Whenever I and my dyslexic Father would argue when I was a teen, he’d always tell me to stop using overly long words. At the time I probably thought I was a blooming genius, but later on I realized that if he can’t understand what I’m saying, then how am I meant to win the argument? Similarly when I worked at a Butchers store from the age of 13, one of my colleagues used to have the phrase “bullshit baffles brains”. Essentially the point of those above stories is that a wider vocabulary doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re point is any better, just that the opposing party may have given in too easily when faced with the unknown. It’s a similar case with a recent study that proves that rapper Kanye West has a larger vocabulary than Bob Dylan; Dylan with a total of 4883 and West 5069.
My views on Kanye as an artist are rather outspoken. But my personal view is that he quite often fails to make any real statement within his lyrics and often they can just seem like a competition to spit out as many words to a bar as possible. They may come out of his mouth within 5 seconds but that doesn’t add any weight to lyrics like his recent single ‘All Day‘.
“How long you n***a ball? All day, n***a, How much time you spent at the mall? All day, n***a, How many runners do you got on call? All day, n***a, Swish, swish, how long they keep you in court? All day, n***a, Take you to get this fly? All day, n***a, Tell your P.O. how-how long you been high? All day, n***a, You already know I’m straight from the Chi, all day, n***a
South, south, south side! All day, n***a”
Bob Dylan has a supposedly lower word count than his rapping counterpart, but those words that do hit the lyric sheet have much more depth. Infact, there’s a whole site dedicated to analysing the lyrics of the folk poet. Take that Kanye!
Take for instance, the epic ‘Desolation Row’ – that’s right you emo sorts, MCR didn’t write it! Just the opening line is evocative and thought-provoking, “They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown”. The lyrics refer to Dylan’s father witnessing those events in 1920 after three men in town with the circus were accused of raping a girl. They were sprung out of jail by a mob, who lynched them. Postcards with pictures of the events were sold as souvenirs.
The song continues for another 11 minutes, using a range of literacy references including Romeo and Juliette, Cinderella, Ophelia, The Phantom of the Opera to illustrate the desperation and poverty of this typically mid-western American town.
Of course, music is all about perspective. If you’re looking to be educated or engaged in lyrics then songs with a poetic or political twist like those of Dylans, Manic Street Preachers or more recently, Sleaford Mods, are inevitably going to be more appealing. If your musical tastes are more entered on sonic expansion or what sounds good in a social environment, then the likes of Kanye and Jay Z are the lyrical trailblazers in that area.
There’s nothing wrong with being a member of either side, or even being on the fence. But it’s just a little absurd to argue that the man using the most words is the most intelligent right?