Tourism

Meet Oakland's New Spokesperson: MC Hammer


MC Hammer performs at the DreamForce conference in San Francisco on Sept. 19

Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

MC Hammer performs at the DreamForce conference in San Francisco on Sept. 19

MC Hammer wants you to visit Oakland. Sure, it has a reputation as the gritty, crime-riddled black sheep of the San Francisco Bay family, but that’s exactly why the rapper has partnered with Oakland’s board of tourism to promote it. Hammer should know a thing or two about reinventing himself; the once derided rapper has recently become an Internet heavyweight, with nearly 3 million Twitter followers, his own search engine WireDoo, and a dance video website. He’s also lectured about marketing at Harvard and Stanford business schools. Hammer talked to Bloomberg Businessweek about Oakland, his days as a baseball announcer, and—of course—his Hammer pants.

So how’d this tourism gig come about?
I love tech and I’m really into creating new opportunities for Oakland because I’m a native of Oakland—my family’s been in the area since about 1949—and I love to see my city do well. I’m doing some work with America’s Cup and I wanted to have the East Bay, anchored in Oakland, participate in America’s Cup activities next year. Through that, I met some of the tourism people. They said, “Hey, we need help promoting Oakland to tourists, would you help us?” And I said, “Of course.”

Oakland doesn’t have a great reputation, though. Is that fair?
That’s the reason why I said yes, I would help promote the city; we need to take control of the messaging. The old media only highlights the negative of the city of Oakland. But I knew that if I became the spokesman of the city, we could use social media platforms to accentuate the positive of the city, that it is a great ground for technology companies and their employees.

In the old model, it was always Oakland vs. San Francisco. But I think today, the two go hand in hand. When San Francisco is full and there’s no more space because of the limited amount of land on the island, companies will expand over the bridge into Oakland.

What’s one of your favorite memories of the city growing up?
Well, I don’t know if you know, but I spent from 1971 through the 1980s with the Oakland A’s. I participated in three consecutive world championships and five division championships; I was the youngest executive vice president of a major league baseball team at the age of 15. My job was to coordinate April through October with the owner of the A’s because he lived in Chicago. I did everything from interacting with the executive staff to calling him up and giving him the play-by-play of the game.

You’d give him an actual play-by-play, like what the announcers on TV do?
Yeah, literally. The Giants’ [now CEO] Larry Baer and I actually did play-by-play together on the radio in the 1970s when the A’s hired Cal Berkley’s station to announce its games.

I bet that made you just the coolest kid ever.
Oh, of course. The A’s were the hottest thing. Oakland had a great thing going in the ’70s, the Raiders won the Super Bowl, the Warriors won a championship, and the A’s won three consecutive championships. Any of the kids working with the major sports teams were the most popular kids in school.

So I have to ask—do you still own any Hammer pants?
You’ll have to watch the American Music Awards this Sunday to find out the answer to that.

Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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