Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Largest Vocabulary In Hip Hop

from The Pudding:
Rappers, ranked by the number of unique words used in their lyrics

By Matt Daniels

This project was originally published in 2014 and recently updated in January 2019 with newer lyrics data and 75 additional artists, including Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Migos, and 21 Savage.

It compares the number of unique words used by some of the most famous artists in hip hop (that is, an example of a quantitive view of lyricism, once proposed by Tahir Hemphill). I used each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics. This way, prolific artists, such as Jay-Z, can be compared to newer artists, such as Drake.


35,000 words covers 3 to 5 studio albums and EPs. I included mixtapes if the artist was short of the 35,000 words. Quite a few rappers don’t have enough official material to be included (for example, Biggie, Chance the Rapper, Queen Latifah, and El-P).

Since the original release, there’s now a notable trend of fewer unique words among newer artists. This is easier to see in the following chart, where I highlighted each artist’s primary decade, based on album release dates for their vocabulary calculation (the first 35,000 lyrics).


Some of the newer artists wield a smaller vocabulary comparatively, but this is not because hip hop has “dumbed down.” The genre has evolved; it has moved away from complex lyricism toward elements traditionally associated with pop music: repetitive song structure and singing (Joe Carmanica recently wrote about this trend for the New York Times, arguing that it was led by Drake, who popularized the rapping-and-singing formula over the past decade).

A better benchmark for Lil Uzi Vert’s word count (2,556) might be those of pop artists, such as Beyonce (2,433 words), or even one his major influences: Marilyn Manson (2,466 words).

There are also genre-bending artists. If Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! is less hip hop in the traditional ’90s boom-bap sense, is it fair to compare it to vocabulary-dense Wu-Tang albums? Genre matters in vocabulary calculations—check out the chart below, which takes 500 random samples of 35,000 words from rock, country, and hip hop.

# of Unique Words Used in 500 Random Samples of 35,000 Lyrics from Country, Rock, Hip Hop

In short, if artists depart from hip-hop song structure, we’d expect their vocabulary to go down in the number of unique words.

That said, the results are still directionally interesting. Of the 150 artists in the dataset, let’s take a look at who is on top.

#1 - Aesop Rock

When I first published this analysis, I excluded Aesop Rock, figuring he was too obscure. The Reddit hip-hop community was in an uproar, claiming that Aesop would absolutely be #1. Sure enough, Aesop Rock is well above every artist in the dataset, and I was obliged to add him to the chart.

#2 - Busdriver

For the most recent update, I pored over requests from readers, and Busdriver was most common on folks’ wishlists. He and Aesop Rock are the only rappers with more than 7,000 unique words in their first 35,000 lyrics.

#4, #5, #7, #10, #15, and #20 - Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit

Wu-Tang Clan at #5 is impressive given that 10 members, with vastly different styles, equally contribute lyrics. Add the fact that GZA, Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method Man's solo works are also in the top 20 – notably, GZA is at #4.

#28, #54 - Outkast and E-40

Of course E-40 is in the top 20%; he’s considered to be the inventor of many slang terms. Just a few that he’s been responsible for coining or popularizing: “all good,” “pop ya collar,” “shizzle,” and “you feel me.”

Outkast’s expansive vocabulary is definitely a function of their style: frequent use of portmanteaus (for example, “ATLiens,” “Stankonia”), southern drawl (for example, “nahmsayin,” “ery’day”), and made-up slang (for example, “flawsky-wawsky”).

#49 and #59 - Busta Rhymes and Twista

Since both rappers are known for their speed, it’s nice to see that their verses are just as lyrically diverse as their peers’.

So what's all this mean?

io9 writer Robert Gonzalez blew my mind with this point, “On the Black Album track 'Moment of Clarity,' Jay-Z contrasts his lyricism with that of Common and Talib Kweli” (both of whom rank higher than him, when it comes to the diversity of their vocabulary):
I dumbed down for my audience to double my dollars
They criticized me for it, yet they all yell “holla”
If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be
Lyrically Talib Kweli
Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
But I did 5 mil - I ain’t been rhyming like Common since

I used a research methodology called token analysis to determine each artist’s vocabulary. Each word is counted once, so pimps, pimp, pimping, and pimpin are four unique words. To avoid issues with apostrophes (e.g., pimpin’ vs. pimpin), they’re removed from the dataset. It still isn’t perfect. Hip hop is full of slang that is hard to transcribe (e.g., shorty vs. shawty), compound words (e.g., king shit), featured vocalists, and repetitive choruses.

