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The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop
May 3, 2014 6:29 PM   Subscribe

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 (average people have a vocab of 5,000 words). 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.
posted by cthuljew (79 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Color me surprised about Wu Tang. Where were the Coup, though?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 6:36 PM on May 3


Color me surprised about Wu Tang.

Bard of Avon ain't nuthin ta fuck wit
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:42 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


Huh.
1. I wonder if there's a tool that will look through your Metafilter comments and posts and count how many different words you use.
2. What is the formula from going from words used to words known? Multiply by four?
posted by JHarris at 6:45 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


And out in front -- gotta love Aesop.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:47 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Multiply 3.46873, and say "suggesting" and "over".
posted by Wolfdog at 6:47 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


Really well-designed and interesting, but I can't help but think that the rankings and averages aren't all that meaningful because the samples are just so arbitrary. Would love to see this tied to a more sensible sample ( records sold, perhaps?). Also, why not just actually calculate the average across entire bodies of work instead of just having 35,000 be the cut off?

That being said, of course DMX is at the bottom. Does 'bark noise' count as a lyric?
posted by graphnerd at 6:56 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


How is vocab formed?
posted by vapidave at 6:59 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Doesn't seem fair to Melville vis a vis Shakespeare - the first 5,000 words of each of seven different plays are going to include separate vocabulary based on the subject of the plays themselves, whereas the first 35,000 words of a single novel don't really get that chance.

The problem is multiplied when it's split across many short song lyrics, but I don't really see how to avoid that. Plus it might be offset by the fact that many short popular songs are about essentially the same basic topics, and the fact that many short popular songs repeat choruses and such (I don't see whether it says that's taken into account or not).

Also doesn't seem fair to take small samples of each Wu Tang member and add them into one large sample supposedly for Wu Tang as a whole.
posted by Flunkie at 7:02 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


> MF Doom: 5,204 unique words used

How many of those are comic book characters and TV show references, though?

Which I guess is a broader issue: The vocabulary of a lot of modern lyricists and writers (not only rappers) has to be padded heavily with cultural references and idiom that must be churning at a much faster rate than it was a few hundred years ago. That adds up fast, but does it indicate a greater vocabulary? I don't know.
posted by ardgedee at 7:03 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


I for one wonder where Sage Francis falls on this chart.
posted by cthuljew at 7:03 PM on May 3


at a much faster rate than it was a few hundred years ago.

English in Shakespeare's day was undergoing a huge change as well.
When William Shakespeare began writing his plays, the English language was rapidly absorbing words from other languages due to wars, exploration, diplomacy and colonization. By the age of Elizabeth, English had become widely used with the expansion of philosophy, theology and physical sciences, but many writers lacked the vocabulary to express such ideas. To accommodate, writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare expressed new ideas and distinctions by inventing, borrowing or adopting a word or a phrase from another language, known as neologizing. Scholars estimate that, between the years 1500 and 1659, nouns, verbs and modifiers of Latin, Greek and modern Romance languages added 30,000 new words to the English language.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:06 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Yes, but we have the opportunity now to be exposed to all cultures nearly simultaneously. We don't have to wait a few years for soldiers to return from foreign wars to introduce something new. The pace of novelty is rapid-fire now.

I'm not going to hold forth on this too much because I'm speaking out of my own idiom (so to speak). And also because I'm not slighting anybody on either side of the comparison and don't want to be read that way.
posted by ardgedee at 7:12 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


As expected, other southern-based acts aren’t in Outkast’s league.

Oh whatever, when you've got DJ Screw by the gallon you don't need 35,000 words.
posted by gorbweaver at 7:13 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words.

As it should be, since it ain't easy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:19 PM on May 3 [24 favorites]


To accommodate, writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare expressed new ideas and distinctions by inventing, borrowing or adopting a word or a phrase from another language, known as neologizing.

Imma do that too, so help me shmorp!
posted by JHarris at 7:23 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


(By shmorp, of course I mean drebnar.)
posted by JHarris at 7:24 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


This is maybe my favorite thing ever posted to Metafilter.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:31 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


I feel like that to be surprised by WTC's placement on this list, both as a group and as individual members, you may not have actually listened to any of their albums.

