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Give Hammer a break

The collective response to Michael Arrington including MC Hammer on his TechCrunch 20 review panel is pretty lame, IMO.

Commenters should keep in mind that this is a real guy they're talking about. Have some friggin courtesy. I've actually met the guy at a party, so maybe it's easier for me to imagine him as a real human who reads the net too, and not just some TV celeb caricature. If you were introduced to him at CES or an industry party, would you say this stuff to his face? He's a nice guy, he's got a blog, and he's done a lot of other stuff since that 80's video.

Also, putting down someone who had a successful career in one area, and who is trying to reinvent themselves in a new role doesn't seem right to me. There are plenty of people who had careers in sports, music, movies, etc. and then go on to second careers in politics, wall street, real estate, etc. I think that's just great and should be encouraged.

But the worst conceit of the crowd's response is the assumption than this guy can't know anything about technology, and thus the idea of him doing a social network is silly. But the thing is -- there isn't really very much technology in social networks. You can build one of these puppies in a weekend, or have one built for you outsourced for $15-25k. It's commodity at this point. Success is based on boot-up and network-effects. So maybe, just maybe, is it possible that someone with a successful media and promotion background, with lots of contacts in those areas, with a name everyone recognizes, might actually have a decent shot at promoting something? Versus an unknown 20-something rails programmer freshly minted with their geek degree, and $20k in "VC"?

I met a bunch of music industry folks while I was at AOL Music, and many of them were savvy businesspeople and highly entrepreneurial. One aging rock dude, long out of contract, had even taught himself to program and built a subscription-driven site for his hard core fans where he posted tracks, videos, did live chats, etc.

It's hard to escape your stereotype I guess. Leonard Nimoy has done 20 things since star trek but he's got to keep doing that hand thing whenever people approach him in public.

I think Hammer's a great choice to make the event a bit less valley insular. And, as Renee Blodgett recently suggested about valley events in general, to liven things up a bit.

I have no idea what Hammer is up to, or if it's credible or not. But sheesh, cut the guy some slack.

Comments (10)

I agree with you 100%. Hammer's fall came about, in large part, because he was overly generous with the rewards of his success, and frankly, there's a lot worse things he could have done then been too giving. He's helped untold numbers of people find a better life, with money when he had it and with words of encouragement when he was broke. That he's trying to reinvent himself now is precisely what we all should be doing. Anyone who's attacking Hammer needs to engage in some serious self-reflection.

I'm all for cutting Hammer some slack, Rich -- and in fact a couple of people have suggested that he actually knows a bit about what's going on online. That said, however, there's no external evidence of that -- and yet Mike and Jason have put him on something called an "experts panel." There's a bit of a disconnect there, I would argue, with no disrespect intended to Mr. Hammer.

Jon:

Would you complain about Vanilla Ice getting the same treatment (if he were in the same situation)? Don't get me wrong; I loved MC Hammer's music back in the day and I think it's damn cool that he is involved in web ventures. The reason that he got that reaction is that people are expecting some serious caliber out of the techcrunch conference in that they are expecting well known speakers and people who they know as involved in the industry. If someone had said they heard a rumor that MC Hammer was going to be an expert at the conference before Arrington made his post, would you have believed him? No! You might have even laughed (no offense Hammer!). I have heard that he's a really nice guy (too) though and I hope that the comments on that post only encourage him to go out and kick ass. I just don't think that such a reaction should have been that surprising. I do agree with you that a lot of those comments could have been nicer.

Hey Rich,

Patrick here (formerly from Rotten Tomatoes). I agree with you 110%. I always think you shouldn't say/write things that you wouldn't say in front of someone's face. If any of those guys met him in person, they would be kissing up big time.

