Ever wondered how your favourite rappers stack up against the words of Shakespeare or Herman Melville? Data scientist and coder Matt Daniels plugged in the lyrics of 85 rappers and crunched the numbers to come up with an interactive ranking of how large their vocabularies are, as plotted against the Bard and Melville's seminal novel, Moby Dick. You can check out the results here.
"Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare's vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever," Daniels writes in his post. "I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist's first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake."
So how does your favourite wordsmith come out? Let's just say that any Drizzy fans will be sorely disappointed.
Cult Californian rapper Aesop Rock comes out as the most wordy rapper, with a vocabulary of 7,392 unique words. GZA and Kool Keith all land top ten spots, too – but what's way more interesting are the rappers who sit at the bottom of the chart.
Slotting in at a surprising third place, behind DMX and Too Short? Drake. You'd expect DMX to land in the last spot, given most of his musical oeuvre consists of high-energy barking and loud, aggressive noises, but Drake? Turns out the Nothing Was The Same rapper only uses 3,522 unique words in his vocabulary, falling way behind rappers like Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, the latter of whom he's been fighting with in the worst rap beef of all time.
Jay-Z himself barely cracks the top 50 rappers. In fact, with the exception of Outkast and the assorted members of Wu-Tang Clan, a lot of commercially successful rappers – including Kanye West, Missy Elliott and Snoop Dogg – lag behind in the vocab stakes.
But then again, being good with words has never been equated with being good at the rap game. As Daniels himself points out, "On The Black Album track 'Moment of Clarity', Jay-Z contrasts his lyricism with that of Common and Talib Kweli (both of whom "rank" higher than him, when it comes to the diversity of their vocabulary):
'I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars / They criticized me for it, yet they all yell "holla" / If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be / Lyrically Talib Kweli / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did 5 mil - I ain't been rhyming like Common since.'
In short, success isn't necessarily dependent on the size of the vocabulary you use. But reading a dictionary sometime wouldn't hurt, either.
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