On January 13, 1990, MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” made its way into the world. The song sampled the hell out of Rick James’ “Super Freak” and briefly made genie pants popular. These days, it’s widely remembered as a weird little early-’90s curio, albeit one that everyone knows. But “U Can’t Touch This” actually plays a fascinating role in pop-music history.
“U Can’t Touch This” was a titanic spring and summer hit, and it almost certainly would’ve been the first rap song ever to hit #1, except for one thing: Capitol, Hammer’s label, initially refused to release “U Can’t Touch This” as a cassingle. Instead, the label wanted to push people to buy Hammer’s album Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em. The gambit worked. “U Can’t Touch This” peaked at a mere #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, but Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, sold 18 million copies. That’s what led the big record labels to quickly phase out single sales, at least until the iTunes store debuted more than a decade later.
We presumably won’t get any of this from the new Super Bowl commercial that features “U Can’t Touch This.” Instead, Hammer appears in this Cheetos ad, which purports to tell the real story of “U Can’t Touch This.” Cheeto dust is involved. I’m crushed to report that all I can offer you right now is a teaser of the commercial. You can see that people, via People.
My kids, incidentally, love “U Can’t Touch This,” thanks to its inclusion in the GoNoodle series of exercise videos. They show these things in school! My kids’ entire classes love this song now! Observe:
My seven-year-old recently told me that these GoNoodle videos have been getting him into “really old songs” like “U Can’t Touch This,” “I’m Still Standing,” and “Bye Bye Bye.” All of us are becoming desiccated corpses that are still wandering the world, our dying moans floating upon the winds. Not MC Hammer, though. Unless he’s been digitally de-aged like Robert De Niro, Hammer, as long as he gets the right haircut, can still convincingly portray his 30-years-ago self in a Cheetos Super Bowl ad.