It’s easy to overlook MC Hammer in the pop culture canon. In the late 80s and early 90s, hip-hop was still mainly underground. As the genre’s first major crossover star, Hammer shattered mainstream barriers many didn’t know existed.

The Oakland product and onetime McClymonds student was the first rap artist to sell 10 million records. His breakthrough hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” made him a household name in the suburbs. At the peak of his fame, he even had a Saturday morning cartoon show, “Hammerman.”Yet pop audiences are notoriously fickle. Though Hammer was far from a one-hit wonder, the success of “U Can’t Touch This” set a bar which would have been hard for any artist to maintain.

The MTV crowd soon moved on to other accessible urban acts who could combine dance moves with thumping beats. And the core hip-hop audience who had supported Hammer when he was an independent artist releasing infectious club and party hits on his own label gravitated toward newer acts who had grittier, less overtly-“pop” music. An ill-fated move to reinvent himself as a “street” artist didn’t work, and his career wasn’t helped by a well-publicized bankruptcy, amidst rumors of excessive spending. Yet in recent years, he’s become a mainstay on the nostalgia circuit, being one of the few hip-hop acts still touring 25 + years into his career.

Saturday’s headlining slot at Art & Soul’s 10th anniversary show, however, more than validated Hammer not only as a local legend, but as a hip-hop icon and pop music trailblazer. Hammer hit the main stage like a conquering hero, with a show whose entertainment quotient was on the level of a Vegas revue. Joined by a contingent of youthful, energetic dancers, both male and female, the 48 year-old entertainer showed he’s still got the moves which made him famous.

 As “Hammertime” enveloped the diverse audience, which encompassed people of all ethnicities and ages, Hammer performed spirited renditions of his hit-studded catalog, bringing back memories with every tune. While not the most lyrical emcee, he’s among the hardest-working, and the lack of profanity and misogyny in his rhymes is as big a reason for his long-lasting appeal as his charismatic personality.

Hammer’s music has aged well; the hit parade included “Let’s Get It Started,” “Turn This Mutha Out,” “Ring ‘Em,” and “Humps and A Bump,” all of which were greeted like long-lost friends. He ventured deep into the crowd for “They Put Me in the Mix,” and for the Chi-Lites remake “Have You Seen Her,” his dancers gave long-stemmed roses to audience members. An anecdote about the late Tupac Shakur segued into ‘Pac’s favorite Hammer song, “Keep On,” built around a Luther Vandross hook. “Too Legit to Quit” had both Hammer and the audience doing hand signs. And for the finale, “U Can’t Touch This,” Hammer brought a bunch of the crowd on stage to show off their dance steps, as a feeling of what can only be described as “Oakland pride” reigned supreme.

 Earlier in the day, audiences were treated to sublime Latin jazz by John Santos, loud indie rock by Cake, a seemingly-infinite lineup of Jesus-affirming performers on the Gospel stage, an impressive fusion of jazz and hip-hop by the Kev Choice Ensemble, and an equally-impressive fusion of jazz and North African music by the Mo’Rockin’ Project.

As always, there were local artisians hawking their wares, and plenty of food and drink available from local merchants—the $1 watermelon slices watermelon being particularly tasty, and the Ethiopian tej (honey wine) being succulently thirst-quenching. All of that is to be expected at Art & Soul.

But Hammer’s performance elevated what had been an enjoyable, if somewhat low-key, afternoon to an ecstatic level, raising expectations for Sunday’s show, whose scheduled performers include such classic Oakland artists as Lenny Williams, Tony Toni Tone, and EnVogue.