Matt Daniels, a New York designer/coder/scientist, has published a cool infographic that appears to answer this age old question. His chart compares 85 Hip Hop artists and the unique words that appear in their music. He selected the first 35,000 lyrics in an artist's history and compared them against one another. I wonder how this list might look if he developed some sort of unique words per song average? We could think of this figure like a baseball player's batting average of a basketball player's field goal percentage. These figures might help account for style shifts across an emcee's career and give us a more accurate representation of how many unique words emcees use in their music.
|Is this list really about vocab?|
For instance, the Top 10 or so are dominated by East Coast artists, who tend to have a faster delivery than Southern and West Coast artists. Producers and Deejays can attest to this, but the average Wu Tang or Aesop Rock beat is played at a faster BPM (beats per minute) than beats that Lil Wayne, Master P, or even Snoop rhyme over (who are predictably low on this list).
The one exception to this rule might be Bone Thugs N Harmony, who come in near the bottom of the list. I wonder how this worked? Daniels admits that Hip Hop is hard to transcribe and that it's full of compound words. Could this help explain why Bone isn't higher on the list?
Lastly, I wonder what this list would look like if Daniels had also used less mainstream artists? The list pretty predictably shows that artists whose songs are more club-oriented (e.g. Too Short, Lil Wayne, DMX--who have repetitive hooks and simple verses) appear lower on the list than those whose songs are less for the club and more for the Hip Hop 'head' (e.g. Kool Keith, MF Doom are quite high on the list).
|An underground classic!|
If you think Aesop and other east coast artists rhyme quickly, you should listen to some of the aforementioned cats. These guys rhyme faster than anyone I've ever heard. They are part of a generation of emcees from The Good Life (the historical predecessor to Project Blowed) that created a style called "choppin'" which is a rapid-fire style of rhyming. I write about this and other sides of aspiring emcees in my book, which is currently under review. Marcyliena Morgan, a sociolinguist at Harvard, has also written about this in her excellent work. But, to see an example of this, check out this video of P.E.A.C.E. and Ellay Khule--two Good Life/Project Blowed veterans--going back and forth freestyling with each other.
Anyways, this is just to say that Daniels has done some interesting descriptive stuff on Hip Hop and I am looking forward to seeing more.