I would have thought that De La Soul would be higher though.

I also really want to know where Eazy E places on this list.
posted by elizardbits at 7:38 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


lol DMX. But on the other hand, Schoolly D, who doesn't seem to appear in the chart, probably uses fewer words than even that, not because he doesn't have them, but because he doesn't need them.
posted by hap_hazard at 7:39 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


The vocabulary of a lot of modern lyricists and writers (not only rappers) has to be padded heavily with cultural references and idiom that must be churning at a much faster rate than it was a few hundred years ago. That adds up fast, but does it indicate a greater vocabulary? I don't know.

When your art uses lots of current cultural references and idioms, what kind of staying power does it have? Often the answer is… not much. The cultural references pass into the forgotten all too quickly, and the idioms are quickly dated and often forgotten as well.

I'm aware that many artists are not especially concerned with the idea of their art being relevant years from now, though, and there's nothing wrong with that, of course. But I personally would try to aim for creating stuff that can speak to a listener or reader 10 or 20 years from now (or, heck, a hundred or two hundred years from now) in language that will be understandable to people in years ahead, and not rely on references that will be irrelevant and meaningless in the future.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:45 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Too bad nobody recorded those freestyle rap battles in the coffee houses of Samuel Johnson's London.
posted by michaelh at 7:51 PM on May 3 [8 favorites]


Too bad nobody recorded those freestyle rap battles in the coffee houses of Samuel Johnson's London.

That is so crying out for a bit of creative writing enactment, and I'd dive into it right now, but it's a sunny morning in Tokyo and I'm going out to a flea market with the fam.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


When your art uses lots of current cultural references and idioms, what kind of staying power does it have? Often the answer is… not much. The cultural references pass into the forgotten all too quickly, and the idioms are quickly dated and often forgotten as well.

Well, people still listen to 'American Pie,' so
posted by shakespeherian at 7:53 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


Inspectah Deck
I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosophies
and hypothesis can't define how I be droppin these
mockeries, lyrically perform armed robbery
Flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me
Battle-scarred shogun, explosion when my pen hits
tremendous, ultra-violet shine blind forensics
I inspect you, through the future see millenium
Killa B's sold fifty gold sixty platinum
Shacklin the masses with drastic rap tactics
Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths
Black Wu jackets queen B's ease the guns in
Rumble with patrolmen, tear gas laced the function
Heads by the score take flight incite a war
Chicks hit the floor, diehard fans demand more
Behold the bold soldier, control the globe slowly
Proceeds to blow swingin swords like Shinobi
Stomp grounds and pound footprints in solid rock
Wu got it locked, performin live on your hottest block


All I know is, when I get my time machine working, Wille Shakes will be thrilled and excited by hiphop, especially as a dude who obviously wrote with public performance as his main outlet.

If you don't think Emily Dickinson would be fire on the mic*, well...


This study is flawed for all the reasons mentioned, mostly sample size, but I wash't surprised by any of the results.

I'd also play Shakespeare a bunch of Pavement and Har Mar Superstar songs, but only after he'd had a chance to absorb 300+ years of pop culture, I think he'd at least be able to appreciate the hiphop for its verbal acrobatics and joy in the flexibility of the language.

*homegirl forced rhymes, end rhymed and fake rhymed like a a true MC.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:59 PM on May 3 [11 favorites]


How is vocab formed?

Despite being indifferent to school, Eminem would obsessively read the dictionary as a youth to get enough words for his rap battles. I looked for his rank but did not find it. Also couldn't find killer Mike. WuTang represent!
posted by Renoroc at 8:02 PM on May 3


When your art uses lots of current cultural references and idioms, what kind of staying power does it have?

You mean like Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Virgil, Cervantes, Melville, García Márquez, Kafka, Tolstoy and pretty much any writer from any historical period, ever?
posted by signal at 8:07 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Average people know many more than 5000 words.
posted by jeather at 8:08 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think average vocabulary for a literate adult is 30,000. Not sure how the author managed to get that one wrong.
posted by cthuljew at 8:11 PM on May 3 [3 favorites]


Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words.

