The Most Shakespearean Rappers, Based on Their Language Similarity

“I’ll teach you how to flow,” spits Antonio… but Antonio, believe it or not, is not an up-and-coming rapper on a diss track but a character in The Tempest, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, first performed to English royalty back in 1611.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that line was penned by a rapper; theater experts and musicians alike have long drawn parallels between the work of Shakespeare and hip-hop artists, with the iconic playwright’s poetic rhythms finding common ground with the genre-defining flow and stacked rhymes of rap.

So, too, can the content of rap music echo Shakespearean dramas and tragedies, telling stories and delivering social commentary in a lyrical package. Rappers even compare themselves to Shakespeare; take Eminem in Jay-Z’s 2001 track “Renegade,” where the artist announces, “I'm a poet to some, a regular modern-day Shakespeare” in his trademark quick-fire style.

But one of Shakespeare’s most enduring legacies is his impact on the English language. Already boasting a large vocabulary, the playwright often invented new words or refashioned old ones, many of which are still in use today. With that in mind, we wondered: when it comes to how they use words and phrases in their songs, are any of the world’s rappers really like the great Bard himself?

To find out, Crossword Solver compared the words of Shakespeare’s works with the lyrics of hundreds of rappers past and present. Here’s what we found out…

What We Did

We began our analysis by retrieving the lyrics of over 400 of the best-selling rap artists in each decade since the 1980s and select rappers previously highlighted for having large vocabularies in a separate study. We then cleaned the lyrics to get each word’s base form and calculated how different the word frequencies of each rapper’s lyrics are vs. that of Shakespeare’s. We could then calculate each solo rapper or rap group’s “Shakespeare similarity score” out of 100 (the higher an artist’s score, the more similar to Shakespeare their lyrics are in terms of word usage) and rank artists accordingly. 

Key Findings

  • Aesop Rock is the most Shakespearean rapper of all time, with a Shakespeare similarity rating of 63.75 out of 100
  • De La Soul is the most Shakespearean rap group of all time, with a Shakespeare similarity rating of 55.57 out of 100
  • “Control” and “bump” are the most used words coined by Shakespeare in rap
  • KRS-One is the most Shakespearean rapper of the eighties (a Shakespeare similarity rating of 55), while Tyler, The Creator takes the title in the 2020s (scoring 52)

Aesop Rock Is the Most Shakespearean Solo Rapper

“There's smoke in my iris, but I painted a sunny day on the insides of my eyelids…" — “Battery” by Aesop Rock

Back in 2014, data scientist Matt Daniels’ massive analysis of hip-hop discographies discovered that rapper Aesop Rock’s lyrics reflect a larger vocabulary than any other artist of the genre and Shakespeare himself. Our research only confirms Aesop’s Shakespearean skills; with a similarity rating of 63.75 (based on how similar his word usage is to Shakespeare’s), Aesop Rock is the most Shakespearean rapper ever.

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“What's your favorite Aesop Rock lyric/verse?” writes a user on Aesop’s fan-filled subreddit, giving us a glimpse into just a handful of the artist’s most admired lines.

“Authoritative restoration will be rationed righteously to those deemed suitably fit to police their own sobriety,” writes one fan.

“And when science proposes to art besides that peaceful sea, I'll be that cat with a ring on a pillow shouting finally,” writes another.

In an interview with Sound of Boston, Aesop says that his massive vocabulary is down to reading every day and his love of learning new words. Not everyone is a fan of his wordy flows, though; in a review of the rapper’s 2016 album The Impossible Kid, Spin Magazine’s Safy-Hallan Farah writes: “[Aesop Rock] exhausts his audience with self-indulgent, not-very-concrete prose. He needs to reel it in and let people have a chance to breathe and process the verbiage.”

De La Soul Narrowly Beats Wu-Tang Clan to the Most Shakespearean Rap Group Title

“Am I solid gold? I don’t cast a glow…” — “Oodles of O’s” by De La Soul

Not every rap artist flies solo, and some of the most famous rappers started off their music careers as part of a rap group. But of all the rap groups, the three-piece troupe De La Soul ranks as the most Shakespearean with a similarity rating of 55.57 — a tad higher than Wu-Tang Clan (55.07), often cited by fans of the genre as the greatest rap group in history.

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In 1989, a time when gangsta rap — defined by heavy-hitting themes and violent lyrics — was a popular subgenre, De La Soul made waves with their “gloriously sunny and psychedelic” debut album 3 Feet High and Rising, featuring the smash-hit track “Me Myself and I.” After member Trugoy the Dove passed away in February 2023, Alexis Petridis of The Guardian paid tribute to the rapper’s “lyrical genius,” highlighting the group’s clever wordplay and lyrics that sounded like riddles.

From KRS-One to Tyler, the Creator, the Most Shakespearean Rappers of Every Decade

“You never lived in your truth, I’m just happy I lived in it / But I finally found peace, so peace…” — “GONE, GONE / THANK YOU by Tyler, the Creator

Particularly Shakespearean rappers can be found in every decade since the genre’s beginnings in the early 1970s. Our analysis reveals that “Sound of da Police” artist KRS-One is the most Shakespearean rapper of the eighties (with a similarity score of 55), whose music often includes social and political themes.

In a tribute to his greatest songs, Rock the Bells’ Kiani Shabazz writes: “His name is an abbreviation for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, and “The Teacha” never falls short of delivering a thought-provoking message with his gift of lyrical storytelling.”

