11 25 2014
  9:26 pm  
     •     
The Wake of Vanport oral history
McMenamins

To Fahiym Acuay, being the editor-in-chief of We Out Here Magazine, or WOHM, is like his gardening hobby.

"I don't have a corporate sponsor saying, 'You have to play this,'" says Acuay. "Nobody can make me play a wack record. That little bit of freedom—that's why I garden. I want to make sure my food's organic."

The semi-retired rapper, better known as Mac Smiff, has used his experience as an artist and passion for writing to try and build WOHM into the go-to publication for Northwest hip-hop lifestyle. WOHM features Northwest music and editorials, including columns such as "Smitty in the City," "A Touch o' Ratchet," and "10 Things."

"This is a Pacific Northwest," he says.  "For us, it was more of letting folks know that this whole region is on the map.

"It might be different than the culture folks are used to in mainstream hip-hop but we do have a culture out here. It's not just beer and strippers."

Acuay moved to Clackamas from Queens, New York when he was 11. He says it was the worst thing ever because of the culture shock and isolation.

Writing became his therapy. He also had a stutter so it became an easier way to communicate.

At age 13, he had an article published in a book about homeschooling. He also wrote poetry.

When he was around 17 or 18, fellow Portland emcee Luck-One, who is also Acuay's little brother, approached him about rapping. They partnered with other local artists and formed the Seventh Science crew around 1999.

Eventually, Acuay went into semi-retirement and fell back into writing around 2009.

Remaining Seventh Science members Luck-One (left), Mac Smiff (center) and Sonny (right). Originally, the group also consisted of Paris, Seraph, Illaj and Kai.
 

He started off blogging. While at the SXSW Festival in 2010, where he was accompanying Luck-One as a hype man, he decided to write about the four day experience.

WOHM reached out to him to reprint the article and it became one of the most read pieces on their site. From there, he started doing guest columns.

In early 2013, the publication's founder Jake Espinosa decided to take a step back and the staff voted Acuay to become editor-in-chief.

Since taking the reins, Acuay says the publication has become edgier.

"In the past we liked everything," he says. "If it's not good, we're not going to post it. If you insist we post it, we're going to talk about it. I think that has actually brought folks in because they're starting to trust our opinions."

Acuay uses his experiences as a semi-retired artist to guide how he approaches WOHM's coverage. Specifically, he knows what not to do and tries to help other artists avoid similar mistakes.

Writing is an important part of building the infrastructure of the Portland hip-hop scene, he says. Media coverage helps create an image for emerging artists.

Acuay points to an article he recently wrote for the Oregonian on Tope as an example.

"He's a really good artist," he says. "He needs a piece of press that says, 'Hey, there's a feature story on him. Here's a picture of who he is. Here's a history of what he's done. Here's a bio on this artist. If you want to see him, this is where you can find him.'"

To Acuay this is the best year in Portland hip-hop he's seen so far. While there has always been a hip-hop scene here, he says the quality is more widespread.

For example, two Portland artists, Cassow and Luck-One, made the top five of the Freshest in the Northwest top 10 list, in which Acuay participated on the panel.



Also, the wide variety of artists has helped break down walls that previously prevented artists from working together. Ultimately, the result has been better music because these artists are pushing boundaries, says Acuay.

The talent level has aided WOHM's marketing strategy of promoting artists and relying on them to plug fans back into WOHM. It's all organic, he says.

Another way WOHM has tried to stay ahead of the curve with advertising is through merchandising.

They started making "swag" a year ago.

This year, WOHM released "Portland Hates You" tank tops. In addition to the shirts, Espinosa, who brought the idea to Acuay, penned a "10 Things" list of what Portland hates, which became an instant hit on the site.

"In this modern day, advertising is so different but it's all the same," says Acuay. "It adds awareness to your brand. If we put our stamp on it, it's got to be cool."

He says Portland hip-hop has benefited from the city taking on an identity associated with things like the organic movement and Portlandia. Even though he's not a fan of some of the ways Portland has been branded nationally, he says the spotlight on the city has caused a trickledown effect.

"People are wondering what's going on in Portland as far as hip-hop music goes," he says. "We wanted them to come to us. We want it to be the first thing you look at."

Even though artists and labels outside of the Northwest have tried to reach out to WOHM, Acuay says the goal is to keep the money local.

"The goal is to build an infrastructure here that allows us to be self-sufficient in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Northern California and that's it," he says. "Everything else has its own legs. I call it the Frederick Douglass approach. Build our own infrastructure and then we can talk to everybody else."

Outside of WOHM, Acuay tries to promote empowerment in his life and in his community.

"If we want to make a change in our communities, in our home, in our diaspora, then it's really important for us to understand what it is that we are purchasing and who it is that we're supporting," he says. "We have to be willing to say I'm going to get this money and spend it with the family."

He considers it a responsibility to promote literacy.

"It's important to understand things and not just regurgitate what you hear," he says. "We turn on CNN because it's not Fox News and that's the biggest scam ever."

While the tone of WOHM is light, Acuay sees it as avenue to show that reading and writing are cool.

In particular, the publication gives him a platform to connect with youth. Kids see him in his baseball caps and ties and they actually listen, he says. Even though he didn't set out to be a role model, the ability to be seen as a cool guy helps him communicate with youth in ways that other professionals might struggle with.

"They see you with a different angle because I'm not just out here preaching," says Acuay. "They actually see me doing things they want to do. They would love to be out doing interviews with rappers they see on TV.

"A lot of that (education) is lost because people are so into consumerism. They're trying to keep up with fads. They don't have time to learn. They (kids) don't see how being able to write is going to translate into dollars. They don't see how being able to do math is going to translate into dollars. It's important to teach these kids when they're small that these things are really cool. Just because you're smart, doesn't mean you have to walk around looking square."

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