Rap star Hammer has confronted a sea of troubles over the last two years--sagging popularity, concerts marred by violence, allegations of rape lodged against members of his entourage.
Now add to the list a recent judgment against a group of Hammer-owned companies in a lawsuit brought by Englewood's Great-West Life Assurance Company.
The Colorado insurer sued Roll-Wit-It Entertainment Inc. and several affiliates in Hayward, California, late last year, alleging that the companies had failed to pay a bill of $72,900.
A few weeks ago, after the companies failed to respond to the complaint, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Great-West, awarding the insurer the full amount plus compensation for attorneys' fees. According to a clerk at the court, lawyers for Roll-Wit-It and the affiliates have since filed a motion to set aside the judgment. A hearing in the matter is scheduled for March 17.
"We're not giving out any comment," says a woman who answers the phone at Roll-Wit-It's offices in Fremont, California.
Roll-Wit-It and its affiliates hired Great-West in 1992 to provide services to their self-insured employee benefit plans, including payment of medical claims, according to a statement issued by Great-West. The insurance company sued when Hammer's companies "failed to compensate Great-West Life fully for the services it has provided under the contract," the statement says.
David Aspinwall, associate counsel for the insurer, says that except for the Hammer connection, the matter is a mundane commercial contract dispute.
"This is one of many cases that are really just like it," Aspinwall says. He says he's not sure Great-West even knew Hammer owned the companies when it filed the claim in October. The rapper, whose real name is Stanley Burrell, is not named as a defendant in the case.
Hammer's 1990 record "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em" sold 10 million copies and rocketed him to fame. He built a 15,000-square-foot hilltop mansion in Fremont, acquired a stable of thoroughbreds, started his own record label and began collecting expensive cars.
Since then, however, the performer has suffered a severe reversal of fortune. Capitol Records ended its relationship with Hammer in 1992 after the release of his Too Legit to Quit album. Several record companies spurned Hammer's overtures for a three-album, $25 million deal, saying the rapper's price was far too high.
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Hammer finally signed with Giant Records and recently released his latest recording, The Funky Headhunter.
The Great-West claim is just one of a series of lawsuits against the singer. The landlord for Hammer's Oakland-based Bust It record label went to court seeking $15,000 in back rent last year. A record producer sued for $5 million in royalties allegedly owed to him. Hammer's interior decorator filed a claim for more than $180,000 in outstanding bills.
Also last year, a 23-year-old female employee sued Hammer's production company, alleging that she had been gang-raped and sexually harassed by members of his entourage. A jury found the company not liable on the rape charge, but agreed the woman had been harassed and awarded her $166,000.
Incidents of violence plagued Hammer's 1992 concert tour. One member of his entourage was killed and several wounded in separate shootings in Chicago, Albuquerque and Reno.