Re: Kanye's relative low rank, how many variations on HUH were used?
posted by Lorin at 8:12 PM on May 3 [9 favorites]


Between this and Julie Lavoie's talk at PyCon, it's been a great couple of weeks for doing data analysis with rap lyrics.
posted by moss at 8:13 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


The word 'hanh?' constitutes like 20% of Kanye's rapping.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:13 PM on May 3


Despite being indifferent to school, Eminem would obsessively read the dictionary as a youth to get enough words for his rap battles. I looked for his rank but did not find it.

He's squarely in the middle of the pack with 4,494 words.
posted by murphy slaw at 8:16 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Yay for Aesop!
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:25 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Kinda surprised at Lil Wayne's low ranking. The dude has that weird stream of consciousness stuff like "fly go hard like geese erections." Although I guess he does riff on the same puns a lot.
posted by postcommunism at 8:30 PM on May 3


KOOL KEITH! (He's the first I thought of. I guess I can see Aesop Rock as well, dunno enough GZA) I imagine that Deltron is in there somewhere?
posted by symbioid at 8:31 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


TFA: average people have a vocab of 5,000 words

That's not even wrong: More like 20-35,000. Unless by "people" you mean "4 year olds."

I'm not sure this is the way I'd have gone about this, although it's sort of interesting. A more useful/interesting metric might be "number of unique words divided by number of lines (or songs)," which would normalize out prolific vs. newer (or dead-in-their-prime) artists, and give you an idea of who raps about the same 5 topics over and over, and who doesn't.
posted by axiom at 9:17 PM on May 3 [6 favorites]


I think the confusion about the low value for "vocabulary" is due to confusion between "vocabulary" and "working vocabulary". Most people know the meaning of many more words than they use in daily conversation.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:30 PM on May 3


Hold up, where's Biggie.

I'm a little surprised that Redman's as high as he is, and that Eminem is strictly in the middle of the pack.
posted by furiousthought at 9:33 PM on May 3


Yes, your "expressive vocabulary" (words you use in speech or writing) is much smaller than your "receptive vocabulary" (words you understand when other people use them). 5,000 words sounds like an estimate of average expressive vocabulary, while 20,000–30,000 words is referring to receptive vocabulary.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:34 PM on May 3 [4 favorites]


Hold up, where's Biggie.

From the link, in the paragraph below the chart: "Quite a few rappers don’t have enough official material to be included (e.g., Biggie, Kendrick Lamar)."
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:37 PM on May 3


Divine_Wino - my cursor is hovering over the favourite button, just begging to click it for that Inspectah Deck verse, the but mere thought of Har Mar Superstar being on time-travelling William Shakespeare's playlist just won't let me do it.
posted by thecjm at 9:43 PM on May 3


While the whole "first 35000 words" thing seems arbitrary and weird, I'm trying to decide what would have been a better method.

It seems like it should be fine to reduce each rapper to two numbers: total corpus size, and distinct words in the corpus.

The occurrence of distinct words in the corpus is a sort of saturating phenomenon- you expect new words to become more and more rare as the you progress through the corpus of any given rapper. We have to somehow account for that.

If the corpus were a series of words drawn uniformly at random from the rapper's vocabulary, then we would expect a sort of coupon collector's dynamic to happen, but we're interested in estimating the number of coupons. TL;DR: there's a formula too hairy to reproduce here that you can use to get bounds on vocabulary size given corpus size and # distinct words in corpus. The behavior of the formula is such that it gives tighter bounds when the corpus is big and # distinct words are small.
posted by Jpfed at 10:00 PM on May 3 [5 favorites]


Not to break cortex or anything, but is there any way to extract our personal corpus from MeFi? I'm suddenly curious about how many words I know/use.
posted by scalefree at 10:10 PM on May 3


All I know is, when I get my time machine working, Wille Shakes will be thrilled and excited by hiphop, especially as a dude who obviously wrote with public performance as his main outlet.

When my time-traveling neighbor saw this line he suddenly developed an enormous grin.

