Saturday, August 30, 2014

Interview: Byron Crawford's new book looks back on his epic beef with Kanye

Hip hop's smartest, funniest blogger goes in on his greatest nemesis.

Posted By on Sat, Aug 30, 2014 at 12:26 AM

click to enlarge Kanye_West__Superstar.jpg
Somewhere way back in the mists of time, I was fresh out of college and working a grunt-level desk job at a law school. It gave me a ton of time to write on the internet, which, sadly, I mostly squandered on long-winded, pseudo-intellectual introspection. Luckily, it also gave me a lot of time to READ on the internet, which, thank God, I mostly squandered on the much sharper, more insightful, and more entertaining work of hip hop blogger Byron Crawford.

Crawford (aka Bol, aka Bol Guavara MD) is what would happen if Chuck Klostermann was black, loved hip-hop, and was justifiably angry about everything from institutionalized racism to corruption in the rap industry. Which is to say, he’d still be a nerdy suburbanite teddy bear, but a nerdy suburbanite teddy bear who regularly got in internet beefs with big-time rappers like Bun B.

Oh, and also Byron is regularly ten times funnier and smarter than Klostermann on his best day.

I was going to take a quick trip down memory lane (aka Byron’s archive), to dig up some gems to make the point about how amazingly funny he is, but unfortunately his website is so full of twerking gifs and ads for Diablo 3 these days that it brought my browser to a grinding halt. So you’ll have to settle for just a couple, which it took me nearly an hour to gather:

“If Jim Jones does have one talent, and talent probably isn’t the right word but I don’t feel like spending too much time on this crap at all, but if the man does have one ‘positive attribute,’ it’s his capacity for complete self-delusion.”

On Kanye West: “Maybe he was just as much of an asshole as a young child and that's why his pop skipped town. There's nothing worse than a little arrogant ass baby.”

Oh yeah, Kanye. Kanye, with whom Byron had such animus, became the focus of his most famous dust-up of all time.

Byron found out that Kanye West’s first hit single, “Jesus Walks,” had been ghostwritten by a Chicago MC named Rhymefest. On the principle that rappers should write their own lyrics, Byron started a campaign to get Kanye’s Grammy taken back. Now he’s written a retrospective about that incident, and about Kanye in general, which believe me, if you’re into hip hop at all, will be more than worth the $9.99 the ebook edition will run you at Amazon. (10 bucks for digital. The man knows his value!)

I took advantage of the opportunity to ask Byron a few questions, and had the temerity to act like I was his equal.

DZM: People who were paying attention to hip hop 10 years ago are pretty likely to remember the controversy you helped stir up over Rhymefest's ghostwriting of "Jesus Walks." Do you think it's worth digging it back up with this book, though? What are you trying to prove?

Bol: The point of the bringing the controversy up in this book was not to bring it back to light, to try to finally get Kanye banned from the Grammys or whatever (though that would be sweet), but rather just to tell the story. Because I was personally involved in it, and because I think it provides a certain insight into Kanye as an artist, there was no way I could write this book and not include that story.

DZM: Hate to say it, but I think we're both, to put it a little politely, 'old school' now. Do you go to much effort listening to new hip hop, or are you like me, kind of curled up with old albums, lamenting your lost youth?

Bol: We're probably older now than the Sugar Hill Gang was in the 1990s. It's tragic.

I fall somewhere in between yourself, not listening to much new rap music, and being completely up on new rap music. I end up hearing all kinds of things, as a result of being on the Internets all day long, but very little of it interests me personally. But I do still listen to some new rap music.

I especially like Meyhem Lauren, Roc Marciano, Run the Jewels, Danny Brown, Action Bronson ... that sort of thing. And I'll have a look at anything that seems like it might be worthwhile, provided I have the time.

DZM: This is your fifth ebook, does that mean it's been working out for you, business-wise?

Bol: I'd be doing this regardless of if it was working out business-wise. Of course when it started out I harbored delusions of fame and fortune. I was putting together a list of girls on Instagram I might want to make love to.

It hasn't worked out quite like that. I'm doing all right by self-published author standards, but I'm not making enough to do this for a living. When I started out, I figured I'd give it five years and see where I end up. I'm two years and five books in now. I figure I'm proceeding at a decent enough pace.

DZM: Where do you see yourself going from here as a writer? The books in some ways seem to be getting more ambitious and even serious, but they're still pretty focused on criticism-slash-humor.

Bol: I hope the humor aspect of my writing isn't getting away from me. I mostly read and think about serious things these days, and of course the world around us is getting crazier and crazier. This summer in particular has been insane. My plan is to continue writing books in a similar vein for as long as I can. Maybe not always the same subject matter, but a similar writing style. I don't harbor delusions of "going legit," writing the great American novel or anything like that.

DZM: On that topic, I do notice there's a lot less writing on your blog than back in the day. Is that showing up elsewhere?

Bol: Funny you should ask. For the past few months now I've been writing a weekly email newsletter called Life in a Shanty Town. Each issue consists of an approximately 1,000 word-long essay about what's going on in hip-hop, on the Internets or in the world that week. It's something I put together on a whim one day, but it seems to be going really well. It's growing in popularity, and I'm enjoying putting it together. I must still be in that honeymoon period before things just seem tedious.

Aside from that, I've been writing lengthier blog posts, or essays or whatever you want to call them, for a site called Medium. I did a post on Chuck D's beef with Peter Rosenberg that went somewhat viral on the hip-hop Internets without being picked up by any mainstream media outlets, and I recently dropped a 5,000 word-long essay on the Mike Brown shooting that people seemed to enjoy [Crawford lives in St. Louis].

DZM: Finally, do you think Kanye West remembers who you are?

Bol: I'm sure Kanye West knows who I am, not because I'm such an important person, or the things I've written about him have had much of an impact, but because I happen to know — both from writing about him for the past 10-plus years now and from speaking with other bloggers and industry types — that Kanye is on the Internets heavy. He just doesn't comment publicly very often. A lot of rappers are like that.

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