UPDATED: Rappers, sorted by size of vocabulary. 20 new rappers added, hand-illustrated.

Rappers, sorted by size of vocabulary

A super-duper high res version is available here:

This is the latest version of my original project, Rappers, sorted by size of the their vocabulary via a collaboration with poster-site Pop Chart Lab. Here’s some background:

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.

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.

35,000 words covers 3-5 studio albums and EPs. I included mixtapes if the artist was just short of the 35,000 words. Quite a few rappers don’t have enough official material to be included (e.g., Biggie). As a benchmark, I included data points for Shakespeare and Herman Melville, using the same approach (35,000 words across several plays for Shakespeare, first 35,000 of Moby Dick).

I used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist’s vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words. To avoid issues with apostrophes (e.g., pimpin’ vs. pimpin), they’re removed from the dataset. It still isn’t perfect. Hip hop is full of slang that is hard to transcribe (e.g., shorty vs. shawty), compound words (e.g., king shit), featured vocalists, and repetitive choruses.

It’s still directionally interesting.

A lot has happened since the first version released in May. I highly recommend reading this analysis from Pigeons and Planes, which thoughtfully breaks-down what rap fans should take from a project like this:

The most common captions accompanying this article on social media were along the lines of, “I knew there was a reason I liked Wu-Tang,” or, “This proves how much better Aesop Rock is than all the mainstream crap.” Comments like these show that many people associate the amount of words a rapper uses with the breadth of his (or her) artistic expression—at least when they stop to think about it…

…Daniels’ insightful analysis shows that rappers can swing with heavyweights like Shakespeare when it comes to word choice, and highlights which rappers the word-obsessed among us (myself included) might gravitate towards. But the comments I’ve seen on social media disparaging or praising rappers for their place in the hierarchy of word usage seem to miss something. Rap can be poetic, but it’s not poetry. It’s music, a performed art, and as such its vocabulary cannot be described simply by words.

In short, take all of this shit with a grain of salt. Think of this as a data-point that sparks interesting discussion about hip hop and word-usage, and absolutely not a conclusive argument for rapper x is better than rapper y. 

In version 2, I decided to add rappers who are known for their word-obsession (included a few others who were noticeably missing from v1):

Danny Brown
George Watsky
Childish Gambino
Jedi Mind Tricks
2 Chainz
Mac Dre
Action Bronson
Immortal Technique
Del the Funky Homosapian
Sage Francis
Kendrick Lamar
J. Cole
Mac Miller
Jean Grae
Rick Ross
Trick Daddy

I expected that the top 10 rappers would shift dramatically.

Boy was I (and the Internet) right. Jedi Mind Tricks, Action Bronson, Jean Grae, Del, Sage Francis, and Immortal Technique are all at the top, artists known for their word-usage. Even Watsky is up there, whose roots are in slam poetry.

– @matthew_daniels

ps. Aesop Rock is still impossibly off the chart, even after his “peer set” was added. :)

pps. Buy this chart in poster form! Support the project by checking out the poster version at Pop Chart Lab. I mean, check out these gorgeous illustrations of 100 rappers for your wall…