SCIENCE

Scientists Reveal Secrets Behind Hip Hop's Most Complicated Rhymes

02/16/2015 08:39 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2015

After analyzing the music of some of hip hop's biggest artists, from Eminem to Public Enemy, linguists at the University of Manchester in England noticed something pretty impressive.

As it turns out, Grammy Award-winning rappers seem to have an intuitive sense for rhyme, using subtle rhyming patterns called half-rhymes (like "hop and "rock") much more often than traditional rhymes (like "cat" and "mat"). See the difference?

"With 'traditional' rhyme, the decision about whether two words rhyme or not is something we can explain pretty easily based on our conscious reflection (either they're the same or they're not)," Dr. Wendell Kimper, a linguistics professor at the university who supervised the research, told The Huffington Post in an email. "With half-rhyme, it becomes a lot harder to figure out where to draw the line -- we know that it has something to do with how similar the sounds are to each other, but as an individual you wouldn't be able to explain precisely why one half-rhyme works and another doesn't. When it comes to speech sounds, there's still a lot we don't know about similarity and how to measure it."

For the research, Kimper's student Louise Middleton, a third-year linguistics student at the university, examined the music of eight different rappers, paying close attention to their rhyming structures and patterns, vocabulary size, rhyme rate and the position of the rhyme in or across lines. The first 2,000 words from each artists' debut album were analyzed.

"It was a big enough sample to produce statistically significant differences between artists, and statistically significant correlations between certain types of rhyme and artists' vocabulary size," Kimper said in the email.

So, what did Middleton find?

"My research found that over 70 percent of the time artists used half-rhyme, such as 'hop-rock,' rather than traditional rhymes," Middleton said in a written statement. "These imperfect rap rhymes are not something that you simply come up with on the spot but something that popular rap artists have the natural ability to create."

As rapper Jay-Z once famously said, "numbers don't lie."

This isn't the first time that hip hop music has been analyzed for science. In 2014, New York-based data scientist Matt Daniels examined the vocabulary size of various rappers, which inspired Middleton's research.

Kimper and Middleton are hoping to present the new research at a conference in the next year or so.

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