By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They were just a bunch of buddies, cruising Red Bird Mall, trying to stay out of trouble while killing time. On that summer day in 1989, Kevin Abdullah, who had just graduated from Dallas' Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, didn't even notice the approaching group; his friends were the ones who recognized the Lone Mixer and Too Big MC, part of rapper MC Hammer's entourage, in town for the big concert that evening.
Hammer's brother Louis was in the group too, and he asked each of the boys what they did. Kevin, a formidable presence with the height and shoulders of a linebacker, said he sang--musical theater mostly--and he belted out a few bars. Then came the invitation, a chance to sing for MC Hammer himself; the man, who was on the cusp of making it big, happened to be staying at a nearby Holiday Inn.
The visit that same night went better than Kevin could have dared dream. Hammer was obviously impressed by Kevin's raw talent and his rich, silky voice. "We wound up talking until around 5 in the morning," says Kevin, now 26. "We talked about our hopes and dreams...he wanted me to put together a routine and audition for him." Hammer said he would be back in town in August, see what Kevin had come up with, and decide if he wanted to sign him then. "I felt pretty sure I had a shot."
That was the beginning of an intensely dedicated summer. Kevin wrote a song specifically for Hammer titled "Oh Oh, You Got the Shing." It was full of praise for the entertainer's skills and rapping braggadocio, and was propelled by a basic drum machine pattern and catchy "uh-oh" chorus. Every day, from 11 in the morning until midnight, Kevin practiced it with his friend Geoff. "I had no time for hanging out," recalls Kevin, who also, during that time, did 1,000 sit-ups a day to keep in shape. "I was rehearsing."
Finally, the big day arrived. Kevin and Geoff were instructed to meet Hammer at the Hyatt Regency following the concert, but when the pair showed up, they learned that Hammer had just checked out. They raced to the parking lot, where members of his touring company were boarding their bus. Kevin positioned himself in front of the vehicle. "I am not moving until I get my audition!" he shouted. Just then, Hammer, who had been eating, emerged and gave the two youths the go-ahead. They launched into their routine, right there in front of the bus. A crowd of about 50 people gathered around, as they sang and danced their way through Kevin's song.
"Hammer got into it," Kevin recalls. "He was dancing with us and everything." According to Kevin, Hammer took his name and number, said he wanted to use his song--even wanted to sign him to a recording contract.
Kevin seized the opportunity, made a demo tape of "Oh Oh, You Got the Shing"--as well as some other songs he had written--and put them in the mail to Hammer, hopeful that his music career was about to be launched.
The only problem was, Kevin had no idea who he was dealing with.
In 1989, Hammer had not yet gained a reputation as an exploiter of talent who sucked the creativity out of those around him for his own commercial success. He had not yet been sued in more than a dozen lawsuits that raised allegations of everything from copyright infringement to breach of contract to a gang rape that allegedly involved members of his entourage. He had not yet been branded as a musical whore by the press, a sellout by his brother rappers, a deadbeat by his creditors. He had not yet involved Kevin in a tangled web of litigation that would align Kevin, both for and against Hammer, in the rapper's enfeebled attempt to stave off yet another angry musician.
In 1989, young Kevin Abdullah, starstruck and blinded by his own dreams, was a natural to admire, even idolize this pop-rapper who had escaped the ghetto of his youth and brazenly held himself out as an example--an icon--for other African-American males to follow. But when Kevin didn't hear back from Hammer as promised, he grew disappointed in his hero--so disappointed he didn't buy his 1990 album, Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em after it was released in January.
That same month, Kevin and his girlfriend, Monica, were in a record store, and they heard a cut off the album; Kevin couldn't resist buying it. Eagerly, they went to his car, put in the tape, and listened to the first song, "Here Comes the Hammer." Kevin's jaw dropped open and his body went numb as he recognized his hook, his chorus. His girlfriend sat next to him, but he remained speechless.
All he could think about was one thing: "The guy stole my song."
The same things that appealed to Kevin appealed to all of America in the early '90s. MC Hammer had soared above his circumstances; born Stanley Kirk Burrell and poor, he was the youngest of seven children living in a government-subsidized three-bedroom apartment in Oakland, California. Hammer kept himself out of trouble by concentrating on his two favorite things, music and baseball. He'd often hang out in the parking lot of the Oakland Coliseum, hoping to either get into the game or--afterward--see some members of the Oakland Athletics, naturally his favorite team.