Aesop Rock, GZA Have Largest Vocabularies in Hip-Hop, Says New Study

Study compared first 35,000 words used by rappers (and Shakespeare)

Aesop Rock
Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images
May 5, 2014 3:03 PM ET

Aesop Rock has the largest vocabulary in hip-hop, according to a study by data scientist Matt Daniels. Using lyrics from Rap Genius, Daniels examined 85 rappers' first 35,000 lyrics for unique words to give a level playing field to old and new artists. (Rock had 7,392 unique words—more than two times as many as DMX, who had the least number of unique words with 3,214.)

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For comparison's sake, Daniels included Shakespeare's and Herman Melville's number of unique words in the first 35,000 words of their works, with Rock using more unique words than those authors as well.

"It's really strange to see this data compiled in this way, as it's a bunch of rappers on a scale unrelated to rapping," the rapper tells Rolling Stone. "I like songs by most, if not all, of these people, and I'm sure if the study had cast a wider net, I would be buried. That said, I do find the information interesting to look at, and it's nice to wake up to a bunch of kind words on the computer net."

After Rock, Wu-Tang Clan and its individual members dominate the list: GZA, RZA, Ghostface Killah and the Wu (as a collective) all crack the top 10. East coast rappers also comprise most of the top spots.

There were some challenges for classifying words in the study: Daniels writes that he "used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist's vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimpspimppimping, and pimpin are four unique words. To avoid issues with apostrophes (e.g., pimpin' vs. pimpin), they're removed from the dataset."

After posting to Reddit's HipHopHeads subreddit and getting feedback, Daniels included Aesop Rock, who ended up taking the top spot. There were some surprises on the lower spectrum of the graph, too, with Kanye West and 2Pac each placing in the bottom 20 percent. 

You can read the study and see the full infographic here.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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