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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Opinion: Running In Circles (Why Google Plus Never Stood A Chance)

As Facebook began to replace MySpace as the preferred place for people to spam our walls with terrible music, get way too much information about people we do or don't know, and tag us in pictures of Jordan heels, many social media lovers flocked to Twitter for a more controllable experience. Seeing the value of owning a successful social media network, Google abandoned their failed attempt to mimic Twitter - Google Buzz - and re-entered the SM arena with Google Plus (G+) with the goal of capitalizing on the growing public frustration with Facebook.

With a look that nearly mirrors Facebook, and the ability to put people in "Circles" so that users can easily decide who sees what, internet addicts flocked to G+ with the hopes of "starting over". A few months later, it is an online ghost town. Despite having millions of subscribers, it simply seems that no one uses the platform for anything besides bashing Facebook and complaining that nobody ever uses G+. So what happened?

Aside from the sub-par mobile apps (or complete lack of apps for BlackBerry users), issues with Internet Explorer (no one's using Chrome), and the simple fact that people were not quite ready to move-on from Facebook, there is a more simple reason that G+ just never caught on. People use social media for instant attention and up-to-the-moment information, and Google Plus just doesn't deliver either. This all starts with the aforementioned Circles.

MySpace and Facebook had "Friends". In the friend system, people request to be your friend and you have the ability to approve or deny them. Simple. This leads to feelings being hurt sometimes, but it works. Twitter changed the game by allowing people to simply "Follow" people that they find interesting. This allowed celebrities to amass millions of followers with little to no effort (as they don't have to hire people to accept all of those requests) and makes following back optional. People wanting more privacy can setup private pages, which requires potential followers to pass approval. The elimination of the "friend" concept was a monumental change in the social media world.

The developers at Google decided to take it one step further with the Circles concept. Rather than have your information out for the world to see, G+ allows people to choose who they want to see their updates. Further, you can create various circles so that posts are only seen by those you want. Sounds nice and private, right? Right... and that's exactly the issue. Lets take a few examples, shall we?

A: I think you're cool, so I add you to my "Cool People" circle and let you see my updates. You don't know who the heck I am so you just skim over my updates. Where's my instant gratification? G+ fails because it lacks the ability to let people see into other people's lives; instead, it gives us the ability to push our lives (no matter how boring or mundane) onto others. But that's not how social media works.

B: Blake Griffin is awesome. I wanna see what he's talking about. But Blake is not going to find me on G+ and add me to a circle so that'll never happen. Thus, I'll just keep following him on Twitter. People who do interesting things don't (or at least shouldn't) spend time trying to find people to talk to. That's what fans do. In essense, G+ has the game backwards.

C: Terrible Rapper X adds me to his circle, and now I have to see his mess or block him. I hardly know this guy and I'm OK with that. Now I have to make a choice about him, and I'd rather be passive. So while my wall is safe, my timeline is hot garbage.

To summarize, Google Plus is perfect if you want a quiet, tame and occasional social media world. It's also a great way to keep in touch with pre-designated groups of friends. It has very little purpose to people looking to expand their networks and engage with dynamic personalities. Really, by focusing on creating a ratchet-less Facebook clone, Google succeeded in creating the first Anti-Social Media platform. Good job.


NOTE: This article is not meant to bash Google as a company. Most of their products (especially Blogger and GMail) work great for me. Holler.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Talk: Roundtable with Mayor Sam Adams on the Oppression of Black Nightlife

In a medium-sized city like Portland, Oregon where Black people make up a dismal 6% of the population, it's not hard to imagine that African American culture is stifled at every turn. Two huge parts of any culture are music and attire... If you're local to this area, then you probably already know where I'm going with this.

"We" often talk about "they" and "the powers that be" holding "us" back. This sort of talk gets "us" nowhere, and more often then not leaves "us" both angry and frustrated at an unnamed enemy. Last Monday, a few of "us" got together to meet with some of "them" and delved into what may or may not be a futile attempt to make a change.

After a summer that featured the closure of one of Portland's few Black-owned establishments and the shut-down of Portland's biggest monthly hip-hop party (Massive), a good friend of mine and master networker, Keeara Taylor (of 360 Degrees Unlimited), used her City Hall contacts and some creative Twitter-jabbing to pull Mayor Sam Adams and some of his staff into a round-table discussion regarding the issues regarding Hip-Hop Culture and - to put it bluntly - racism in Portland's nightlife. Further fueling this discussion are issues such the blacklisting of hip-hop events and the use of vague dress codes to exclude (primarily) Black males from various clubs in the name of gang-enforcement.

