Rappers Ranked By Vocabulary Size

A few months ago, a designer, coder, and data analyst named Matt Daniels took on an interesting project: Ranking a number of rappers based on the vocabulary they’ve shown on records. He took the first 35,000 words of each rapper’s discography, and then figured out how many unique words were in each of those data-sets, ranking the rappers accordingly. The initial result, which quickly made the internet rounds, had Aesop Rock at the top of the list, way beyond everyone else, and DMX buried at the bottom.

Now: There’s a temptation to look at this list as a ranking of quality, of rap literary value. But any methodology that posits Aesop Rock as being better than DMX is fundamentally flawed. And Daniels has acknowledged that this list is not something to be taken at face value: “Think of this as a data-point that sparks interesting discussion about hip hop and word-usage, and absolutely not a conclusive argument for rapper x is better than rapper y.”

That said, Daniels has now updated his initial list by adding a handful of rappers, many of them known for their lyrical breadth, and the results are pretty interesting, though Aesop is still at the top and DMX is still at the bottom. Jedi Mind Tricks are now at #3 on the list, behind only Aesop and GZA. Action Bronson, Sage Francis, Immortal Technique, and Mac Dre are all high up on the list. J. Cole is way lower. You can see a much bigger version of the chart here and read Daniels’ piece about it here.

Comments (16)

  2. “[A]ny methodology that posits Aesop Rock as being better than DMX is fundamentally flawed.”

    It is?

  3. Would love to see where Das Racist fall. They were pretty wordy.

    • Counting their individual mix tapes there is probably a big enough sample size to do Heems and Kool A.D. separately. I would love to see their word count as well.

    • I also want to see where El-P would land. I suspect he wouldn’t be that far away from Aesop.

  4. Del has an unfair advantage with those Deltron records though.

  5. This chart is flawed. Based God isn’t first. smh

  6. But which rapper has the biggest head? OWWWOOOOOOO!

  7. This illustrates the problem with so-called “data journalism” in general. We can analyze the obvious like who uses the most words in their raps, but how do you measure charisma, or the beauty of a metaphor? Vocabulary size tells us very litte about whether someone is a good rapper or not, just like that 538 chart about classic rock only told us which songs are popular at corporate rock stations. It’s a lot of well-organized, statistically-accurate information that tells us absolutely nothing. When I want to get amped on a Saturday night, I’m am going to put on DMX repeatedly barking like a dog over Aesop Rock’s big vocabulary every single time. Then again, I’ll probably put on Aesop when I am stoned. Everyone gets a trophy!

  8. It’s impossible to disagree that vocab is not the sole, or even the best, gauge of a rapper’s talent. And it’s kind of obvious that the dude responsible for these charts isn’t exactly an authoritative hip hop journalist.

    Still, I’m kind of amazed that there are people who say they’d really take DMX, on the whole, over Aesop Rock. Is this just part of the blanket rejection of indie rap, which has lost a lot of its countercultural shine thanks to the New Weird Mainstream (Lil B, Riff Raff, etc.)? Or are people just thinking of the three DMX songs they actually remember and ignoring the fact that the majority of his 15+ year career has been spent doing exactly the same thing over and over again?

  9. While this chart obviously isn’t a measure of a rapper’s talent, I do find it odd that when I look near the top I see rappers I love and when I look at the bottom I see rappers I never cared about.

  10. It appears that Wu-Tang Clan’s vocabulary ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

  11. where are the beastie boys?

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