Friday, May 9, 2014

Smart Infographic Displays Rappers' Vocabularies and Compares to Shakespeare, Melville

While I haven't yet read it, I've heard plenty of lofty, lavish praise for the style and poetic prose of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick before.

"This is the greatest work of prose ever written by an American without contest, I think. I mean I like to think that when human history is written, Americans will be remembered for two things: they went to the moon and they're the people who produced Moby-Dick. This is our Odyssey. This is our Odyssey and our Iliad."
- Terence McKenna

A very telling and well-conceived new infographic by Matthew Daniels ranks hip hop artists according to the number of unique words in their first 35,000 lyrics. Aesop Rock places #1. The Gza/Genius of the Wu-Tang Clan came in at #2 and the top 10 is dominated by the Wu family. Rza, Ghostface, and Killah Priest are all up there as well as the Clan's output as a group on their albums.

The unique word-count for Shakespeare and Melville (specifically Moby-Dick) are included in the chart for reference and you may be surprised at the results. Aesop Rock, Gza, and Kool Keith are beyond Melville. Shakespeare's around the top 10. I'm surprised MF Doom wasn't higher (he's around 11th or 12th). The study probably has its share of imperfections but the results are very fascinating nonetheless.

I can't say I'm familiar with Aesop Rock's work though I've always heard good things about him.

The Gza/Genius is one of my all-time favorites, though. It should come as no surprise to see him up here---the man recently did a TED talk about science, schooled Neil deGrasse Tyson, went on a lecture tour to places like Harvard and MIT discussing hip hop physics, and is helping to promote science education for inner city students through hip hop. Wu-Tang is for the children and Gza has been a shining example of this.

In light of the Genius' ranking on this chart, I pondered some of my favorite verses. So here's one of his best: "Amplified Sample" the first track from his second album Beneath the Surface (one verse repeated twice in the song).

The amplified sample, will trample, delete and cancel 
So vacate your vessel 
Guide this, strenuous as an arm wrestle 
Move swift as light, a thousand years in one night 
In flight with insight
Everything I thought of, I saw it happen 
Then I rose from the soil, the sun blackened 
Then came rap czars, left tracks in scars 
Apparent brightness of exploding stars 
Gave you goods to taste 
No ingredients to trace 
You remain stuck, trying to figure the shape of space 
No edge or boundary, release 2 rounds or 3 
Intimidate, my razor scrape, phony clown MC 
The physical shatter from the blast 
Pyroclastic flow, sets forth a tower of ash 
Through ignorance and misplaced trust your world's crushed 
Too late to activate hyperspace of thrust 
Even wearing camouflage, you're analog 
At war, the scene is high beams and fog 
I came in, accompanied by deadly rain and wind 
Mentally endowed with lightning, hit the crowd 
The warm side, edge across the barrier 
But the storm tide, destroyed your area

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