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Harold Bloom doesn't really have much to do with hip-hop. The American is one of the best-known literary scholars of our time, and his favorite is William Shakespeare. "It is Shakespeare who invented us," says Bloom, not only is he a Shakespeare specialist, but also one of his greatest admirers. This is exactly why Harold Bloom should be really angry these days. About rappers like 2Pac, Aesop Rock, RZA. And about Matt Daniels.
The New York programmer, who describes himself on his homepage as a data scientist, has a particular weakness for hip-hop language. He has already analyzed the numerous meanings of the word "Shorty" (in German: a sexy woman) in song lyrics and the slang of the American hip-hop duo Outkast. Now Daniels has examined the lyrics of 85 famous rappers, to be precise: 35,000 words of their lyrics. In his analysis "The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop" he found out how many of their own words the artists use: this includes completely new word creations, compound words but also slang words. Hip-hop fans should be happy about the result.
At the top of the scale is the New York rapper Aesop Rock with almost 7400 words of his own. In the scene he is known for a dissolute metaphor in his texts. Daniels evaluated around three to five albums by each artist, and some results were surprising: 50 Cent, for example, which was once published by Eminem and Dr. Dre was discovered and has sold several million records, is one of the four worst rappers at the bottom of the scale with just 3,591 words. Even such successful sizes as 2Pac, Run-D.M.C. and Snoop Dogg don't make it over the 4000 mark.
In the battle, Shakespeare wouldn't even make it into the top ten
Daniel's texts by William Shakespeare were used as a comparison, because the English playwright is considered to be particularly verbose. He is said to have used a total of around 28,829 different words in his pieces, of which 12,493 are said to have only occurred once. As Daniels now found in his analysis, however, this is nothing compared to the vocabulary of today's hip-hop artists. In the battle against the rappers, the playwright wouldn't even make it into the top ten. His verses can sound suspiciously like underground rap.
For his study, Daniels analyzed the first 5,000 words from seven different Shakespeare works, also a total of 35,000 words. According to Daniel's statistics, the writer has 5170 words of his own, which leaves him far behind rappers like Killah Priest, Ghostface Killah or the Wu-Tang Clan and is roughly on a par with the hip-hop duo Outkast, closely followed by the Beastie Boys. In front of them lies someone who, at least in terms of his profession, is more comparable to Shakespeare: Hermann Melville. The American writer and poet uses just over 6,000 individual words in the first 35,000 words of his novel "Moby Dick" - almost 1,000 more than Shakespeare himself.
Pims, pimp, pimping or pimpin
So does the literary scholar and Shakespeare fan Harold Bloom have to revise his judgment on the English playwright? Hardly likely.
Matt Daniels used a method called token analysis, which analyzes the language of the artists for him. Each word is only counted once: Pimps, pimp, pimping or pimpin, for example, count as four different words, even if they mean the same thing and are only spoken in different slangs. Many rappers take advantage of slang. E-40, for example, is considered to be one of its inventors.
Outkast, on the other hand, are known for their suitcase words. These are made up words such as "Teuro", which consist of two compound parts and give a new meaning of their own. It is also typical of Outkast that they stretch their language in their texts.
This is not to be found in Shakespeare's dramas. But maybe that would be an idea for the next research topic: Daniels could dare to analyze it. About how Shakespeare's works would sound today, hip-hop would have existed in the 16th century.
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