we do 'Hammer time.'" But there's one difference- "On the 'Pop Your Collar' project the dancing is better." Hammer does all his own choreography and speaks of his talent with humility. "I can do it. It's a gift. A gift that came without anything. The whole music, dancing, writing, producing, all came to me unconditionally as a gift from God and the main purpose is to use it to utilize it to be a blessing. "One of the challenges in retrospect is always saying I could still have won a bigger blessing through the church," continues Hammer. "So what I intend to do is be a blessing to those who are in covenant with God and to also utilize my music to draw those who need to be in the covenant. "God never told me to stop working. He told me to focus and work for him. The music is in me, He put it there." Hammer seems at peace with his new direction. But how can Hammer find time for God in the middle of his busy life? Hammer smiles easily and says, "I didn't have a choice."

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