Shakespeare vs. Aesop Rock: A Vocabulary Smackdown

Matt Daniels’ interactive chart pits the bard against 85 hip-hop artists in a quest to find out: Who’s the most verbose of them all?

Shakespeare vs. Aesop Rock: A Vocabulary Smackdown
[Image: Aesop Rock and El P via Wikipedia]

Shakespeare used 28,829 unique words in his plays. This fact intrigued designer Matt Daniels, known for his smart, graphical take on the etymology of the word shorty. Now Daniels compares the great playwright’s vocabulary to that of today’s rap artists.


Shakespeare was more prolific than most, so for The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop, Daniels rigged the odds a little, for the sake of comparing the playwright to some oft-theatrical rappers from this century. Daniels limits his project to 35,000 words taken from seven of Shakespeare’s early plays, then compares those words to the first 35,000 lyrics (that’s about three to five studio albums) uttered by 85 hip-hop artists. By those standards, Aesop Rock is more verbose than Shakespeare. Wu Tang Clan, Blackalicious, and a few others also beat out Shakespeare for number of unique words used.

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Daniels didn’t create the interactive graphic to pit literary titans against today’s rap artists. The chart makes explicit the volume of creativity among today’s hip-hop musicians. Daniels, who works as a strategist at digital consultancy Undercurrent, used Rap Genius* to cull together lyric sets. The artists are scattered from right to left, depending on number of unique words used, and by hovering over each mugshot, you’ll get a snapshot of each musician’s vocabulary performance. From the looks of it, the winners here are often the ones inventing the words beings used. Take for instance, Outkast’s lyrics:

“Outkast’s deep vocabulary is definitely a function of their style: frequent use of portmanteau (e.g., ATLiens, Stankonia), southern drawl (e.g., nahmsayin, ery’day), and made-up slang (e.g., flawsky-wawsky),” Daniels writes on his site.

Other takeaways from Daniels histograms? Speed doesn’t correlate to linguistic prowess, as evidenced by Busta Rhymes and Twista’s respective places at Nos. 26 and 33, respectively. Some of the most legendary names, including Snoop Lion (né Dogg) and 2Pac, fall in the bottom 20 percent. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the ever-succinct Kanye comes in at no. 71 on the list. Although that could change after he releases his rumored three-hour-long spoken-word album.

Explore the full infographic here.

*As Daniels points out, using Rap Genius’s dataset means he couldn’t use lyrics published after 2012. If he had, he says, he would have included Childish Gambino.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.