Hip hop and vocabulary

Hip hop is widely recognized for its stylized rhythm, usually accompanied with fast-speed rapping and the use of multiple and intricate words. Actually, a recent study discovered that hip hop is the musical genre with the highest average vocabulary (1,963), followed by heavy metal (1,533), folk (1,459) and rock (1,428).

But how many words do rappers use in comparison to some literary icons like Shakespeare or the author of Moby Dick, Herman Melville? Matt Daniels from Polygraph, took the first 35,000 words in songs of 85 rappers (equivalent to 3-5 studio albums and EPs) and compared them with the first 5,000 words of seven Shakespeare’s works and the first 35,000 words of Moby Dick.

To identify each artist’s vocabulary he used a research methodology called “Token Analysis,” where each word is counted once and later transcribed to a dataset.

The results showed that of the 85 rappers selected, three surpassed the unique word use records of Shakespeare and Melville: Aesop Rock (7,392), GZA (6,426) and Kool Keith (6,238). Additionally, 13 artist are located above Shakespeare’s count of 5,170 unique words.

Most of the rappers included in the study are located between the 4,300 and 5,000 range of words, while the one who reports the lowest number of unique words used is DMX with a score of 3,214.

Additionally, Daniels discovered a regional difference among rappers. Artists from the East Coast are more prolific with their vocabulary (4,804), while the ones in the South had the lowest average (4,268). According to the author, this could be explained by the extensive use of a call and response style, which may lead to more repetition of words.

Daniela Oliva

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