When it comes to grading and comparing hip-hop artists, there are a number of attributes that need to be examined: flow, message, beat selection, popularity and so on. A category that is often overlooked is vocabulary. Tallying up a single artist’s word choice is a tall order, but given the significant use of slang and differing discography depths between artists, finding a balanced measurement is a difficult accomplishment.
New York-based designer, coder and data scientist Matt Daniels took up this challenge, pulling out the number of unique words from the first 35,000 lyrics of 85 artists — unfortunately excluding artists like Kendrick Lamar and Biggie, as they just don’t have enough content — and using Shakespeare as a benchmark under the same condition. The clear champion is Aesop Rock, coming in with 7,392 words, easily beating Shakespeare’s 5,170 words, as well as Herman Melville’s 6,022 words in “Moby Dick.”
Following behind Aesop Rock, is the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as the solo works of members GZA, RZA and Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and Method Man, falling just short of Shakespeare’s total. At the very end of the spectrum we have DMX with 3,214 words. Other selections of note: Insane Clown Posse has 4,146 words, which comes in ahead of Kanye West’s 3,982 words and serves as proof that the importance and meaning of vocabulary is sometimes a little blurry.
To see where more of your favorite rappers land, and a further breakdown of Wu-Tang Clan’s place(s) on the interactive chart, head over to Daniels’ page, and make sure to check out more of his insightful analyses.