If you’re looking for more quantitative analysis of hip hop, check out Tahir Hemphill’s many foundational projects (and whose work initially inspired this analysis) and Martin Conner’s Rap Analysis.

Vocabulary count data is available here.

Notable artists currently excluded, under the 35,000 threshold: Cardi B, Dej Loaf, Princess Nokia, Rae Sremmurd, Dreezy, Remy Ma, Dej Loaf, Da Brat, Princess Nokia, Queen Latifah, Azealia Banks, Nav, Dreezy, Earl Sweatshirt, Eyedea, Jay Electronica, Pharoahe Monch, Pusha T, Saba, Waka Floka Flame, XXXTentacion.

The Pudding is a digital publication that explains ideas debated in culture with visual essays.

Monday, February 18, 2019

School of Life Monday:
Who are you to say that?

Getting agreement on big questions has become ever harder because we either put our trust in science or insist that everyone’s opinion is equal to everyone else’s. That might not be quite true

Saturday, February 16, 2019


I've seen you in the mirror when the story began
And I fell in love with you I love your mortal sin
Your brains are locked away but I love your company
I only ever leave you when you got no money
I got no emotions for anybody else
You better understand I'm in love with myself,
Myself, my beautiful self

A no feelings
A no feelings
A no feelings
For anybody else

Hello and goodbye in a run around sue
You follow me around like a pretty pot of glue
I kick you in the head you got nothing to say
Get out of the way 'cause I gotta get away
You never realize I take the piss out of you
You come up and see me and I'll beat you black and blue
One day I'll send you away

I got no feelings
A no feelings
A no feelings
For anybody else
Except for myself, my beautiful selfish

There ain't no moonlight after midnight
I see you silly people out looking for delight
Well I'm so happy I'm feeling so fine
I'm watching all the rubbish, you're wasting my time
I look around your house, you got nothing to steal
I kick you in the brains when you get down to kneel
And pray, you pray to your god

No feelings
A no feelings
A no feelings
For anybody else
A no feelings
A no feelings
A no feelings
For anybody else
Except for myself
Your daddy's gone away
Be back another day
See his picture hanging on your wall

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Undertones - Teenage Kicks

from the YouTuber who posted this classic:
John Peel's favourite ever song and not hard to understand why. Timeless teenage frustration in 2 and a half minutes of raucous pop punk heaven. Play it loud and feel free to pogo -- you know you want to.

Download their album Teenage Kicks on iTunes : http://apple.co/29ixys6
Buy their album Teenage Kicks on Amazon : http://amzn.to/29gNkye
Listen to Teenage Kicks on Spotify : http://spoti.fi/29hsenf

Monday, February 11, 2019

School of Life Monday:
What Comes After Religion

The debate between believers and atheists usually goes nowhere. The real issue is: what should fill the gaps created by the end of widespread belief? What should fill the God-shaped hole?

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Sermon:
AOC Is Making C-SPAN Fun

from Jacobin:
The internal workings of American politics are usually boring as hell. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making them compulsively watchable — and going after billionaires’ control of our political system in the process.

What might politics look like if elected officials — instead of being what too often seems like a collection of dead-eyed, factory-made automatons who speak from the same snooze-inducing, flavorless script — actually appeared passionate, engaged, and interested in looking after the interests of the people they represent?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be showing us.

One of the refreshing things about Ocasio-Cortez’s time in the national spotlight has been not just the fact that she talks about the issues facing the US in a direct, easy to understand, even entertaining way, but that she does it in the service of taking on the rigid power structures that control people’s lives.

She did this before she was even sworn in to Congress, famously tweeting about the way she and other freshmen are marched around during their orientation to be lectured by lobbyists and CEOs. What was apparently an unseemly but accepted norm in Washington’s political culture was suddenly outed to the rest of us because someone in the political class finally realized how creepy the whole thing was.

