Matt Daniels, a data scientist at Undercurrent in New York, recently put together an ingenious little graphic charting the number of unique words used within an artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. Essentially displaying which rappers have the largest vocabulary.
The image likens itself to the cover of Tribe‘s Midnight Marauders, which is an immediate draw, but instead of being used as a way to bypass “thank yous” on liner notes it’s set to a word count and tells us where our favorite rappers measure up as far as their lyrical acumen goes. The results are mixed, some seemingly uncharacteristic and others making complete sense. Overall it’s pretty telling of where modern day rap is.
The lowest of the low, and mind you this was based on a sample size, is DMX who looks understandably distraught in his pic. At a mere 3,214 words it appears he’s seen his best days. Did Daniels included the random barking DMX is known for? That alone would have propelled him to the top.
The wordiest of the bunch is a unique cast of characters. Three are graduates of Wu University – Ghostface, RZA and GZA – which is no surprise as each is considered by and large to be a heady lyricist or in this case the Herman Melvilles of rap. Aesop Rock – one half of the Uncluded – tops the list in a surprising upset.
But as life has taught us the truth lies somewhere in the middle – Aesop is not that good and DMX is not that bad. It’s in the nucleus of this graphic that you’ll find the most fodder – where the roads between the mainstream, indie and underground cross in a cosmic fugue. You got Doom shootin’ the breeze with E-40, Ludacris rubbin’ elbows with Big Daddy Kane, Ice-T playing scrabble with Puffy - who no doubt borrowed a couple thousand words just to save face – the possibilities are endless.
The beauty of something like this is that it reminds us that it’s not always what you say but how you say it. It’s the total package that crafts and molds that ever elusive and mysterious x-factor. Hemingway didn’t need a thousand words to say what he could in a few, and literature is better because of it. Rap works much the same way, and Matt Daniels – scientist and hip-hop head for life – helped us realize that. Knowledge is power, or as Marley Marl once famously said: