By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I just listened to him," recalls Kevin. "Then I asked him how come I should do anything for him." Hammer--nothing if not determined--launched into his spiel about taking care of Kevin, about "setting him phat." This time Kevin wasn't buying. Although he had nearly given up on music in general and Hammer in particular, he saw in Hammer's face something he had never seen before. "I saw that he was scared," Kevin remembers. "And that was when I knew I had a case."
Once again, Kevin went looking for a lawyer, his lawsuit made all the more appealing because of the tight squeeze Hammer found himself in. After a series of referrals, Gerald Conley agreed to take the case. With Conley at the wheel, things started to happen.
In January 1993, Kevin filed suit in a Dallas federal court against Stanley Burrell a.k.a. MC Hammer, Bust It Publishing, and Capitol Records for the willful infringement of his copyright. At first Hammer claimed that he had never met Kevin, but photographs of the two together after his 1990 Dallas concert proved otherwise. Then Hammer took the position that the song wasn't a song at all, but a dance, but that didn't fly either. After two years of legal wrangling, Hammer agreed to settle for $250,000. Of course, with Hammer's pending bankruptcy, Kevin has yet to receive a dime. And Kevin has had to go back to court and ask that his judgment be declared a non-dischargeable debt, which would remove it from the soothing relief that Chapter 11 provides.
"If we can prove that Hammer was willful and malicious--that he intended to commit the wrongful act--the judgment can survive the discharge [of the debt through Chapter 11]." Conley says. "I certainly like our side of the case better than his."
Interestingly enough, the Legend's federal case against Hammer--for appropriating the same song--is also going to trial, in the Southern District of New York. Members of the Legend's camp are reluctant to speak on the record, but do admit that they've been following Kevin's case with interest. They claim that they can prove the "uh-oh" riff is theirs and that their claim predates Kevin's, but they politely decline speculation as to how two artists can come up with nearly identical riffs. Kevin has already been deposed in that case.
There's more than a desiccated corpse to fight over, should it come to that. Hammer has reinvented himself, announcing the onset of his gospel career. "I had an up-close and personal conversation with God, and he spanked me," Hammer said. "I deserved it." He seems to be once more making money: Last year he formed Hit Tyme, Inc., a multimedia entertainment company, and released A Family Affair on the Bay Area-based Oaktown Records, of which he owns a portion. Slick and smooth, A Family Affair is typical of modern MOR gospel--precise without passion and made to sell. Hammer should do well. He's appearing on TV again; just last year, he turned Sally Jesse Raphael down when she wouldn't give him her show's full hour--same ol' Hammer. He has his own Web site, where he touts his new direction and tiptoes around his past. The site is a bit odd for a gospel enterprise, full of the flash and glitter of the old days. Hammer shows off his glistening, pumped-up pectorals to good effect throughout, and the religious angle is low-key. The effect is a disconcerting mix of church and nightclub, kind of like Jesus in jerry curls.
Ironically enough, gospel is also the arena that has attracted Kevin. Now a deacon for Pentecostal preacher T.D. Jakes, Kevin is working as a home health aide during the day and preparing for a gospel career; for now, however, he's content to study under Jakes so that he can "learn the things you're supposed to know before you go out there and sing the Gospel." He credits Jakes with bringing him a measure of peace when it comes to MC Hammer. "Through the power of the Bishop, I learned that God wants me to be content on the one hand, but He also wants me to have faith and be patient too.
"Before, I didn't have that, but now I'm content, because I know that He's working it out. I don't need to dwell on something that He's in charge of."
Of course, if it was up to MC Hammer, a man who now puts God in his melodies and Jesus in his dance steps, Kevin would be waiting "to work things out" well into his next life.