If tomorrow MacBeth suddenly contains a reference to bling, I'm blaming you.
posted by JHarris at 10:13 PM on May 3 [2 favorites]


...we would expect a sort of coupon collector's dynamic to happen...

On a totally unrelated note, this is how getting Christmas and Halloween cookies in Cookie Clicker works.
posted by cthuljew at 10:43 PM on May 3


I also really want to know where Eazy E places on this list.


I believe he asked not to be quoted, as he ain't said shit.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:45 PM on May 3 [10 favorites]


This sort of data crunching fascinates me (both in this specific instance, and in the general sense).

I wonder if this isn't the sort of thing that will blow my mind by how accessible and omnipresent it is when I'm older. I'll tell my grandchildren that when I was their age only a very small number of people had the data and computers necessary to do serious word count analysis over wide groups. They'll roll their eyes and say "Grampa, Siri says that you start 93% of your stories with 'When I was your age.' Siri also says that 'Turn off your damn phones' and 'Get grampa another beer' are you most commonly used phrases this week!"
posted by jermsplan at 11:14 PM on May 3 [1 favorite]


Clicked the link expecting to see Aesop Rock way out in front, was not disappointed.
posted by lawrencium at 12:55 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I wonder if there's a tool that will look through your Metafilter comments and posts and count how many different words you use.

Not to break cortex or anything, but is there any way to extract our personal corpus from MeFi? I'm suddenly curious about how many words I know/use.

Cortex has provided a word frequency table (meta) for any curious member three years running. We're due again late July or early August, but a user-facing tool would sure be neat.
posted by troll at 1:06 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


If tomorrow MacBeth suddenly contains a reference to bling, I'm blaming you.

It already contains a reference to computer programming:

"...we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor." --Act I, scene vii
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:31 AM on May 4 [14 favorites]


The vocabulary of a lot of modern lyricists and writers (not only rappers) has to be padded heavily with cultural references and idiom that must be churning at a much faster rate than it was a few hundred years ago. That adds up fast, but does it indicate a greater vocabulary? I don't know.

As anyone who struggled through it in high school knows, Shakespeare is overflowing with cultural references and slang terms that only make sense in his time-frame, and the stories he retells are sort of the pop culture standards of his day.

We don't think of these as dated references or Elizabethan pop culture because of a massive critical industry in the 19th century that repackaged Shakespeare as "timeless" and popularized many of his sayings, phrasings, and so forth. And even then, the average reader needs a complete set of annotations to know, for instance, what "nunnery" and "nothing" meant to an Elizabethan, or to understand that Othello is both a rewrite of a popular older story and has a whole lot of references to current events such as Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud's amabssadorial visit to Elizabeth I's court in 1600.
posted by kewb at 5:15 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


I'm wondering if this is adjusted for raps written by more than one individual.

Shakespeare's point on this chart is based on all of his writing being credited to one person: all the words used in Shakespearian plays are counted towards him and no one else. But if any particular rap was written two or more people, therefore with two or more individual's vocabularies contributing to the word count, that would surely skew the results somewhat.
posted by easily confused at 6:08 AM on May 4


Also doesn't seem fair to take small samples of each Wu Tang member and add them into one large sample supposedly for Wu Tang as a whole.

This did not happen. The Wu Tang sample is from the albums released as Wu Tang Clan and is already naturally the work of several contributors. That is all that mini-breakdown is reflecting.

The 35,000 limit seems a reasonable way to compare many artists under the same terms. An average for their entire career would be an interesting addition, of course.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:22 AM on May 4


I'm wondering if this is adjusted for raps written by more than one individual.

Doesn't look like it. I do like how Daniels puts the limitations up front. I agree that this is just interesting in a general sense. There are too many problems with the methodology, with the data, with using the artists in this manner, with using rapgenius lyrics, and with the sample, that trying to use the results as anything much more than an amusing thing to look at is going to be a problem.

But it does make me think of a lot of fun things that could be done with a detailed analysis.

pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words.

It would be interesting to tease apart words like this that have multiple meanings. Like pimpin vs pimpin. Or biscuit vs biscuit vs biscuit.
posted by cashman at 6:30 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Big words do nothin but confuse and lose.