Ocasio-Cortez appears to be doing something similar with her newly won position on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which yesterday held a hearing on H.R.1, the House Democrats’ expansive anti-corruption and voting rights package. Watch this clip from yesterday’s session, in which Ocasio-Cortez plays a “lightning-round game” with the witnesses, in which she pretends to be a “bad guy” (“which I’m sure half the room would agree with anyway,” she adds with a smile) who’s trying to “get away with as much bad things as possible, ideally to enrich myself and advance my interests.”

In less than five minutes, and with the witnesses replying with barely more than a “yes” or “no,” Ocasio-Cortez gets across to the viewer:

- just how openly corrupt the current political system is (“you’re going to help me legally get away with all of this”);

- the lack of meaningful safeguards against corporate capture (“Is there any hard limit that I have in terms of what legislation I’m allowed to touch … based on the special interest funds that I accepted?” “There’s no limits”)

- how vulnerable the office of the president is in particular to moneyed influence (“Every person in this body is being held to a higher ethical standard than the president of the United States”)

- and that the very people serving with her on this august committee are most probably compromised by these interests too (“We have these influences existing in this body, which means that these influences are here in this committee shaping the questions that being asked of you all”)

That she does it all through the medium of a classroom game and with a sense of fun makes the whole thing even more remarkable to watch.

There are many reasons behind today’s widespread political disengagement, not least the suspicion that most of the people the public votes for aren’t really fighting for them. But even when politicians genuinely are fighting for their voters’ interests, they do so in the same, deathly boring, “serious” fashion that one can appreciate in the abstract, but few would willingly subject themselves to. Televising congressional proceedings was an important democratizing victory, but it was undercut by the fact that, short of salacious events like the Kavanaugh hearings, no one really wants to watch most of these people do their jobs. There’s a reason the public has gravitated to figures like Trump, despite the terrible goods they sell; meanwhile, even a charismatic figure like Obama was dull as chalk when he wasn’t giving a major speech.

Ocasio-Cortez has shown she can bring the style that’s made her a force of nature on social media to a committee hearing and, more importantly, do it in a way that makes clear to the public just how easy it is for the rich — or “bad guys,” to use her words — to control the political system. Here’s hoping someday she’ll get a chance to do the same on an issue like climate change, too.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

S A T U R D A Y . N I G H T

One of the most corny Saturday night songs ever made:

One of the most classic Saturday Night 70's rock songs ever:

One of the coolest most funky hip hop records of all time:

Kinda Gotta put this here:

Friday, February 8, 2019

A Huge Climate Change Movement Led By Teenage Girls Is Sweeping Europe. And It’s Coming To The US Next.

from Buzzfeed:
Students are going on strike around the world to demand action on climate change, in a movement led almost entirely by teenage girls.

LONDON — A huge student protest movement led almost exclusively by teenage girls and young women is sweeping Europe, and it's on the brink of breaking through in the US.

So far this year, tens of thousands of high school–age students in Belgium, Germany, and Sweden have boycotted class and protested against climate change. The loose movement’s inspiration, a 16-year-old girl who began a solitary picket last year outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, has compared the protests to the March for Our Lives movement organized by the Parkland teens in the wake of a shooting at their school that left 17 dead.

In the latest mass climate strikes, large crowds took to the streets in The Hague on Thursday, in the largest such protest in the Netherlands so far. The teens leading the climate strike across the border in Belgium were in Leuven, the country’s eighth-largest city, where they told BuzzFeed News they had 12,000 people on the streets in one of many actions across the country.

A climate march last weekend in the Belgian capital, Brussels, drew more than 100,000 people, and one of the country’s environment ministers resigned this week after falsely claiming intelligence services had told her the protests were a plot against her.

The protests are injecting a new urgency into the debate around climate change, and calling attention to a lack of action by governments. They are also a sign of the new political power of young women, especially in Europe. Climate strikes have also been organized by students in Australia, and US organizers are planning to participate in an international day of action on March 15.

Jamie Margolin, the 17-year-old founder and executive director of Zero Hour, a group working on the March 15 protest in the US, told BuzzFeed News that climate activism has given young women like her a chance to be heard.

