Standard & Poor’s Downgrades Kanye West
Acting on the momentum from its downgrade of the United States AAA credit rating, Standard & Poor’s said Tuesday that it was downgrading hip-hop artist Kanye West.
The announcement came after West’s rant at England’s Big Chill music festival last Saturday. The rapper, who took the stage a half hour late, complained of being misunderstood and underappreciated, with people looking at him “like I’m Hitler.” He also compared his place in hip hop to Michael Jordan’s impact on basketball, claiming to stand up against “so much shit going on in music right now” and vowing to be the one to “make a [freaking] difference.” The audience’s reaction was mixed. At press time there have been no responses from either Jordan or Hitler spokespersons.
Standard & Poor’s media spokesman Ned Kibble said its decision to drop West’s status from the coveted AAA to an A- was based on an analysis of the “five pillars” in S&P’s Hip Hop Rating Framework. Standard & Poor’s’ executives said the downgrade’s timing was “unfortunate” given this week’s release of West’s and Jay-Z’s collaborative effort Watch the Throne, but has nothing to do with the music.
“It’s no diss,” said Kibble, “it’s just that the quality of his fronts has been sliding for the past few years, and we threw down where he’s at.” Kibble cited Standard & Poor’s five pillars—“Frontin’ (boasting),” “Trippin’ (creative flights of beats and flow),” “Fiendin’ (thematic obsessions),” “Representin’ (standing up for truth),” and an ephemeral quality known among the top three ratings bureaus as “crunk”—as being, in Kibble's words, "necessary for a balance in achieving an overall alignment in the cultural pantheon. Just sayin.”
In order to achieve the coveted AAA rating, rappers must maintain at least four of the five pillars or risk a rating review. Temporary failings can be overlooked over the long haul but, according to S&P, West has been losing his touch. “Certainly, his trippin’ and representin’ are highly finessed,” said an S&P ratings expert, “but we’re looking most closely at his fronts and fiendin’, which ultimately weakens his crunk.”
West’s downgrade stemmed not only from the impact of a hungry, crowded field of innovative rap artists but also the expectation that one of hip-hop’s top draws should be able to get past tens of millions of dollars, the fawning attention of nubile young women, and almost universal critical praise to come up with a complaint more original than the Hitler and Michael Jordan comparisons. “If that’s where he's taking it, we’re not down for what the future holds in Kanye’s public appearances, and we’re afraid it's sapping his beats. He can do better. That’s why he’s kickin’ with a minus,” Kibble said.
“His frontin’ skills are slabbin’,” Kibble continued, using urban jargon for low-hanging pants. “When you front, you don’t stunt—you get out and bust it.” Standard & Poor’s first took notice in 2005 when West, on a televised post-Hurricane Katrina benefit concert, accused then-president George W. Bush of not caring about black people. Bush, a longtime fan of street rap whose own Lil Wayne mixtapes collection is comprehensive, was crushed by the criticism. West later backpedaled, saying he was speaking of the government in general.
Later, West had warned of trouble if his Late Registration didn’t win the 2006 Grammy for Album of the Year. When he lost to Justice and Simian, he took the stage to protest, apologizing for that outburst as well. “This really tore his ‘Frontin’” pillar a new one,” Kibble explained. “Frontin’” is an essential part of rap and hip-hop, a clever boast of superiority over other rappers and a centerpiece to S&P’s rating criteria. “Shootin’ from the lip is not frontin’. He’s got the stuff to back it up, but this ‘I’m like Michael Jordan’ shiz gotta stop. Quick.”
After losing a VMA the next year to Britney Spears, West faulted racism. “He’s fiendin’ over all the wrong shit,” a Standard & Poor’s executive wrote in an internal memo, “and it’s puttin’ a 187 on his crunk,” the executive said, placing West on a ratings “watch” list alongside other downgraded artists like Mariah Carey and Axl Rose, adding, “he can save that shit for the WWF.”
His most notorious public ratings fiasco came when he stormed the VMA stage in 2009 to snatch the microphone from Taylor Swift to protest her win over Beyonce. West later apologized, apologized again, re-apologized, wrote her a song and, as Kibble says, “did everything but send the bitch a basket of muffins” for his rudeness. “He could’ve got up and busted free style with Taylor, which would’ve been cool. All the ‘I’m sorry’ stuff did nothin’ but cap his own ass.”
“At least now Jay-Z’s got his back, who’s a married man and a father who sings about subjects that aren’t all [messed] up. You won’t catch him playin’ this Saint Kanye bullshit,” Kibble said with some disdain. “Hell, the brother’s done everything but buy himself a crib in Bethlehem.”
David Kestler, who heads Standard & Poor’s sovereign credit rating unit, says West has yet to demonstrate his capacity and commitment to change. “We do not foresee under anything but the most optimistic forecasts will Kanye’s delusional self-pity and misunderstood artist complex abate enough to return him to the swagger associated with someone of his creative stature. For now, Kestler claims, “his offstage brand is starting to look as authentic as Levi Johnston’s.”
One chance for West to restore his AAA rating rests in the political arena. Reports are that Republican candidates and Tea Partyers are playing West’s “Jesus Walks” at rallies before the Iowa straw poll, and “everyone’s holding their breath waiting for Kanye to take the bait and show up on a podium in Ames,” Kestler said. “That could raise him up or sink him. We’ve watched a lot of hope fizzle lately, but we’ll see how he represents. Never count Kanye out.”