Brother Ali has used over 4,700 unique words in his lyrics
Photo by Erik Hess
A deep hip-hop vocabulary has always set apart more exploratory artists like Outkast and Wu Tang Clan from the repetitive missives of Soulja Boy, but it was always a theoretical debate. Now, if there weren't already enough ways to pass judgment upon and categorize rappers, data Scientist Matt Daniels just came up with another.
Using the first 35,000 lyrics of 85 popular rappers -- so if they're still young or not on his radar, they were not considered for this -- Daniels counted unique words. Within, there's an assortment of the biggest names to pick up the mic, from Jay Z to Eminem to Public Enemy. And our local rep in the mix is Brother Ali.
Anyone who wants to have a bone to pick with this sort of research can send back a whole plateful. Daniels admits his work is imperfect, but it still doesn't prevent the results from being interesting. (It'd be moreso if Atmosphere, P.O.S., and others were also in the mix.) Let's have just a tiny bit of fun with it before we rip it to shreds, k?
Depending upon your ability to pick out tiny little bubble heads, you can see that Brother Ali is in the top-middle of this pack. With 4,700 unique words in his first 35,000, he's in good company with Talib Kweli, Mobb Deep, Big Daddy Kane, and A Tribe Called Quest. His word count has certainly risen in recent years. This data set -- pulled from the Rap Genius lyric archive -- only covers about 3-5 studio albums or EPs.
Well above Ali and everyone else is his Rhymesayers labelmate Aesop Rock, who dominates the field with 7,392 unique words used in his first 35k. Following him are GZA, Kool Keith, and Canibus ('member him?).
Click to enlarge
Surely DMX would've finished higher than 85th place -- his 3,214 words were the least in this crew -- if it were an analysis of how much feeling is put across. For an interactive version of the chart, go to Daniels' full version of the chart.
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