Hal Hobson

MC Hammer is philosophy’s new champion

MC Hammer is philosophy's new champion
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Philosophy has a new champion. MC Hammer, hip hop artist and record producer, known for songs like 'Can’t Touch This', used Twitter to respond to someone who dismissed philosophy as mere 'flirtation with ideas', and who claimed that science alone is 'commitment to the truth'. Hammer hammered him. 'You bore us', he said, pointing out that science has a dubious history, and needs philosophy to keep it in check, adding the wise words: 'When you measure, include the measurer.' 

In fact, this will come as little surprise to his regular followers. His Twitter platform is rife with intellectually stimulating debate, and it’s a not a matter of a few pretentious fans wondering whether ‘Can’t Touch This’ refers to the question of immaterial transcendence. Instead, it’s all down to MC Hammer himself (real name Stanley Burrell). He has often discussed current affairs and abstract ideas with his online followers, and has encouraged them to read philosophers such as Nietzsche and Baudrillard. Burrell is an avid reader of texts that go far beyond pop-philosophy and self-help. His thoughts on the fallibility of the scientific method are informed by Foucault and Einstein, for example. 

More generally, he has often urged black students to make their academic mark (in STEM subjects as well as the humanities), and has implored all his followers to draw on philosophy in order to 'unmask falsehoods'. It might not be what you expect to read when you hear that @MC Hammer is trending but his intellectualism is as deep-rooted as it is refreshing. 

MC Hammer shows why popular perceptions of rap need to be re-drawn. There’s more to this musical tradition than party-centric swagger, and the endless glorification of a hedonistic lifestyle. Anthony Thomas, a hip hop artist and writer, characterises this musical tradition as ‘the cognitive, creative and emotive expression of Western youth of African descent who attempt to find success and meaning within the social realities of their lives’. The ‘cognitive’ side might not be a major part of hip hop’s image, but it’s there if you look for it: not just in the constant philosophical subtext in the songs of artists like Kanye West and Childish Gambino (with existentialist themes heavily prominent in their music) but also in the wider cultural ethos, the promotion of ambition, including academic excellence, within black communities. It’s important to remember the place of struggle from which Hip Hop comes. As Anthony Thomas puts, Hip Hop itself was and still is characterised by 'poverty, racism and urban decay' in poor black communities. 

The careless, hedonistic stereotype of Hip Hop has never been the whole story: there has always been a more serious side. With any luck, MC Hammer’s philosophical musings will open closed minds to this much-maligned musical form. 

Nietzsche instructed his followers to ‘philosophise with a hammer’. Suddenly the phrase has a meaning that he could never have imagined.