I think it would be fantastic to take this analysis further and clean it up. For word salad rappers, create a way to capture when they're just throwing out words, vs when there is some kind of coherent intent at work. I love U-God, but there are plenty of places he just throws out words. Aesop & Doom have that as well. Whereas at other times rappers are composing complete sentences across bars, and using unique words and phrases.

Nikki Minaj and Missy but no Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lil Kim or Jean Grae.

Julie Lavoie's talk at PyCon

Neat! So many problems there too. I cannot believe she went through doing all this and says she loves rap music and she goes through a long segment on how she worked to scrape rapgenius, then she says "Biggie Small" and has "Biggie Small" on her slides. But the real cringeworthy moment was the first person to ask a question. Ugh. But that was an interesting talk, so thanks.
posted by cashman at 7:15 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


Run, runs, ran, running, and runnin' are five words. For this post, the text from Shakespeare was analyzed in the same way as the example rap lyrics were (which is The Right Way to do this sort of thing), but is the original aphorism about Shakespeare's vocabulary also based on the premise that each form of a word is a distinct word?

> I love U-God, but there are plenty of places he just throws out words. Aesop & Doom have that as well.

Yeah, but usually the words are used for evocative purposes even when they're not coherent. They're not completely arbitrarily picked to fit the meter.
posted by ardgedee at 7:21 AM on May 4


Divine_Wino - my cursor is hovering over the favourite button, just begging to click it for that Inspectah Deck verse, the but mere thought of Har Mar Superstar being on time-travelling William Shakespeare's playlist just won't let me do it.


Well don't just tease me sweetie, shove it in!
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:05 AM on May 4


Just came in to point out that the first 35000 words of Moby-Dick (ahem, note the hyphen) have many, many, many whaling terms in them. For a better analysis, drop every other chapter, since Melville alternated chapters on seafaring and whaling between, you know, chapters on THE STORY.

I dropped every other chapter when reading Moby-Dick before the exam. Aced it. Turns out English profs aren't that interested in the intertextuality of spars, belaying pins and the like.
posted by aureliobuendia at 8:10 AM on May 4 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but usually the words are used for evocative purposes even when they're not coherent. They're not completely arbitrarily picked to fit the meter.

"evocative purposes"?

Some times, which I noted, but yes, a lot of times it's just word salad, straight out the dont know what you said book.
posted by cashman at 8:18 AM on May 4


Cortex has provided a word frequency table (meta) for any curious member three years running. We're due again late July or early August, but a user-facing tool would sure be neat.

Yeah I took a look before asking & found that myself. What I'm interested in is just my words, not everybody's, as a basis for measuring my personal vocabulary. Is there maybe a means of obtaining all my posts/comments so I can munge them together & come up with a distinct word count? Maybe I should take it to MeTa.
posted by scalefree at 8:25 AM on May 4


I also really want to know where Eazy E places on this list.

Ice cube wrote 3/4's of NWA's lyrics (while he was with them). Just about everything you've heard by him was ghostwritten, so I think its moot.
posted by lkc at 8:43 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


What I'm interested in is just my words, not everybody's

If you look at the links provide, what happens is that in those threads, you can post and ask for your file. I have mine saved somewhere, from a couple of years ago.
posted by cashman at 8:46 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I dropped every other chapter when reading Moby-Dick before the exam. Aced it.

A literal whale fail.
posted by chavenet at 8:56 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Oh, I'm stupid, I forgot we had the export comments tool. It's at the bottom of your edit profile page.
posted by cashman at 9:06 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: What I'm interested in is just my words, not everybody's

(sorry...)
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:21 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


cashman: "Nikki Minaj and Missy but no Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Lil Kim or Jean Grae."

Lil Kim is right at the bottom of the big pack in the middle.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:55 AM on May 4


First X words is a screwy metric. Especially with 5 albums, 35000 words. Like how far did that actually go into Keith, E-40 or Too $hort's numbers? Those guys all have at _least_ 20 albums, and I think closer to 30 (I did some comparison a few years back). Since he's separating wu-tang as a group, does that mean UMC doesn't count? Or Dr. Octagon? Or Project X?

