Study reveals the poetry of rap, through rhyme

February 12, 2015 by Kath Paddison, University of Manchester
Study reveals the poetry of rap, through rhyme
Credit: Luigi Diamanti at

Linguists at The University of Manchester have examined the tracks of artists including multiple Grammy award-winner Eminem and Public Enemy, finding that the rhymes that make them superstars are so intuitive they are not within their conscious control.

Louise Middleton, who is a third year linguistics student, examined the rhyming structures in rap music looking at rhyming patterns, vocabulary size, rhyme rate and the position of the rhyme in or across lines. This was compared with the frequency of half-rhymes, such as 'hop-rock,'which use similar but not identical sounds and indicate a more natural capacity for rhyming and rapping than the more traditional rhymes we are taught at school such as 'cat-mat.'

The high vocabulary score and high prevalence of 'imperfect' half rhymes and unique sentence structure, over and above the use of more traditional and deliberate rhyming couplets, show that rap music's biggest proved the theory that rap's biggest stars find their success in their ability to rhyme subconsciously.

Louise said: "My research found that over 70% of the time artists used half-rhyme, such as 'hop-rock,'rather than traditional rhymes like 'cat-mat.' 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.

"In Eminem's track 'Rap God' which is from his latest, now Grammy award-winning, album, he boasts of his rhyme skill saying: 'But for me to rap like a computer must be in my genes' which proves the point made by my research which shows that rapping is outside his .

"I think that hip hop has the most sophisticated use of rhyme of any genre and when written down and it reads just like poetry. For example the London-based hip-hop artist Akala writes a lot about Shakespeare in his music. I took inspiration from this and loved how de applied a beat to 'Sonnet 18' and of course, it sounds exactly like a hip-hop track."

Previous studies in the field have explored the similarities between the vocabulary of popular hip hop artists with the words of Shakespeare which one claiming to have found 16 with a stronger vocabulary than the Bard.

The University of Manchester hip hop study was supervised by Dr Wendell Kimper, Lecturer in Linguistics.

Dr Kimper said: "Louise's research helps us to understand how our brains process and understand sounds. It opens up other avenues of research which could allow us to find out why some kinds of rhyme come more naturally than others and why some kinds of sounds work better as imperfect rhymes than others."

Explore further: Research explores evolution of hip-hop from party music to political platform

Related Stories

Language learning through hip-hop music

December 21, 2011

Listeners can learn new vocabulary through hip-hop music, even though the lyrics may be difficult to understand, according to a study published in the Dec. 21 issue of the online journal PLoS ONE.

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.