Enamored by the relationship between Shakespeare and hip-hop — and the Bard of Avon’s famously prolific vocabulary — designer and data scientist Matt Daniels recently took it upon himself to examine the vocabularies of famous rappers in an attempt to determine who is in the same vocabu-sphere as Billy Shakes.
Daniels broke down the lyrics of 85 famous artists and groups (using the imperfect-but-necessary methodology of analyzing only their first 35,000 words, to ensure “prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake”). The result is this fantastic graphic:
Some of Daniels’ key findings:
Daniels made the mistake of excluding Aesop Rock — the clear winner — from his original chart. His addition nearly broke the damn thing:
The Reddit hip hop community was in uproar, claiming Aesop would absolutely be #1. Sure enough, Aesop Rock is well-above every artist in my dataset and I was obliged to add him to the chart. In fact, his datapoint is so far to the right that he should be off the chart (I’m lazy and didn’t adjust the scale).
Wu-Tang dominated, collectively taking the #6 spot. Indivual members also killed:
GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method Man’s solo works are also in the top 20 – notably, GZA at #2. Perhaps their countless hours of studio time together (and RZA’s mentorship) exposed each rapper’s vocabulary to one another.
East coast rappers run lyrical circles around southern-based artists, though Daniels has a theory for that:
The south has the lowest average (4,268) and the east-coast the highest (4,804). In fact, only 4 of the 17 southern-based artists in the dataset are above average. My guess is that this is a function of crunk music’s call-and-response style, resulting in more repetition of words.
Big names don’t necessarily come with big vocabularies. Some of the most popular artists on the chart landed near the bottom:
While Lil Wayne has never been celebrated for the complexity of his word choices, I expected 2pac, Snoop, and Kanye to be well above average.
It’s also worth noting that Drake, one of the most popular artists of late, is #83 on this list.
There aren’t nearly enough synonyms for barking noises:
At #85 and in last place: DMX. But this shouldn’t undermine an artist whose raw energy and honesty were the most memorable qualities of his music.