During the summer, tensions reached a fever pitch. It seemed that every violent crime was labeled gang-related and every unsolved downtown assault and murder was blamed on a Black suspect in an over-sized white tee. As expected, this meeting was delayed until fall, and by now, most of us are over it as our focus on party-going has dwindled with the Northwest weather. How quickly we forget our past priorities in today's culture of disposable politics... But let me avoid that tangent for now.

The meeting went well. While a number of Portland's prominent hip-hop figures did not show up, a handful of intelligent, articulate and passionate members of the community did. The Mayor made sure to get the perspectives of the various attendees; Keeara discussed undercover racism, Chase Freeman (from Beauty Bar Portland) discussed difficulties in booking hip-hop artists, I discussed the difficulty for even a well dressed respectable Black male to gain entry to various establishments, Terminill (of Flatline Studios) discussed the lack of outlet for local hip-hop musicians. Alan Bell and Danny Davoodi echoed these sentiments, adding credence to the discussion. Danny also noted that the presence of foot patrols in high-occupancy areas have helped significantly and should continue.

On the proverbial other side of the table, the Mayor expressed, obviously, that public safety was his main concern. He noted that African-American gangs accounted for a large percentage of Portland's shootings and admitted that deterring the activity of Black gangs was a priority. Similarly, sergeants and lieutenants in charge of downtown operations and gang task forces discussed the ability of clubs to avoid violence with three simple rules: Don't Allow Entry to the Visibly Intoxicated, Consistently Enforce A Dress Code, and Consistent/Thorough Searching of Patrons. Unfortunately, we did not hear much of anything from the city's Director of Art & Culture, though I was especially interested in his take on the dilemma.

The major point of discussion revolved around the fact that dress codes are not consistently enforced; rather, they are used as a way to systematically exclude. We also touched on the blacklisting of hip-hop shows, or really any event that was expected to draw large crowds of Black people. The police countered that there was a lack of communication between promoters and police, causing a lack of trust, and admitted that events are blocked when they feel there will be violence. The Mayor added the claim that the police are able to predict violence at or immediately following certain events with remarkable accuracy. Everyone agreed that many people that should be at the discussion were not present, though it was not always agreed exactly whom those people were.

While seeds were planted on both sides of the table, there was no resolution attained. As such, the Mayor agreed to continue the discussion in November. One thing that I would love to further address is the dress code piece. After some prodding by yours truly, Lt. Steinbraun noted that while the police do not set the dress codes (or set quotas on the number Black people allowed in clubs), the club owners and security may be setting rules that are exclusionary in nature in order to ensure they meet police standards. In my opinion, it should be the duty of the city to ensure that business are not discriminating on protected classes (i.e., race, gender). Furthermore, if the city is not saying what the dress codes should be, why are most of the clubs setting the same dress code? Hats, sneakers, and athletic gear do not create or foster violence.. and what exactly is gang attire?

Clearly, there is a lot more work to be done here, but I'm happy we're setting the groundwork. When the lane's open, anything's possible.

Tis' all for now, kids. And remember, don't tweet about it, be about it.

~Mac, your undercover local activist.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kicks: M7 Advance

Ahhhhh... The joys of being a Knicks fan... Not only do I get to endure constant ostrasization from sports fans across the world, I am also left out of the loop when special edition gear comes out.

I can remember years ago, desperately wanting for a home Sprewell jersey. Good luck getting those anywhere besides the Garden itself, circa 1999. Truth be told though, I probably dodged a bullet since the jersey was obsolete the next year and downright embarrassing shortly thereafter. Oh, the joys of hindsight.

Despite this wisdom, I am still a stupid and emotional Knickerbocker die-hard, and the current objects of my fashion affections are Carmelo Anthony's latest in the Jumpman collection: The M7 Advances.

I'm not a big fan of the blue/white/orange variation, but these black and whites are hella sick to me and would look great on the rack next to my CP3s.

Just my luck though, they are only gong to be available at the NEW YORK Nike Town, and probably won't even be made available for online purchase. Being that I live in Portland, Oregon, that blows chunks. But... this is the Black Collar Movement and we make our own luck around these parts.

