In his third album, Too Legit to Quit, Hammer drops the ''M.C.'' from his name (''It sounds more profound as just 'Hammer,''' says a spokeswoman), leads us onto the dance floor, and tries to save mankind, roughly in that order. ''I have felt guilty about my success...I need to help my people,'' he writes in his liner notes. And so he does: The 16 songs here amount to a virtual self-help pamphlet, espousing discipline, self-respect, and a drugless existence. To demonstrate the results of such a lifestyle, Hammer offers his own proud, capitalist self. Rapping like a slightly funky civics professor, he reminds us that his previous album, Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em, sold 10 million copies, that he has a mobile phone, and that he is more physically fit than any blob of male couch-potato flesh who may be listening and that's just on the first track.
Reveling in success is one thing, but it takes nerve to write lyrics like that or those of ''Good to Go,'' about a guy who's thrilled to wake up each morning, shower, and tackle his 9-to-5 job. It also takes talent to translate them into unsinkable hooks, but Hammer and his coproducer, multi-instrumentalist Felton C. Pilate II, have done just that. Jumping out of the speakers with thick-as-pasta bass tracks, frenetic backup singers, and more energy than TV dance shows like The Party Machine could ever convey, Too Legit to Quit makes the imperfect concept of a pop-rap crossover seem bristlingly, well, legit.
Too Legit repeats Please Hammer's mix of elements, from souped-up dance workouts and love-man ballads to another shot at a melding of hip-hop and gospel. But whereas Hammer previously relied on samples, he and Pilate now use actual instruments, resulting in denser tracks that throb like an amplified heartbeat. Hammer works overtime to convince us his career breakthrough shouldn't be entirely attributed to the use of Rick James' ''Super Freak'' riff as the basis for ''U Can't Touch This,'' and musical rumbles like the title track and ''Gaining Momentum'' not to mention the '70s-Motown texture of ''Brothers Hang On'' are damn convincing. When the songs aren't trying to pump you up, they're touching on racial turmoil, black-on-black crime, even a conspiracy theory about the government's role in the rise of crack in ghettos. The juxtaposition of such songs and the dance-rap tracks is fascinating; it's like the tension-and-release of a gospel service.
At the same time, Too Legit to Quit has its share of songs that are malnourished (including ''Addams Groove,'' Hammer's novelty theme for the Addams Family movie) or overlong. The album will wear down even the most patient listener; you get the impression Hammer is trying to overcome social problems by overpowering them with his music. It will, of course, take more than slogans like ''Release some pressure!'' to get the world through the next decade. But huffing and puffing his way through Too Legit to Quit, Hammer makes it easy to believe that a little positive thinking can go more than a long way. B+