.In short, if artists depart from hip-hop song structure, we’d expect their vocabulary to go down in the number of unique words.
That said, the results are still directionallyinteresting. Of the 150 artists in the dataset, let’s take a look at who is on top.
#1 – Aesop Rock
When I first published this analysis, I excluded Aesop Rock, figuring he was too obscure. The Reddit hip-hop community was in an uproar, claiming that Aesop would absolutely be #1. Sure enough, Aesop Rock is well above every artist in the dataset, and I was obliged to add him to the chart.
#2 – Busdriver
For the most recent update, I pored over requests from readers, and Busdriver was most common on folks’ wishlists. He and Aesop Rock are the only rappers with more than 7,000 unique words in their first 35,000 lyrics.
#4, #5, #7, #10, #15, and #20 – Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit
Wu-Tang Clan at #5 is impressive given that 10 members, with vastly different styles, equally contribute lyrics. Add the fact that GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method Man’s solo works are also in the top 20 – notably, GZA is at #4.
#28, #54 – Outkast and E-40
Of course E-40 is in the top 20%; he’s considered to be the inventor of many slang terms. Just a few that he’s been responsible for coining or popularizing: “all good,” “pop ya collar,” “shizzle,” and “you feel me.”
Outkast’s expansive vocabulary is definitely a function of their style: frequent use of portmanteaus (for example, “ATLiens,” “Stankonia”), southern drawl (for example, “nahmsayin,” “ery’day”), and made-up slang (for example, “flawsky-wawsky”).
#49 and #59 – Busta Rhymes and Twista
Since both rappers are known for their speed, it’s nice to see that their verses are just as lyrically diverse as their peers’.
So what’s all this mean?
io9 writer Robert Gonzalez blew my mind with this point, “On the Black Album track ‘Moment of Clarity,’ Jay-Z contrasts his lyricism with that of Common and Talib Kweli” (both of whom rank higher than him, when it comes to the diversity of their vocabulary):
I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it, yet they all yell “holla”
If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be
Lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did 5 mil – I ain’t been rhyming like Common since