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.