“There aren’t very many spaces that I can be in charge of, and what I’m going to say is going to be heard,” Margolin said. Her group is led largely by young women of color, which she said should come as no surprise, because people who are already vulnerable are going to be disproportionately hit by climate change. A 2014 report by the World Health Organization outlined that women are more likely to be harmed in the kinds of natural disasters made more likely by global warming, bear greater responsibility for getting access to water, energy, and other basics of domestic life, and often are shut out of opportunities when resources decline.

“If you’re a victim of a system of oppression, you’re more affected by the climate crisis — that goes for women,” she said. “Nobody is going to hand us this. We have to step up and raise our voices.”

Some of the most dramatic protests have come in Belgium. For the past four Thursdays, mass walkouts by students have taken place, and at the heart of those actions is a 17-year-old called Anuna De Wever.

De Wever and her best friend, Kyra Gantois, filmed a video and posted it online; they called on students to protest in early January. They expected only a handful of people to turn up, but were stunned to find a crowd of around 3,000. The protests have now grown as large as 30,000 on Thursdays across the country, with even larger protests on the weekend.

“When we started it, Kyra and me, we thought it would be just 20 people,” De Wever said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News from her home in Antwerp. “I’m so thankful to my generation that they really care about it.”

De Wever was inspired to act after seeing the video of another teenager, Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

Thunberg was 15 when she launched a solitary protest last September by boycotting school every Friday and picketing in front of the Swedish Parliament to demand the country meet obligations under the Paris climate accords.

Thunberg, who has Asperger's syndrome, has become a celebrity since. She addressed global climate talks last December, the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, and has given her own TED Talk. She has an Instagram with more than 250,000 followers where she posts pictures of world leaders, protests, and her dog. From the very beginning, she called for young people to follow her example.

“We are on a school strike for the climate. … We urge everyone to do the same wherever you are,” she said in the video about her climate strike that first popularized the protests in September. “Sit outside your Parliament or local government building until your nation is on a safe pathway to a below two-degree warming target.”

De Wever told BuzzFeed News that as well as Thunberg’s video, two things happened this winter that made her feel like she had to take action: The first was Belgium’s decision not to embrace ambitious steps to cut carbon emissions in December. The second was the realization that she would not be 18 before the spring elections in both Belgium and for the Parliament of the European Union. By the time an election came where she would actually have a say, the chance to rein in climate change could be almost gone forever.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released last October, said the world would see catastrophic impacts from climate change, such as rising seas and coral reefs dying, even if countries managed to limit warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the most ambitious target under the existing climate accords. The report also said countries needed to act even faster than they’ve previous agreed to.

This seems basically impossible especially as the US, one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, is actually increasing its emissions. President Donald Trump has rolled back many climate directives and policies, as well as vowed to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement.

It’s shocking, De Wever said, that adults should have to be reminded by high school students that they’re making decisions that will shape their entire lives.

“Your political games, they’re very funny and all, but you’re the influences of our future,” she told BuzzFeed News. She said the protests, now in their fifth week and drawing tens of thousands in cities across Belgium, have given her a voice that’s “better than voting.”

Her protests have met a considerable backlash; there have been death threats online now being investigated by police, her mother told BuzzFeed News. (In a lengthy Facebook post, Thunberg wrote this month that she had seen “enormous amounts of hate” about her.)

One of Belgium’s environment ministers, Joke Schauvliege, claimed the country's intelligence service had told her the protests were a “setup” and not “spontaneous actions of solidarity with our climate.” Schauvliege later resigned after admitting that the security services told her no such thing.

De Wever told BuzzFeed News that her concern about climate change grew directly out of gender advocacy. De Wever, who was assigned female at birth, identified as a boy throughout primary school, and now identifies as gender-fluid and prefers female pronouns. This experience made her comfortable challenging basic assumptions about the world that older people often treat as unchangeable, which she said is also true of the feeling that the steps to stop climate change are out of reach.

“Being gender-fluid by a young age ... how I see the world is a bit different,” she said. “I don’t look at the mainstream and what they think. I start to have my own values, own principles, and I think about what’s not going right in this world and what can I do and improve it instead of just closing my eyes to it — that really scares me.”

