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Hip-hop etymology: Mapping the largest vocabularies of rappers

By Nora Meszaros     May 6, 2014 in Entertainment
New York - An NYC-based designer and coder formulated a list of 85 rappers to study the extent of each rapper's vocabulary through their lyrics. His findings were released in an online interactive mapping format.
Matt Daniels, a data scientist at Undercurrent in New York, used his generated list to find which artists has the largest vocabulary in hip-hop, using the first 35,000 lyrics of each musician’s catalog. Using Rap Genius, Daniels “levelled the playing field” between older and newer artists, Laughing Squid reports.
“I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics,” he said. “That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.”
Daniels explained that he used a process of research methodology called token analysis to conclude each rapper’s vocabulary, counting words very specifically, since “hip hop is full of slang that is hard to transcribe.”
The full interactive chart uses Shakespeare and the wordy Moby Dick from Herman Melville as benchmarks of comparison, because “literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary,” Daniels said. According to him, Shakespeare used nearly 30,000 words through his works, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words, with “arguably the largest vocabulary, ever.”
Aesop Rock lead the scoreboard when Daniels displayed his full findings online, with the Wu Tang Clan as a single entity coming in at sixth place across the chart, according to Death and Taxes Magazine.
Kanye, Drake, and Tupac Shakur bring up the rear, with DMX in dead last, Death and Taxes Magazine reports.
In case you’re wondering, Outkast, MF Doom, and E-40 hover around Shakespeare’s mark, with Canibus, CunninLynguists, and Kool Keith measuring up to Melville’s Moby Dick.
“Quite a few rappers don’t have enough official material to be included,” Daniels said of the obviously missing elements Biggie Smalls and Kendrick Lamar.
Matt Daniels is a strategist for Undercurrent, a company that specializes in digital product strategy. His previous works include "The Etymology of Shorty in Hip-Hop" and "Outkast, in charts."
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