By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Few things can lure Radar Station to a house of worship, but one of those things, it turns out, is MC Hammer. When we receive a fax from Minister Larry Rodgers, the self-proclaimed hype man of gospel music, alerting us to an upcoming appearance by once-huge bubblegum rapper -- he of "U Can't Touch This" and "2 Legit 2 Quit," he of the capacious pantaloons and the polo mallet -- we figure it's just about time we got reacquainted with the Lord. And so we drive deep into the heart of North St. Louis, to Greater Pentecostal Church of God.
After taking our seats up front, we're greeted by Minister Rodgers. "It's fin to be Hammertime again," he exults. Rodgers, once part of Hammer's touring entourage, orchestrated the Hammer appearance with the cooperation of his pastor, Elder Terence Coleman, in conjunction with the church's Teen Conference 2001. Before leaving, Rodgers assures us that he'll get us an interview with Hammer before the night is over. We inquire delicately as to when that might be, knowing how impolite it is to ask but fearing that our companion, Vintage Vinyl guru/rock-dude extraordinaire Jim Utz, will miss the Mystikal concert he's supposed to attend later that night. "Well," Rodgers says with a mysterious chuckle, "we do like to have church around here."
Indeed they do. In the next few minutes, hundreds of people file inside, squeezing into the pews or standing patiently in the wings until a spot opens up. Women dressed in cute little nurses' outfits hover expectantly. They're obviously acting in some official capacity -- they have nametags and everything -- but we're not exactly sure what that might be. Several people get up to speak, but no one monopolizes the pulpit. Instead of the preach-a-thon we expect, we're treated to hours of sexy, sweaty, foot-stomping gospel music. Worshippers shout and testify, clap and sway, sing and speak in tongues. "I just can't get over how great that rhythm section is," Jim marvels. Neither can we. Or any of the other sections, for that matter, from the amazing teenage choirs to the brash, funky horns to the just-this-side-of-outside guitar-and-organ stylings. We keep expecting the band to break into "B.O.B." or "Maggot Brain." When we bliss out and mentally revise "I want to know if you love the Lord" to "I want to know if you can get to that," we could swear we're at a Funkadelic concert, circa 1971. Yep: It was that great, even without beer.
Then Sister Tammy Dees takes over and manages to bring it all up a notch. Radar Station has, it must be acknowledged, absolutely no expertise in the evangelical arts, but anyone with a cursory appreciation of oratory would agree that Sister Tammy is a genius. She makes us laugh; she makes us cry; she speaks in tongues. She sings and chants and soliloquizes like a cross between Etta James and Lisa Kekaula of the BellRays. Just seconds before we break down and surrender ourselves to Jesus -- yeah, yeah, we're a slow study -- she disappears. "No one should ever have to follow Sister Tammy," Jim notes sadly.
At this juncture, we're summoned by Minister Rodgers. We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the music and make our way to a reception area in the back. There before us stands Hammer, who is not, to our disappointment, wearing baggy trousers or wielding a polo mallet. "I just bought a public company," he says, when we ask what he's been up to. "It starts trading tomorrow -- fiberoptics, broadband, wireless technology. Entertainment-wise, we just finished MC Hammer: The Movie, which is an MTV/VH1 production. It's the story of my life, and it'll be out in October. Also in October, I'll go to Africa for the MC Hammer Africa World Tour, which is bringing awareness and money for medicine to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I'm here tonight from a ministerial standpoint to deal with supporting this church, Pastor Coleman. I came for the youth."
Asked whether he ever plans to combine rap and religion, Hammer says no. "While there may be those who say they applaud it, at the end of the day, they tally the numbers, and the community doesn't support Christian hip-hop. With over 100 million individuals claiming Christianity, gospel music is at the bottom in sales. A lot of people talk the talk, but they ain't walkin' the walk."
We angle shamelessly for a big, dramatic redemption story, but Hammer informs us that he's always been saved -- even back when he was tight with Death Row Records CEO/über-thug Suge Knight. "Suge Knight is representative of someone in every city in America," he explains carefully. "In that surrounding, what one feels is that your life can be shortened, but I've always been a follower of Jesus. I wasn't as much worried about soul as life. There were times when I thought I needed to be in a position of obedience with my Father so I could be more of a benefit to those who are around me; whether it's Death Row Records or East Oakland, it's all the same."
We chat a bit longer, and Hammer graciously sends us back to our pew with a warm handshake and a blessing. We enjoy another set of gospel music, this one from Minister Rodgers' outstanding Word of Truth. By the time Hammer approaches the pulpit, it's 10:15 p.m. and there's no way Jim's gonna make it to Mystikal. Hammer's a good preacher, and the crowd seems revved up, but did he bring Radar Station to Jesus? Alas, he did not. Lock us in a church with Sister Tammy for a few days, though, and all bets are off.