Why does he exclude BDP from KRS-One's discography?

I expect El-P would be pretty far up on that list, and even without 5 albums, has almost certainly put out 35k words of "official" releases.

The Anticon scrubs would probably do well, too, since that was pretty much their shtick.

No slug?

No Aceyalone?

Also, you do Outkast, Goodie Mob, but no Killer Mike?

Similarly, the Roots have a lot of words, but Ill be damned if much of it sticks with me. Black Thought is a really great MC, no question, but his lyrics don't say a hell of a lot, even with a diversity of words, while Nas' storytelling abilities alone (One Love, I Gave You Power, Small World) have more structure, and put the language to work rather than just a word salad.

You could make a similar distinction with Rawkwon and Method Man, who are similarly ranked. Meth is a great, charismatic rapper, who can make anything rhyme and sound good, but Rae can put all that to a concept, to a story, to imagery, with pretty much the same variety. And they have _nothing_ on Ghostface.

And finally, it doesn't surprise me at all that the very successful mainstream rappers are so low. Mainstream appeal comes from being simplistic, repetitive, recognizable, and emotional. A lot of underground appeal (especially in the Rawkus/DefJux era) is being obtuse and dense and intellectual.

This is the friction behind all those stupid "what is *real* hip-hop" discussions, and why some people think Kanye is a great lyricist, and some think he is a mediocre rapper. Mainstream hip-hop is something that is bound with pop-music formulas. Catchy hooks (Snoop), Lyrics that are easy to understand and sing along with (Kanye), repetitive structure (say, Khalifa), and commercial crossover appeal (Jay-Z, who I suspect was created in a test-tube by an advertising firm, a supercomputer, and a some kind of magnet that works on money).

None of that lends itself to presenting a diverse vocabulary, but Ill be damned if a smattering of Jay-Z's lyrics suggest any kind of ceiling to his intelligence or vocabulary (disclaimer: I'm not a Jay-Z fan, but its no secret he dumbs down his lyrics to sell more records)

This can also probably explain the Wu-Tang Anomaly -- RZA specifically avoided the radio formula in trying to make a new sound. Not just the posse cuts that everyone knows (Protect Ya Neck, Triumph), but stuff like 97 Mentality or Shakey Dog that seem to not have any structure at all and are just a single, long verse.

In summary, Hip-Hop is a land of contrasts, and this is an entertaining, but useless metric.
posted by lkc at 10:14 AM on May 4 [8 favorites]


Also, Jedi Mind Tricks more than fits the criteria. Is this guy even trying?
posted by lkc at 10:22 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I agree with almost all of that, lkc. Especially the part about this being (somewhat) entertaining, but useless.

I disagree about Black Thought. He has a lot of powerful lines. And I'm not even a roots fan like that. But I think that can lead to an interesting discussion of certain emcees who say a lot, but their styles don't lend to remembering their lyrics. I'd add Big Boi and some Outkast material. I have probably heard every one of their songs, and listened to most of the songs on ATLiens and Stankonia enough times to kill a small horse, but I'll be damned if I could rap a full song of theirs if my life depended on it.

Mainstream appeal comes from being simplistic, repetitive, recognizable, and emotional. A lot of underground appeal (especially in the Rawkus/DefJux era) is being obtuse and dense and intellectual.

Yes!

This is the friction behind all those stupid "what is *real* hip-hop" discussions

Nah. A lot of that was rappers and groups betraying the necessarily shifting components of the ethos of hip hop throughout the years. It wasn't lyrical vs pop rap. There are probably dozens of tenets that exist, some change and some disappear. But to me it has always been a logical position to hold, even if in later years many artists like KRS and others felt the need to a defensive stance for rap and took "all rap is real rap" stances.
posted by cashman at 11:18 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


By the way, the reddit thread is here, and Daniels was in the thread earlier today answering questions.

Here's what he said about atmosphere.
posted by cashman at 11:50 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Nah. A lot of that was rappers and groups betraying the necessarily shifting components of the ethos of hip hop throughout the years.