I'm praying these shoes don't sell out like Scottie Pippin, because I'm actually planning a road trip back East at the end of June. No, not just for the shoes. I'm going to visit my parents in Richmond and planned to make a NY stop on the way anyway. So if these are still available when I get there, you might catch me in a pair of the most exclusive sneaks this side of the Appalachians!

NOTE: I'm still looking for a driving partner, so hit me up if interested. (Driving there, flying back.)

Wish me luck!

~Mac Smiff (Knickerbockers/Mets West Coast Afficionado)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Music: Shane Eli

Despite the fact that I listen to a ton of music, create music, and love music, I rarely blog about music. This has to change. So here goes...

When I was down in Austin for SXSW, I had the pleasure of meeting a friendly and charismatic fellow named Shane Eli. He was kinda holding up the wall at the 2DopeBoyz Showcase and while I can't recall how our conversation started, we quickly found ourselves laughing and exchanging info. When I asked what brought him to SXSW, he told me he was a producer, and that he rapped a little too. I told him that I rap, but that I've been slacking on my game and needed to get refocused. He shared some encouragement and let me know he had a free mixtape coming out soon. I promised to check it out.

A few weeks later, I was going through the contacts I'd gained and found Shane's rather stylish business card. So I went to and downloaded his mixtape I Can Do Better. I'd highly suggest you do the same.

Little did I know that this guy writes, records, produces and raps on his own music. I also did not expect to download a 19-track album with top-to-bottom quality. After my first play through, my initial reaction was, "This is free?" I was also surprised to learn that Shane has produced for a range of artists from Diggy Simmons to Earth, Wind & Fire. I'm going to say that again... Earth, Wind & Fire... Wait, is this the same humble dude I met in Austin?

I can't lie, I had to completely re-think my project once I heard this album. Guillotine is my favorite track on the record - there's just something real Black Collar about it - while Bo Jackson, City Never Sleeps (ft. Jenny Bapst), and Let’s Ride (ft. Playboy Tre & Rittz) are in a tight race for second place. Two months later, I'm still banging this in my car on a daily basis. Without doubt, this is in my top 5 albums of 2011, and I don't see it falling off the list. The only knock I can offer are that the intros provided by DJ Skee seem out of place and are kind of annoying.

Enough with the jibber-jabber, do yourself a favor and download I Can Do Better (via DJ Booth) by clicking on the picture below. And yes, I know he looks lke Drake. OK, I'm out.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Debauchery - My Drunken Epiphany at Luck One's True Theory Album Release Party at the Crown Room.

This post is dedicated to my good buddy Amsterdam, who should have rolled with us but instead elected to drive back to Salem at 8pm.

SATURDAY - April 10, 2011

My youngest son's first game on the "farm team" (read: coach-pitch baseball) was a barn-burner and he scored 3 runs, batted .500 and forced 5 outs while playing first baseman. Like a child he displayed an eager excitement, but at the same time exerted his will through passion and determination.

While he got the shine, I got to play proud poppa. I happily rooted for him, became vocally frustrated when he missed opportunities, and took compliments and looks of approval from other parents and onlookers. One of the people in the audience was none other than DJ Gen Erik (of Animal Farm) who stopped by with his family while taking a walk on that rare sunny Spring day in Portland, Oregon.

What did that have to do with Luck One's album release party? Nothing at all, but it certainly set the stage for what was clearly an excellent day from the get go. See, in Mac's World winning days turn into debaucherous nights... It also allowed me to brag about my ultra-athletic and undeniably handsome - albeit slightly undersized - 7 year old son, so ha!

Fast forward a few hours and I'm kissing my son on the forehead and kissing my mom on the cheek. She tells me to have fun and be safe, as always. I grin, as always, and promise to do the former, but that I can't guarantee the latter. She rolls her eyes and smiles as I jump in my whip, as always.

Forward another hour :: Goodwill and I are walking up to The Crown Room. It's 9:10 and there is a line around the corner. Doors are scheduled to open at 9:30, and the first hour is an open bar. When the doors open, Goodwill and I look at the bartender from our seats and he asks, "What can I get ya?" (Word to Eric, my favorite club security guy!)