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Canibus takes the title in the nineties (with a similarity score of 63), one of hip-hop magazine The Source’s top 50 lyricists of all time. Writing for The Guardian, Angus Batey calls Canibus “a genius with a monastic devotion to rap … [offering] a constant stream of lyrics of great wit, outrageous invention, lyrics that are often laceratingly self-critical and far more honest than most rappers dare imagine.”

Jumping forward, Tyler, The Creator has the highest Shakespeare similarity score (52) of any 2020s rapper, based on the similarity of his word usage to the Bard’s. “Tyler’s wordplay is second to none,” a Red Bull tribute gushes. “He routinely unveils dozens of bizarre, experimental bars that smush into each other like postmodern poetry scribbled into the tight margins of a notepad.”

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Above, we’ve charted how rap music’s similarity to Shakespeare has fluctuated over the decades, based on the average Shakespeare similarity score for rappers of that era. The nineties saw a peak in particularly Shakespearean rappers, considered the closing era of rap’s Golden Age.

“Control” and “Bump” Are the Most Used Words Coined by Shakespeare in Rap

From “eyeball” to “downstairs,” 1,700 words coined by Shakespeare are still in use today — but which of the Bard’s original words are used the most in rap? On top is “control,” found 1,718 times across rap lyrics, a word Shakespeare was the very first to use as a noun. Hip-hop tracks that feature “control” in the title include “Control” by Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica.

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Bump”takes the next top spot, which we found 1,110 times in rap. Like “control,” Shakespeare was the first person to use the word “bump” as a noun (as in, a lump as a result of a knock to the head), and you’ll find it in Act One, Scene Three of Romeo and Juliet. In the world of rap, it features in the title of songs like “Bump In The Trunk” by five-piece group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

Other Shakespeare-coined words that appear often in rap include “savage” (605 times), “weird” (255 times) and “neglect” (142 times).

“All of a Sudden” Is the Most Used Shakespearean Phrase in Rap Music

Along with words, many phrases Shakespeare invented or repurposed are still part of the English language today. “All of a sudden” is the most common of them all in rap (appearing 186 times in lyrics), used in songs by Eminem (“Marshall Mathers”), Nas (“N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. ll”) and Drake (“Lose You”), to name just a few artists.

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Meanwhile, we found “full circle” (originated in King Lear) 29 times in rap, a phrase used as the title of tracks by Nas and Big Sean alike. Also on the ranking are “own flesh and blood” (14 times), “a heart of gold” (13 times) and “naked truth” (12 times).

How Shakespearean Is Your Favorite Rapper?

Use our interactive table below to find out how alike your favorite hip-hop artist is to Shakespeare, based on their lyrical similarity to the works of the Bard.

Whatever your opinion of Shakespeare, it’s clear that his plays and poetry have made a lasting impact on the world of entertainment; indeed, 48% of Americans have seen a TV or film adaptation of the Bard’s work. Music is no exception, and by virtue of using the English language in their work, hip-hop artists are keeping Shakespeare’s legacy alive by using his words and phrases. Couple that with the expertly crafted rhymes, rhythms and story-telling in rap, and it seems rappers — no matter their similarity score to the Bard — are all Shakespeares in their own right.

The Methodology Explained

To find out which rapper is the most Shakespearean, we compared the similarity of word usage between the lyrics of rappers and the works of William Shakespeare. Rappers who used the same words as Shakespeare at the most similar frequency were considered to be more Shakespearean.

Firstly, we curated a seed list of more than 400 of the best-selling rap artists in each decade since the 1980s, combined with a list of rappers previously highlighted for having the largest vocabulary in a separate study.

After scraping each rapper’s lyrics from, we removed songs from consideration where a rapper is not listed as the main artist on a track to avoid the lyrics sung by other artists skewing their results. We also carefully cleaned the lyrics of the artists, expanding the contractions we found (e.g., "ridin'" -> "riding") and removing stopwords. After that, we lemmatized the words to get their lemma and grouped the results based on them. We also applied this preprocessing to Shakespeare's words to account for alternative spellings and abbreviations from both eras.

We compared the lyrics of 28,245 songs, broken down by artist vs. the works of Shakespeare using Kullback–Leibler divergence. This was able to tell us how different the word frequencies of each rapper’s lyrics were vs. that of Shakespeare’s.

We normalized the results of each rapper’s lyrical similarity to Shakespeare's word usage as a “similarity score” out of 100 — meaning that the closer to 100 a rapper’s score is, the more similar to Shakespeare their lyrics are in terms of word usage. Our final rankings separate hip-hop groups and duos from solo rappers and only focus on artists who had 10,000 or more words available to analyze via

These results were also isolated by decade of song release to see which decade and which rapper from each decade scored closest in similarity to Shakespeare's word usage.

Finally, we also isolated 439 words and phrases that are widely considered to be first used or invented by Shakespeare to see which of them were most used in the lyrics of rap artists.

Please note: this research can only consider the frequency at which the same word at its surface level is used by Shakespeare and each artist. It cannot account for homonyms (i.e., words that are spelled the same or similarly but have different meanings) or whether a word's meaning has changed over time.

This data analysis is correct as of October 2023.

Additional Sources

1. Daniels, M. (2017). The Largest Vocabulary In Hip Hop.

2. Writing Explained. (2023). What Does All of a Sudden Mean?

3. Royal Shakespeare Company. (2023). Shakespeare’s

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