Alright, yah, its an overstatement to say _all_.

It wasn't lyrical vs pop rap.

Oh come on, its been a factor for a long time. How much derision for commercially successful acts like Hammer or C&C Music Factory in the late 80s vs your NWA's and Public Enemies (not that they weren't commercially successful, but not in the made-for-mtv poppy way the other groups were.

My comment was more to the internet forum wars from the late-90s on. That there is a "true" hip-hop (usually underground despite commercial success), and "fake" rap, which is your Weezy's and 2 Chainz and whathaveyou.

Whats that copywrite line?

When no one knows your name
Your vinyl's still in stores
But you get a little light
Through arguing over who feels it more
We got sixteen-year-old net-heads buying garbage
Wanting to keep you for their personal private artist

posted by lkc at 12:15 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Sweet. Looks like Sage Francis could be included soon.
posted by cthuljew at 12:32 PM on May 4


3rd Bass had a hard on for hating Hammer, but Hammer was respected. Think about Deion Sanders, think about OutKast's comments about Hammer, which I wish I could find video of. And I'm just saying that as an addition to lived experience. I guess what I'm saying is it has never been about being lyrical or not. You can be rhyming toy with boy, and be respected. Ice-T had his moments of lyrical genius but the vast majority of it wasn't complex at all, and Ice-T's rap has never been called fake.

But this is getting derailly, and maybe a better conversation in a thread where it's on topic. True hip hop is a bunch of different metrics. I should make up a rubric or something. But I would say a bit piece of it is about being passionate (or dispassionate if you're saafir or guru) about something, and being true to that.

It isn't about saying "I woke up one morning to the radio check it" vs saying "Jay-electramadan muhammed asalaamica rasuul allah supana watana through your monitor". Because face and jay are both real hip hop because among other reasons, they're true to their style and who they are. Not real hip hop types do it, to use KRS's words, slovenly. They are more takers than givers. They use hip hop rather than being a part of it. They exhibit little skill with styles (not with lyrics). They show little awareness of pioneers, deference to them, or an understanding of their place in hip hop.

Anyway, a more interesting analysis would be to look at early pioneers words, popular themes and topics in general, and then look at current rappers and omit those things from their word counts. Then look at how much that rapper has added.

Even then you'd have to really look close to see if you were excising something that was a topic that was flipped. To me one of the main problems with these people doing these analyses is that there needs to be a qualitative analysis done, not quantitative. I think this quantitative piece could support a qualitative piece, but on their own they both suffer from huge methodological problems. The fact that this guy seems to be taking requests from the reddit population of the music subreddit....well lets just say a lot of the artists that should be getting added won't be.
posted by cashman at 1:36 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


a more interesting analysis would be to look at early pioneers words

I'd love to see ngram-like presentations for when someone first started using a turn of phrase (something more than just tinactin, though I loved that post) and then next thing you know it turns up everyplace.
posted by jessamyn at 2:49 PM on May 4


Cashman, we're at least in 99% agreement on this stuff.

The fact that this guy seems to be taking requests from the reddit population of the music subreddit....well lets just say a lot of the artists that should be getting added won't be

Oh, totally.
Funny enough, I think the fact that its limited to the 5+ studio albums filters a lot of the "DAE CHANCE THE GOAT" folks over there (btw, I love Chance, but the dudes made like 2 mixtapes, and he's very literal). Its still a limiting factor, and really, this experiment almost seems cherry-picked to put Aesop at the top and Drake at the bottom (no pun intended).

Some day I'll put together a post on Blockheads excellent blog, but "real/fake" and "best MC" are things that come up semi-frequently in a kind of hindsight.

Like, everything that I see people deriding hipsters for doing (precious music, "they were good before they sold out", "i was into them first"), is like 100% of how I was during my teenage years, but it was just rap and ... obscure techno/local seattle music. In fact, I never really got the hate for hip-hop until whiny indie rock became the thing that it did. To me, all the songs sound the same, they just whine, its the same 3 or 4 things in every song, the bands all have stupid names. It clicked. Like everything I'd heard from people who just didn't like hip-hop.

