Vocabulary is one of the many tools in a rapper’s arsenal. Data analyst Matt Daniels previously published a study counting the unique words used by numerous MCs, with Aesop Rock and Busdriver at the top of the list. Unfortunately, Myka 9 of Freestyle Fellowship was not included, likely due to a relative lack of transcribed lyrics on Genius.com. In this study, the editors of Myka 9’s new book My Kaleidoscope analyzed 35,000 words of Myka 9 lyrics. With a unique word count of 9,009, Myka 9 now tops the list of “The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop.”
In 2014, data analyst Matt Daniels published “The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop.” The goal was to determine the rappers with the largest vocabulary usage by counting the number of unique words in their rhymes. Most recently updated in 2019, the top MCs on the list were Aesop Rock, Busdriver, GZA, MF DOOM, and RZA. (The popularity of the chart in hip hop circles spawned dozens of memes and its own Facebook group, “Oh good, I hadn’t seen the chart lately.”)
When the chart was first published, I scoffed like an elitist underground rap nerd — “Pfft, Myka 9 should be on there!” After a moment’s reflection, I realized: “But then some poor bastard would have to transcribe his rapid-fire chops…”
Myka 9 never released lyrics with his albums, and the few songs transcribed on Genius.com were riddled with errors. The task was daunting. (Little did I know, I’d end up being the poor bastard transcribing the songs…)
For those that don’t know, Myka 9 hails from the groups Freestyle Fellowship and Haiku d’Etat. He reps the legendary open mics at the Good Life Cafe and Project Blowed, which sparked the underground hip hop movement. He is prominently featured in Ava DuVernay’s first documentary, This is the Life. One of the earliest innovators of chopping and freestyling, Myka 9 has been spitting a voluminous vocabulary of verbiage since the 80s.
The authors of this study had the honor of working with Myka 9 to compile the lyrics for his newly released book, My Kaleidoscope. For the first time, Myka 9’s lyrics have been transcribed, collected, and corrected by the man himself.
With over 100 songs compiled, a light bulb suddenly went off: It’s now possible to see how he ranks in “The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop.”
We followed the methods described in Matt Daniels’ article to ensure a valid comparison to his data.
All of the lyrics were either directly written by Myka 9 or transcribed by the editors and corrected by Myka 9. We removed all apostrophes and possessives, and standardized all numbers and contractions, until we had exactly 35,000 words of Myka 9 lyrics. We used the free program NoteTab Light to determine “different words counted.”
We found 9,009 unique words among the 35,000 words of Myka 9 lyrics.
With Aesop Rock at 7,879 and Project Blowed colleague Busdriver at 7,324 unique words, Myka 9 took the lead by a sizeable margin.
As with all scientific data, one should not form any unwarranted conclusions. The use of a larger vocabulary does not indicate that an MC is better or smarter. Reading the dictionary over a beat doesn’t make you the GOAT. Music is subjective; some listeners might prefer MCs with a larger vocabulary, and some might dislike all the big words.
This analysis is of some interest, however, to see which MCs possessed both the ability and artistic intention to utilize a wide array of words in their lyrics. It’s also of note that Matt Daniels’ analysis makes a comparison with other genres, which could dispel stereotypes about hip hop.
It’s of note that the top three artists on the chart have recorded with each other — on songs such as Myka 9’s “Chopper” ft. Busdriver, AWOL One’s “Stand Up” ft. Myka 9 & Aesop Rock, Busdriver’s “Manchuria” ft. Myka 9, Busdriver’s “Superhands’ Mantra” ft. Aesop Rock, and more. And, similar to the high ranking of the Wu-Tang Clan, Myka 9 and Busdriver are both member’s of LA’s Project Blowed collective.
Myka 9’s use of a large vocabulary extends all the way back to his mid-80s battle rhymes. As his partner in the 1980s group MC Aces, Spoon Iodine, said of Myka, “He was the big word dude. You couldn’t catch up with Mike with his word game. Some shit you didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. You had to go look that shit up in the dictionary. It was hella natural for him — that’s Mike, man. I studied the goddamn dictionary, I was always trying to catch up with him. This motherfucker was just a smart kid. That was the thing about Mike — natural intelligence with the words. Natural.”
As Myka explained, “Back in the old school days, you could win a battle not just by what we call ‘joke rapping’ or ‘bag rapping,’ you could win a battle by the stylistic expression of your communication — you could win a battle by having a better command of the English language.”
Self Jupiter of Freestyle Fellowship recalled of Myka, “He’d be saying some way out shit you could never say to somebody, as a human. All the battles, people were like, You won, homie. You got too many words you saying.”
Study by Patrick Parker & Kamal Darling, editors of Myka 9’s My Kaleidoscope, published by Parker Pubs. My Kaleidoscope features lyrics to 69 songs, classic photos, introduction by Abstract Rude, and an in-depth oral history covering his entire career from 1980s b-boy battles to the Good Life and Project Blowed and beyond. It’s all love!