William Shakespeare is widely regarded as having one of the largest vocabularies of all time, with 28,829 unique words throughout the span of his published works. This data suggests he may have possessed a real Moby Dick of a catalog in his noggin with somewhere around 100,000 words in his vocabulary. Data scientist Matt Daniels took this and compared it with the biggest names in hip-hop to determine which rapper takes the cake for biggest vocabulary.
By cross referencing the first 35,000 words from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the first 5,000 words of 7 of some of Shakespeare’s most known plays, and the fist 35,000 words of each rappers catalog (that’s probably about 3-4 albums minimum) Daniels’ study left some surprising results that might or might not “silk the shock” you.
Bringing up the Rear
Falling hard in dead last of the study was Ruff Rider captain DMX with 3,214 unique words. Not really that surprising considering that this guy spends most of his albums just yelling his face off. Sorry, X… barking like a dog is not considered a word.
Sorry, Driz… you’re in this billion dollar boys and girls club category. With 3,522 unique words used, Drake barely beats out veteran whistle-blower Too Short.
There were a couple surprises in this group though, Bone Thugs N Harmony with 3,547 different words was kind of interesting considering they got five guys spitting… I guess they do repeat a lot of choruses.
Lil’ Wayne and Juvenile, with 3,743 and 3,630 respectively, beat out their No Limit rival Master P. Maybe there is something to be said about how they all clocked in within a hundred words of each other and all started from the city? Call it that old southern drawl?
Snoop Dogg, 2Pac, Kanye West
A really interesting section of the study comes around the 3,900 word mark. Here, within a range of 20 unique words difference, you will find Snoop Dogg, 2Pac and… Kanye West. Keep in mind that Shakespeare’s unique word count was clocked at 5,170.
Ice Cube & Eminem
With 4,371 uniquely used words was Ice Cube. The prolific rapper/actor hangs around the same club house as fellow wordsmiths: Biz Markie (4,313), Puff Daddy (4,419), and The Game (4,414).
Eminem also falls around here despite his renown verbal acrobatics, with 4,494.
Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, KSR-One
The amount of rappers that fall between the 4,500 and 5,000 word category is the largest in the study. Acts like Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, and KRS-One fall around this area just shy of Shakespeare’s count.
Surprisingly, but still impressively, machine-gun-mouthed Tech N9ne, Ludacris, and Busta Rhymes fall just short of the 5,000 word milestone.
It’s pretty cool to say that Outkast has a bigger vocabulary than Shakespeare, even if they tend to make up their own words all the time. Props go to the ATL duo ranking in 20th all time with 5,212 unique words. That’s 42 more vocabulary words used than Ol’ Billy Shakes within his 35,000 word sample.
This tier is full of legends like The Beastie Boys, MF Doom, Nas, E-40, and Redman.
Wu Tang Clan
Matt Daniels study mentioned many of the members of Wu Tang Clan individually as well as marking the “collective” albums on the same chart. What’s astounding is most of them are highly ranked on this list individually as well as in a group.
Don’t forget he also took Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into the study and it had a whopping 6,022 unique words in it’s first 35,000. Collectively, The Wu clocks in at 5,895 uniquely used words. While RZA and GZA pound out 5,805 and 6,426 respectively.
At the upper echelon of this list we find a lot of guys from the East Coast (are you surprised?) like Action Bronson, Kool Keith, and Sage Francis. Representing with the highest West Coast word count is Oakland underground king Del the Funky Homosapien with 6,134.
A League Of His Own
In an absurdly Brobdingnagian category of word usage, Portland’s Aesop Rock was found to use 7,392 different words in his lyrics putting him a thousand words ahead of Melville and over two thousand ahead of Shakespeare.
Didn’t see your favorite rapper mentioned? You can find the full list here and SHARE your thoughts on what this actually means for their music.