Rap, Data, and Design
Oct 31 2014
A genre of music I don’t find myself particularly well-versed in is hip-hop and rap. I’ll listen to it on occasion when my more rap-inclined friends suggests some, but for the most part, I really only know the highlights. One thing I very much do like though is beautiful representation of data and Matt Daniels did the wonderful task of combining the two.
In his post, The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop, Daniels analyzed the discography of 85 rappers (he added another 19 in his updated version of the piece) and determined who had the largest unique vocabulary. Using Python, Daniels looked at the first 35,000 lyrics of each rapper and counted the number of unique words used. The result is a beautifully represented data set, arranging the rappers by the size of their vocabularies.
Daniels does some interesting analysis of the data in the actual post (for example, examining how the individuals of the Wu-Tang Clan holds up) and it’s worth checking out.
A quick note, after Daniels posted the piece, multiple sites refuted the post as it seems to imply that a rapper’s talent is determined by the number of unique words they use. However, Daniels addressed this apparent implication in the updated piece, saying:
“In short, take all of this with a grain of salt. Think of this as a data-point that sparks interesting discussion about hip hop and word-usage, and absolutely not a conclusive argument for rapper x is better than rapper y.”
From my limited experience, a huge part of a rapper’s talent is derived from how they combine their words in creative, unique way and then how they make those words flow. These two aspects are independent of the above data, so as Daniels mentions, this is only part of a greater discussion.
Regardless, the piece is creative and does a great job of combining two seemingly dissimilar things. It’s definitely worth a read.
By the way, when I said I wasn’t very well versed in rap, I wasn’t lying. Of the 104 rappers mentioned in the piece, I have only listened to (more than one song) 22 of them and a fair amount of those are simply because they are some of the biggest names in music. But now I have a good list of 82 rappers to delve into, so that’s something.