Four of the five musicians with the biggest vocabularies are rappers—and the fifth is Bob Dylan

Slim shady just stood up as the rapper with the best vocabulary.
Slim shady just stood up as the rapper with the best vocabulary.
Image: Reuters/Jumana El-Heloueh
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Who are music’s most gifted wordsmiths? A new study by the lyrics site Musixmatch looked at 25 different genres, drawing from the best-selling artists in each, and crunched the numbers to determine who had the most diverse vocabularies.

Rap is lyrically dense, and artists are known for jumping through verbal hoops to make rhymes, so it’s not surprising that rappers performed well. But Bob Dylan held his own:

Computer scientists Varun Jewalikar and Nash Vail looked at musicians’ top 100 most word-dense songs. Artists’ songs were judged on three criteria:

1) Vocabulary size – the number of unique words used

2) Lyrical density – total number of words

3) New word interval (NWI) – fraction of words that were unique (vocabulary size/lyrical density)

Here are the artists who were at the bottom of the pack. Saxophonist Kenny G, not surprisingly, comes in dead last. But he may get the last laugh: Jewalikar and Vail found no correlation between vocabulary size and commercial success.