30 Years of “U Can’t Touch This”
The hands of time never stop turning, and eventually, most things are forgotten. Many of the hit songs that seem ubiquitous today will be mere footnotes in a few years — significant only to the people who loved them at the time of their initial release. Every now and then, however, an artist strikes gold with a hit that outlives its chart reign.
On January 13, 1990, MC Hammer struck gold with “U Can’t Touch This,” the lead single from his sophomore album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.
“U Can’t Touch This,” which samples Rick James’ “Super Freak,” wasn’t rap’s first crossover hit. However, almost all of the rap songs that had achieved crossover success at that point were either not purely rap songs or were performed partially or entirely by white artists.
“U Can’t Touch This” was rap through and through, and one might argue that it reached a new frontier of popularity for the genre. The song was literally everywhere, and with a chorus that simple says, “You can’t touch this,” everybody could sing along.
And the music video. My oh my.
The harem pants. The fade/ponytail combo. The dance moves.
The video was clearly before the days where rappers worried about being “too pop” or “too commercial,” and the absence of that burden is what makes it so special. MC Hammer was being himself, and the genre would benefit from that kind of sincerity in 2020.
“U Can’t Touch This” propelled its parent album to over 18 million units in global sales, with over 10 million sold in the US alone — making it the first rap album to be certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The song won Grammys for Best Rap Solo Performance and Best R&B Song — the latter being a clear indicator of how clueless the industry was about rap. “U Can’t Touch This” also became the first rap song to be nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys.
Thirty years later, the song is still a constant — in TV shows, in movies, in commercials. And yes, in parodies too. But whatever the case may be, the song’s legacy remains untouched.