De Wever became passionate about climate change while attending a youth conference associated with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2016. There she learned that women often suffer disproportionately during natural disasters compared to men, and so were likely to be hurt the worst by climate change.

De Wever’s mother, Katrien Van der Heyden, told her about Thunberg’s video in their kitchen one evening last December. She watched it that night, and then announced the following morning she would make a video of her own with her best friend.

“I have to be very honest about this — at this point in time I didn’t think it would amount to anything,” said Van der Heyden, who now acts as her daughter’s de facto press secretary. “I thought, It’s a nice little project. She’s going to be making that little movie with her friends; it’s educational, much better that just staying at home watching Netflix — I underestimated my daughter.”

Van der Heyden, a 51-year-old sociologist who specializes in gender equity, said she also underestimated the whole young generation.

As far as she could recall, she said, “It’s the very first time in Belgium that a [mass movement was] started by two women and not about feminist rights.” When the protests drew tens of thousands, Van der Heyden said, she was stunned to see as many boys as girls in the crowds, and yet no one ever challenged the leadership of the female organizers.

“We, as women leaders, have been pushed aside by men. We were told we can only be leaders [on women’s issues],” she said. Van der Heyden said that when she sees boys in the crowd shouting her daughter’s name at the rallies, “Every time I’m moved to tears.”

“The whole mansplaining mechanism has really disappeared in that generation,” she said.

But the decision-makers on climate remain overwhelmingly men. When the UN touted a new focus on gender in the Polish climate talks last year, the best it could come up with was that “more than half” of the working groups hammering out the accord had “female representation of 38 per cent or more.”

These protests have been a shot in the arm to well-established environmental protests, said Luisa Neubauer, a 22-year-old from Berlin who led the call for the climate strike in Germany. She’d already been active in Germany’s pitched battle over coal mining, which recently has involved environmental activists occupying sites slated for coal mining in the ancient Hambach Forest.

Neubauer — whose Twitter bio reads, “not a German Greta. We are tens of Thousands” — said that the Thunberg’s example was inspiring to get more women to speak up in the German movement. Though Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is one of the world’s longest serving and most powerful political leaders, Germany actually lags behind many other European countries in gender equality.

“I’ve been raised in a world where the people leading were men,” Neubauer said. “And if you wanted to make it as a woman, then you had to either look like Angela Merkel or participate in Germany’s Next Top Model.”

Nike Mahlhaus, a 25-year-old activist with the German environmental group Ende Gelände (Land’s End), said her organization had battled for years to get women’s voices into the environmental discussion. It made a deliberate decision to make women spokespeople because media outlets constantly gravitated toward male activists. So often online, she said, she finds herself facing off online with older men whose views get accepted as common sense while she has to defend herself from attacks of being radical or unhinged.

“The men who comment there are the white middle-aged men who keep this system running by thinking that there is no other option,” Mahlhaus said. “It hurts to realize that they have the power to define what is radical and what is reasonable, what is appropriate and what is insane, who we have to respect and who not.”

In many places, these young women’s protests have been treated with outright scorn. Some of the ugliest came from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his cabinet — which has just five women out of 21 ministers — after a climate strike in November.

“Kids should go to school. … We do not support our schools being turned into parliaments,” Morrison spat during a speech in the House of Commons. Resource Minister Matt Canavan said kids who care about climate should focus on science class during an appearance on 2GB radio, adding, “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.”

Despite the huge scale of recent environmental protests in many countries, they have not produced anywhere near the levels of political attention of smaller protests dominated by older people. The Yellow Vest protests in France, a movement dominated by middle-aged activists who rallied in opposition to a hike in the tax on gasoline, are still driving French politics.

A French minister skipped out on the December climate talks in Poland because of the protests, and French President Emmanuel Macron announced he would reverse the tax, which was introduced to combat global warming. But an environmental protest last week drew more than 80,000 people to the streets of Paris alone, larger than the latest Yellow Vest protest. But it received little attention in French media.

“We really need to do something — the younger generation understand it more,” De Wever told BuzzFeed News. “We are called young and naive, but maybe being naive is what we need right now. We can look at the planet without being locked in the system.”

“This system is just wrong,” she said. “It discriminates against people. We’re not taking care of this planet.”