At this point, its stuff I like or I don't. I can't hate Soulja boy because stupid instructional teen dance songs and videos go back to when my parents were kids. It was funny when Ice-T went off on it, and funnier when Soulja Boy laid him out, and even funnier that it kept going. I thought "Control" was tame and almost celebratory. I don't listen to Kanye, or Jay-Z or lil Wayne, or lil'B, just because I don't. I can see Kreayshawn and Kitty Pryde as novelties and kinda roll my eyes when people say they are the next big thing, but I love JNatural (and if you get the chance, go see Medusa if you want to see badass), even though I don't think she's ever going to capture the hearts and minds of /r/hiphopheads or metafilter the way the first two did.

I'm not the arbiter of hip-hop, and neither is KRS (even if he disagrees), its always been flexible, always had young and old, guys and gals, and straddled genre boundaries with every color under the rainbow. For sure, it has definite origins (Bronx, Herc, fundraiser), but everything from its origins that you can pin down will exclude someone or something that is absolutely instrumental in the concept of "hip-hop" today:

American? Jamaica would like a word with you.
Black? Meet Rick Rubin; also, Serch is the guy that put together Illmatic.
New York? C'mon
Violent? Kweli.
Preachy? Tim Dog.
Gritty? Drake.
Short? Kane.
Tall? Skee-low AND Cee-lo!

Hip-hop is going to be whatever the hell it wants to be, and Jay-Z eventually getting his face on the 10 Dollar TransAmerican FutureCoin isn't going to be the end of it anymore than Limp Bizkit or the Ja Rule era was.

(Though, the jury is still out on Habitat)
posted by lkc at 4:02 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see ngram-like presentations for when someone first started using a turn of phrase (something more than just tinactin, though I loved that post) and then next thing you know it turns up everyplace.

This would also be interesting to see differences in the pre/post-MP3 era. Slang and styles are much less local now that everyone can hear what everyone else is doing.
posted by lkc at 4:04 PM on May 4


Jay-Z eventually getting his face on the 10 Dollar TransAmerican FutureCoin

Ha! That's great. Cheers dude.

I love JNatural (and if you get the chance, go see Medusa if you want to see badass)

If you want to go ahead and link songs and videos from your favorite current artists, I don't think anybody would have a problem with that...
posted by cashman at 5:34 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


The author also dropped into io9 to note there'll be a Round Two soon, with Pharoahe Monch, Immortal Technique, Jean Grae, Del, Sage, Slug, and others to be included. Kid Cudi wasn't included because he didn't have enough album data.

Also, Robert T. Gonzalez on io9 was sharp to quote Jay-Z from "Moment of Clarity"
I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it, yet they all yell "holla"
If skills sold, truth be told, I'd probably be
Lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did 5 mil - I ain't been rhyming like Common since
It's sad, but wordy rappinghoods don't make money money.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:21 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


THE WISDOM OF DMX

[Verbatim excerpt from an interview with XXL magazine from 2008, presented as a one-act play]

XXL: Are you following the presidential race?
DMX: Not at all.

You’re not? You know there’s a Black guy running, Barack Obama and then there’s Hillary Clinton.
His name is Barack?!

Barack Obama, yeah.
Barack?!

Barack.
What the fuck is a Barack?! Barack Obama. Where he from, Africa?

Yeah, his dad is from Kenya.
Barack Obama?

Yeah.
What the fuck?! That ain’t no fuckin’ name, yo. That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious. Barack Obama. Get the fuck outta here.

You’re telling me you haven’t heard about him before.
I ain’t really paying much attention.

I mean, it’s pretty big if a Black…
Wow, Barack! The nigga’s name is Barack. Barack? Nigga named Barack Obama. What the fuck, man?! Is he serious? That ain’t his fuckin’ name. Ima tell this nigga when I see him, “Stop that bullshit. Stop that bullshit” [laughs] “That ain’t your fuckin’ name.” Your momma ain’t name you no damn Barack.

So you’re not following the race. You can’t vote right?
Nope.

[Curtain drops. Thank you. Good night.]
posted by dgaicun at 3:21 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


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