The debate of ranking hip hop's elite has been a constant battle among rap fans since the inception of the genre. Often times disagreements only lead to an increased loyalty to your favorite MC and a verbal spraying of insults towards your arguing opponent. But what if there was a way to scientifically prove that one artist is better than another?
Harvard University archiver and fellow rap fan Tahir Hemphill wanted a scientific way to measure mic skill and dead the never ending debates once and for all. The solution was the creation of “Hip Hop Word Count,” an online mathematical database with over 40,000 searchable Hip Hop songs from 1979 to present day.
Word Count allows users to process data such as average syllables per word, average letters per syllable, longest polysyllabic word, total word count, and the educational level needed to understand the meaning of a song’s lyrics. It's also capable of measuring artistic cleverness such as use of similes, metaphors, cultural references, and rhyme patterns. The information is complied and a final score is determined on a scale of 0 (illiterate) to 20 (post-graduate degree).
Initial scores conducted include: Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” (16), The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Warning” (11), 2Pac’s “Trapped” (12), Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents 2” (16), Lil Wayne’s “I’m Me” (11), Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” (12), and 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” (7).
The software can also search out keywords and phrases to count the amount of times they have been used throughout the years in lyrics. "I did a search out of curiosity for the word bitch." Hemphill explains. His findings reveal that it appears in nearly a third of all songs. Does this directly display the misogynistic culture that we live in? “Hip-Hop is always villainized, but people have to understand that Hip Hop is a reflection of American culture, probably in one of its most distilled and pure forms,” says Hemphill. Perhaps artists will become more aware of their vocabulary usage moving forward. One thing is certain now however, Mike Jones fans can now have an accurate tally of the amount of times his name has been said and the most popular champagne in hip hop can finally be crowned.
To some lyricists this may be the route to verification that they have been waiting on. For others, more of a frightening wake up call. Either way you look at it, accountability is upon us. Rappers smarten up.