Kevin, Craig and Brynden from V1Creative were there with the camaras already and documented the first few drinks of the night. People began pouring in and by the fourth round we were surrounded at the bar. Familiar and new faces came and went and some hellacious conversation ensued. Trox was an early enterer and wasted no time getting red-faced with us. I'm pretty sure I met a few Twitter followers and I certainly made a few new ones. My favorite bartender in the world, Christina, was not present that evening though, so I decided not to make it a Hennessy night and just chill with a half-dozen or so rum & cokes. Sonny, on the other hand, couldn't wait for open bar to end and at 10:30 on the dot he promptly purchased his cup of Heem.

It was around this time that I decided I needed to do the Stand Up After Drinking A Lot Test. See, just a few hours ago I was asked by Luck One to perform with him at his album release. My acceptance of this task meant that I wouldn't be wearing a button-up, so minor wardrobe adjustments were made before leaving the house. Had to get back in rapper mode. But I digress... I passed the test with nary a wobble and was confident that my clear intoxication had me right in the pocket. I felt like Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master. I mean, I'm nice in my right mind, but I go Level 7 off a good one.

A bathroom break with no lines involved (#winning!) had me feeling kind of Charlie Sheen-ish and after washing my hands like several others didn't (I see you nasty effers and that's why you don't get daps from me!) it was about time to rock. I made no attempt to estimate the number of people in the building, but the building was clearly at, if not beyond, capacity. Maybe I'll ask Leigh for the official numbers later, but the point is that the place was packed, obviously.

We took the stage and once again I saw DJ Gen Erik attending one of my family events. Then I watched my younger brother maturely focus his excitement and masterfully exert his will on a captive crowd, much like I'd watched my son do earlier. This time, I was a little closer to the action though, and my rooting was magnified not only by my BAC, but also by the size of the moment.

As a respectable emcee in my own right, I'm often asked what it's like to hype for my little brother. To me, I'm doing the same thing on the stage with Luck One that I do at my son's games; that is, anxiously and unapologetically supporting my family while basking in the glow of potential greatness. On the days when it's my turn to be the star, they do the same for me and that's what family is about.

Yet and still, that does not answer how I feel. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a nonillion sentances. So I'll give you two videos and leave you with some math homework. Oh, and Keak da Sneak still rocked after us. Brave guy.

Intro + 80's Back

Freestyle + I Believe

Over and out,

~Mac Smitty (the 7th Science Assassin)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mac's Journey at SXSW

The following story was run last week on Biggups to Jake Espinoza for putting me on.

Without divulging too much, I can tell you that the last few months have been an amazingly difficult for me. In desperate need of a temporary change of scenery, I decided to go to the music convention known as SXSW (South by Southwest) this year with my little brother Hanif, aka Luck One. Not having any current project of my own, I figured I'd use this trip to help promote his upcoming project (True Theory), network with the music community, and maybe inspire myself to get more serious with my music. I accomplished all of these these things during my trip, and not without a few stories to tell. So let's just go ahead and jump in, shall we?

Click here to read the rest of this story. Trust me, it'd be a wise decision. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Press Release (By Me) - N.VS x Calvin Valentine - Trophy Cases


Let it begin. Portland-based producer Calvin Valentine has teamed with Chicago-based emcee N.VS to create Trophy Cases, the first of several releases planned from the seven-member Fang Tshida collaborative. The free and downloadable 5-song EP features cameos from rhymers Sam Trump, BE.Water and Epp – as well as musical input from DaiN, Hi-Res and Chase Moore – and is themed with radio clips from the Portland Trailblazers’ 1977 NBA Championship series; clearly a nod to the duo’s Oregon roots.

Valentine and N.VS grew up as friends in the Oregon college town of Eugene before settling, respectively, in Portland and Chicago. Calvin Valentine is an extremely soulful young man with a penchant for combining slappy beats with live instrumentation. His clientele list includes Two Time World Rap Champion Illmaculate and West Coast hip-hop legend Planet Asia. Meanwhile, N.VS – an audio engineering student at Columbia College Chicago – is a smooth syllable-slicing wordsmith turned beatsmith, eagerly finding his way back to the proverbial wax. Focused on producing for the last three years, Trophy Cases is his first return to the microphone as a headlining emcee.

The resulting combination is a free EP that works. N.VS’ well thought out rhyme schemes and experience performing with a live band help meld his voice comfortably with Valentine’s expressive head-knocking compositions. With a sound built to satisfy existing fan bases in two very different regions, this first installment from Fang Tshida is certain to garner significant buzz. The title track, which is also the single, is receiving radio play on both WGCI 107.5 (Chicago) and Wild 107.5 (Portland).
Download Trophy Cases for free at: