Hammer, from the waist down

  • By Phillip Mlynar
  • Wed Sep 23rd, 2009 4:00am
  • MusicMusic

At 3:25 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, a defense of hip-hop's tight-jeans fashion fad popped up on Twitter. “New rule: Fat, out of shape (double-belly) dudes can't talk bad about skinny jeans. LOL. It ain't right y'all!” In the annals of sub-140-character contributions, the statement is far from revolutionary. What's remarkable is its tweeter: the high priest of parachute pants himself, MC Hammer.

Few artists are as linked to a single piece of paraphernalia as the East Oakland–raised rapper is to his bulbous, ballooning trousers. Almost two decades on from the chart-topping “U Can't Touch This,” the iconography is still being rolled out. Recent promotion for his reality TV show — titled Hammertime, naturally — included an online auction for a pair of autographed gold Hammer pants. Which, if you were wondering, come in an accommodating 24-to-36-inch waist and a healthy 45 inches of leg length. The winning bid? $195.

These days, that's about the price of a pair of premium Japanese selvage denim skinny jeans, the much-maligned super-secure-fit garb favored by everyone from Kanye West to Kid Cudi. While there's little in common between the inseams of both styles, the backlash copped by anyone squeezing into a pair of waiflike jeans is just as relentless as when rappers lined up to take shots at Hammer's billowing waist-down attire. Back then, LL Cool J called Hammer's trews “a bodybag,” fellow Oakland crew Digital Underground termed his image “derelict,” and 3rd Bass — a group that sought to bring back the cane as a fashion accessory — ridiculed him in video, prompting rumors that the ex–military man had attempted to put out a Mafia-style hit on the group.

Recently, jabs at the cigarette-thin jean brigade have ranged from Chamillionaire claiming in rhyme that his, ahem, manhood prevents him from physically slipping into something that snug-fitting, to Termanology digging in his stash of elementary-school taunts to title a song “Tight Pants Are for Girls.”

Hammer overcame the jibes of his day, successfully riding his atypical slacks all the way to the top – his 1990 album Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em reigned over the charts for 21 weeks in a row, becoming the first rap record to sell more than 10 million copies. So it's no surprise that he's taken to posting pro-freedom-of-pants gospel on Twitter. It's also unsurprising that he added Whodini, a threesome that displayed a preference for skin-tight leather chaps in the early '80s, to his upcoming show at the Fox Theater. Call Hammer hip-hop's first equal-opportunity-of-pants employer.

The extremes of hip-hop's bottom-half-garment history are easy to mock, but so, too, are those styles that measure somewhere between superskinny and exorbitantly baggy. After Skidz and Z Cavaricci satisfied a mainstream desire by flooding department stores with knockoff Hammer pants in the early '90s, hip-hop tastemakers moved on. First they embraced the starched-so-stiff-you-couldn't-sit khakis referenced in rap by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre. Next, they showed blue-collar support by making like the Wu-Tang Clan and pulling on pairs of rugged, thick, lined-for-the-winter Carhartts — a utilitarian staple for anyone working a 12-hour shift on a construction site, but neither practical nor foppish come hot weather.

Is the moment ripe for a wholesale parachute pants revival? Hammer-style getup made a grand reappearance in summer collections from designers Ralph Lauren and Jill Stuart — though officially termed “harem pants” in fashionista speak — and earlier this year, Kanye saluted Hammer's baggy bottoms as “mad fresh.” But even if a second coming falters, maybe it's time to follow Hammer's tweet and embrace the full spectrum of hip-hop's variously sized slacks.

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