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The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop

Stashed in: Words!, music, Kanye!, Shakespeare, @snoopdogg, @jayz, @wutangclan, Hip-Hop

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Matt Daniels writes:

Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, heuses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever (average people have a vocab of 5,000 words).

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.


When I first published this analysis, I excluded Aesop Rock, figuring he was too obscure. The Reddit hip hop community was in uproar, claiming Aesop wouldabsolutely 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 Clan at #5 is fucking impressive given that 10 members, with vastly different styles, are equally contributing lyrics. Add the fact that 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.


Of course E-40 is in the top 20; he’s considered to be the inventor of much slang. Just a few that he’s been responsible for: all good, pop ya collar, shizzle, and you feel me.

At #15, Outkast’s deep vocabulary is definitely a function of their style: frequent use of portmanteau (e.g., ATLiens, Stankonia), southern drawl (e.g., nahmsayin, ery’day), and made-up slang (e.g., flawsky-wawsky).


Some of the biggest names in hip hop were in the bottom 20%.

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.

Yes, that was surprising.

I love the fact that he did the study at all!  I also am a bit embarrassed by my love of Drake, but I think the fact we're both from Canada biases me a bit.  

I think if there was some way to measure how catchy the beats are, this list might get turned on its head for the most part.

Perhaps there's an inverse relationship: artists who don't have a lot of words need to rely on the catchy beats more.

True - or they rely on less sophisticated beats that the average person can get his or her mind around more easily.  This is similar to  how movies without a lot of substance tend to rely on explosions, car chases, and gratuitous nudity more (I'm looking at you, Fast and Furious franchise)! 

Less challenging material is what the mainstream seems to seek in entertainment. 

fun post

Yessir -- best thing I saw on Reddit today!