MC Hammer at West Edmonton Mall, 1991

In 1991, West Edmonton Mall was the world’s biggest mall, and MC Hammer the world’s biggest rap star. The two were destined to meet.

In 1991 there was no one bigger than MC Hammer. His 1990 album, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em would eventually go on to sell 18 million copies, after costing only $10,000 to produce. The album spawned catchphrases, dance moves, trouser styles, even a Saturday morning cartoon. In the first grade I lip synched to “U Can’t Touch This” as part of my school’s end-of-year airband competition, while wearing my mother’s jewellery and a bent paper clip for an earring.

A month after that airband competition, MC Hammer himself came to Edmonton, where he played a show in front of 6000 people (a fair number when you consider Edmonton’s population at the time was just over 600 000). Like all visitors to our city, Hammer headed straight for West Edmonton Mall, where he and his crew rode the scooters you could rent there.

This was big news: West Edmonton Mall was still less than a decade old and, at that time, best known for being the world’s largest shopping centre—a title it would hold until 2004. It was such big news that the entire incident made the front page—A1!—of the Edmonton Journal the following day.

Alas, it did not simply make the front page for its novelty: apparently, Hammer had acted like a bit of a jerk. According to Journal staff, Hammer refused to sign autographs, offered “No smiles … no waves,” and he and his entourage utilized the electric carts to block other shoppers from entering the Randy River and Henry Singer stores, while Hammer went in to make purchases.

When they returned the electric carts—after, apparently, riding them up and down the escalators—his entourage got into a “heated exchange” with the cart-rental manager. Finally, after the carts had been inspected for damage, MC Hammer appeared “sullen” as he left the mall.

Still, it can’t have been too, too bad. Just a few years ago, Hammer returned to Edmonton and played a show at the River Cree Resort and Casino—just a nine-minute drive from West Edmonton Mall. I hope he wasn’t too put out that Randy River is gone.

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