By Sam Levin
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By Dennis Brown
Kanye West may have become a household name when he lamented, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" during the Hurricane Katrina debacle, but he was already one of the most critically feted rappers of all time. His debut album, 2004's The College Dropout, topped numerous year-end polls and sold nearly three million copies. In an August cover story, Time magazine proclaimed him "the smartest man in pop music."
Armed with keyboard and modem, the Internet's most controversial hip-hop blogger is waging war with the celebrity rapper. Crawford began the battle by excoriating the album. "Can't somebody just get him a degree from Ranken or somewhere so he can shut the fuck up about school already?" he wrote on his blog, ByronCrawford.com. He went on to call one of the tunes "the worst shit I've ever heard before in my life."
Then it got personal.
"Not to rag on people without fathers, but Kanye West is just another example of the kind of shit that happens when there's no man in the house," Crawford penned in a post titled "Let's Hunt and kill Kanye West's Mother." "You can tell his mom tried to dress him up like Alfonso Ribeiro from 'Silver Spoons' and had him doing all kinds of faggoty shit."
The 24-year-old Crawford really hit the roof when West was nominated last December for a pair of Grammy awards for his song "Jesus Walks." Crawford says he received a tip from a friend in Indianapolis that an MC named Rhymefest actually wrote the number and sold it to West -- grounds, in Crawford's mind, for Grammy disqualification. Crawford proceeded to launch an online petition to have the nominations rescinded.
"Did Kanye Steal 'Jesus Walks'?" asked the headline of a December 18, 2004, story on the Web site TheOG.net, which cited a press release Crawford sent out as its only source. Dozens of other Web sites, message boards and blogs followed suit, and more than 800 people signed the petition. Though the Grammy committee did not disqualify West, his heretofore sparkling reputation was tarnished.
"[Crawford] was the first one in on the Kanye West ghostwriting controversy," affirms Cleveland-based writer Jim Izrael, "and then he blew it up all over the fucking Internet."
West's family fought back.
"How painful it must be to be filled with so much hate," read a posting in the comments section of Crawford's blog. The comment was signed by West's mother, Donda.
Another comment, apparently from West's cousin, threatened, "IF YALL TOUCH MY AUNTIE IM GOIN KILL YALL AZZ I SWEAR ON ERR THANG I LOVE."
Yet another angry blast came to Crawford via e-mail: "you and all the other people who have nothing but negative things to say about him need to RAISE UP OFF HIS NUTS!!!!!!!!!! sincerely, kanye's former babysitter, and current friend & supporter Deneen."
None of West's defenders could be reached for comment or to verify their identities.
"If you on the Internet, don't say nothing about Kanye," West said. "I'm sick of it. You can't touch me, so shut up. They try to find flaws: 'I don't feel like he should get nominated for 'Jesus Walks.'
"What I do is, I kind of have tunnel vision," West went on. "When I focus on something I completely have to kill it. If I focus on clothes, completely kill that. Focus on the Grammy performance, completely kill that. Focus on the album, completely kill that. Focus on Internet haters -- die motherfucker, die motherfucker, die!"
Crawford's beef with West is indicative of the bald-headed blogger's M.O. By taking on the pop culture's sacred cows in a vulgar, over-the-top manner, he draws hundreds of thousands of readers.
"I try to provide an alternative to what you would normally see in the media, whether it's music or politics or whatever," says Crawford. "It's not like I dislike [West] any more than anyone else who's out right now, but to hear some people tell it, he was the greatest thing to come along in hip-hop."
Observes Ex: "Byron is using shock value to push buttons and to have conversations that these days aren't usually allowed to happen because everyone's so politically correct. No one wants to say anything that offends someone on the record. But when people get around their friends and get drunk, it's 'nigga this, cracker that, fag this, fag that.' Byron's brought it out in the open."
It's five o'clock somewhere, and Byron Crawford is downing multiple cans of Miller High Life and flipping channels. Sitting on a beat-up couch pilfered from his parents' basement, he fends off advances from Eberhard Anheuser, his roommate's dog. The boxer's erect penis swells from his underside; Crawford insists the animal's gay.
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