Also, one other tidbit about MC Hammer. A long time ago Justin Lin (director) ran into him at some conference and they chatted a bit and MC Hammer gave Justin his card. Years later Justin was filming "Better Luck Tomorrow" and didn't have funds to complete it. With no other choices, he decided to try giving Hammer a call. Hammer didn't remember Justin, but agreed to meet up. They hit it off, and Hammer decided to put up the money to let Justin finish the film. The film went to Sundance, was picked up by MTV Films, and went on to be one of the biggest Asian American films ever. Justin Lin has since gone to direct more films including "Annapolis", "Fast and the Furious 3", and most recently, "Finishing the Game" (with an appearance by MC Hammer).

Peter:

most white people are at least passively racist. white techies are hating on Hammer the same way white sports fans are hating on barry bonds. even 'moderate white people' bring out the superlatives of hate for Barry. you'd think he shot someone - to hear otherwise normal white folks go off the deep end when talking about Barry or other black athletes. all Barry did was roid up and break a white guy's record. same as mark mcguire. but the hate was absent in McGuire's case.

i talked to a guy recently who told me he didn't think racism was much of a problem anymore. it's difficult to even address that. where to begin? i told him to read some books.

Did you see Arrington's "interview" of Ray Ozzie at MIX? It was a travesty, not even amateurish but just plain embarrassingly bad. I kept wondering if he would actually LOOK at Ozzie at any point in the interview. In short, it was the reason why blog personalities-- or at least this one in particular-- should stay behind a blog at all times.

I've written Arrington off completely when it comes to panels.

I couldn't agree more- as a former producer and studio owner (before you could put an entire studio on a laptop) my experience is that many of these early rapper/performers were way ahead of the curve technologywise. Sampling, MIDI, hacking various music technology in ways it was never designed for, production methods- they were extremely openminded and accepting of new ideas. Today even a local club DJ is tech savvy. Try reading Electronic Musician magazine today and I think you'll find that even hardcore valley hackers will get lost in what they're doing. I don't know Hammer's level of expertise but writing off rappers as non-techies is simply stupid.

Amy:

Hammer has an interesting background, that extends far before and beyond his rap career. In the 1970's he was a batboy-turned-EVP of the Oakland A's. When he was 13.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Hammer

"But the worst conceit of the crowd's response is the assumption than this guy can't know anything about technology, and thus the idea of him doing a social network is silly. But the thing is -- there isn't really very much technology in social networks. You can build one of these puppies in a weekend, or have one built for you outsourced for $15-25k. It's commodity at this point."

That's a bit unfair isn't it?

You and I both know that the original implementation means nothing. 99% of the work comes in scaling the site and making it profitable.

:)

Thanks for the post. Hammer has a ton of experience in entertainment and is quickly becoming an expert about all things digital (to use a phrase that's on people's mind these days).

Nick Denton's attack on Hammer say more about Nick Denton than it does about anything else--specifically that he will do anything to stir the pot and get page views. I don't believe that Nick Denton is a racist, I think he is an opportunist. In this situation instead of thinking with an open mind about the role of a celebrity moving to the technology space, he thought "oh, chance for me to try and make my competitor Mike Arrington look bad."

That's just classic Nick Denton style, and frankly there is no reason to feed into Denton's trolling. He is looking for a response and page views and I'm not going to give it to him.

On the subject of diversity at tech conferences I have a number of feelings:

1. I don't think you can blame the producers of tech conferences for the demographic makeup of the industry. Conferences typically mirror the demographics of the industry they are in--you can't take it out on the producers of conference.

2. That being said, I think that it is a great idea to take the time to be as inclusive as possible while NOT putting people on stage simply because they fill a "token" slot. I would never do that, and I never did that back in the Silicon Alley days. However, I do take the time to really think "are we leaving anyone out that is QUALIFIED and who would make the panel more balanced."

Finally, I love your point about saying things to people's face. Nick Denton would never say anything controversial to anyone's face. In fact, his style is to be amazingly nice in person and then kick you when you're behind your monitor--again, this says more about Nick Denton than it does anyone else.

That being said, I think Nick Denton has a nice side to his personality and I wish he would leave some of this low-blows out of his arsenal of publishing tricks.

best regards,

Jason

ps - he's HAMMER people... come on!

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