NYC coder Matt Daniels recently teamed up with Red Bull Music Academy to do an interesting sort of data analysis on hip hop. The benchmark of English literature for vocabulary usage is typically the Bard, although Daniels also points out through this study that Herman Melville also had quite the vocabulary. What about hip hop though – specifically the rappers? They make their name entirely on their words, so it seems only natural to compare them to the aforementioned benchmarks.
Mr. Daniels took the first 35,000 words in their lyrics and sorted them for unique word usages. He then took the first 5000 words of Shakespeare’s 7 most popular plays (and the first 35,000 words of Moby Dick) and compared them.
The result? Wu-Tang Clan is, in fact, nothin’ to fuck with. There are 16 rappers identified that have bigger purported vocabularies than the Bard, and 5 of them are Clan – including the Clan itself. There are, however, only three that have bigger vocabularies than Melville: Kool Keith (no surprise considering he throws in words like “moosebumps” whenever he can), the GZA (the Genius!), and, by an extremely wide margin, Aesop Rock, whose lyrics often come across like post-modernist literature.
At the bottom? DMX. Although, as one astute commenter on /r/music pointed out, Mr. Daniels obviously didn’t count the sixteen different variations on barking that DMX pulls out.