An expansive vocabulary isn’t the only way to test how great a rapper is, but it does make for some pretty interesting insights. We know this thanks to designer Matt Daniels, who recently examined the lyrical content of 85 hip-hop artists and ranked them, in a stunning visualization, by the size of their vocabulary. He explains:
Literary elites love to rep Shakespeare’s vocabulary: across his entire corpus, he uses 28,829 words, suggesting he knew over 100,000 words and arguably had the largest vocabulary, ever.
I decided to compare this data point against the most famous artists in hip hop. I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. That way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, could be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.
35,000 words covers 3-5 studio albums and EPs. I included mixtapes if the artist wasjust short of the 35,000 words. Quite a few rappers don’t have enough official material to be included (e.g., Biggie, Kendrick Lamar). As a benchmark, I included data points for Shakespeare and Herman Melville, using the same approach (35,000 words across several plays for Shakespeare, first 35,000 of Moby Dick).
You really need to head to his site to appreciate the scale of the chart, but here’s a taste—it’s the Wu-Tang Clan ranked by the unique words used in each artist’s first 3,500 lyrics. U-God with the upset!