Lyrics in French Hip-hop: curious? IAM, and you should be too.


In 2018, hip-hop was the most consumed genre in the United States. Since then, many analyses have dived deep in understanding the lyrics of those artists. However, as the pioneer of music streaming in France, we wanted to know more about how our local stars created their art.

With the wealth of data surrounding the lyrics that we own at Deezer, and because millions of people used the “view lyrics” button on Deezer in 2019, we thought it would be interesting to conduct a study.

Before rap went mainstream…

Let’s go back in time and see just where lyrics come from. First, the word “Lyric” is ultimately derived (via Latin) from the Greek word “Lyrikós”, the adjectival form of lyre, the ancient string instrument. Greek lyric poetry was often recited accompanied by the dulcet tones of the lyre. This paved the way for millennia of musical storytelling, passing through Homer’s Odyssey all the way to Aya Nakamura’s Djadja.

Although music itself has likely been around for at least 55,000 years, the oldest known (complete) composition with both lyrics and musical notation that historians have been able to dig out comes from the Seikilos epitaph, written around the 1st or 2nd century AD. Short but sweet, it is thought to be a dedication from husband to wife during the Hellenistic Greek period:

“While you live, shine, have no grief at all

Life exists only for a short while and time demands its toll”

Since then, lyrics have evolved and the number of words per song has increased. The birth of rap and hip-hop helped accelerate this trend.

What you need to know

Throughout this article we will talk a lot about unique words and the vocabulary diversity rate. Let’s define them!

A unique word is a word used by an artist once or several times in their songs, excluding stop words (stop words usually refer to the most common words in a language: “I”, “you”, “with”…etc).

For example, in Rihanna’s “work work work work”, “work” is a unique word.

Vocabulary diversity is a score. The closer the score is to 1, the less the artists repeat themselves. The closer the score is to 0, the more the artists repeat themselves.

For example, in Rihanna’s “work work work work,” the repetition rate is 4 because we have 4 words but just 1 unique words. Accordingly, the Vocabulary Diversity Rate is ¼ = 0.25.

The picture in 2019

In 2019, the top 200 Francophone artists streamed on Deezer were composed of 142 Rap & Hip-hop artists, 39 Pop artists, 14 Rock artists, 2 Electro artists and 2 Reggae artists. This means that Rap & Hip-hop accounted for more than 70% of the artists. This highlights the importance of the genres.

Distribution of the top 200 artists according to musical genre

Size and diversity of vocabulary

First, let’s try to understand what differences there are between rap and other genres in terms of lyrics. In order to have a general overview, we decided to plot a map of the artists’ vocabulary diversity on the X axis and the number of unique words on the Y axis. Like above, the colors are split by genre.

Vocabulary diversity (high score = high diversity)

Unsurprisingly, a rapper, Rohff, is the artist who has the largest vocabulary.

Somewhat more surprisingly, the artist with the lowest repetition rate (the point the most to the right) is an electro artist. However, on closer look, the reason is intuitive; the majority of the artist’s songs contain few lyrics (hence the low ‘unique words’ on the left), and it is, therefore, less probable that the artist will repeat themselves.

Finally, through his stories that both praise and critique French society, the rock artist with the largest vocabulary is French folk rock icon Renaud.

For the rest of our analysis, we will focus on the 3 main genres (Hip-hop, Pop, Rock).

Digging deeper, we see below that rappers are the artists who use the most unique words: on average 2,938 unique words per artist. As opposed to pop artists, who are the ones who use the least (1,651 unique words / artist). It is interesting to note that pop artists are the ones who repeat themselves the most, while having the least unique words.

Average number of unique words per artist (on the left) / Average repetition rate per artist (on the right)

Let’s take the example of two popular songs from the year 2019:

  • La vie qu’on mène by Ninho (Rap)
  • Pookie by Aya Nakamura (Pop)

Both pieces have (approximately) the same duration and the same number of words, but don’t have the same number of unique words. The difference is huge, with the number of unique words in the rap song more than twice as many as in the pop song.

Sentiment analysis

We then ran a ‘sentiment analysis’ on the lyrics to see if our French rappers are negative (or positive) compared to other artists. A sentiment analysis is the process of identifying the emotional tone behind a series of words. For this particular analysis, we decided to look at every word used in every song by every artist.

For the most curious among you, we used the TextBlob python library, which “provides a simple API for diving into common natural language processing (NLP) tasks such as part-of-speech tagging, noun phrase extraction, sentiment analysis, classification, translation, and more.” (

It seems that our rappers are not much more negative than other artists, but seem to be more neutral in their lyrics (i.e. less positive).

The most positive artist is not a rapper. It’s Aldebert, an artist who writes songs for children. About 17% of the words he uses are positive.

Top words used by artists of each genre

In order to better understand and measure the difference between our rap artists and artists from other genres, we looked at the top 20 words they use.

Let’s take a closer look at our data by checking the top 20 most used words in our 3 main genres.

The first thing that we can notice is that there are certain words that appear in each of the tops, like: “Vie”, “Trop”, “Rien”, “Jamais”, “Toujours.” The word “Vie” is the most used word by pop and rock artists, and by our rap artists too (apart from the word “Ouais”).

Other words are specific to each genre. Rappers will be more likely to use words like “Yeah”, “Gros”, “Mère”, “Seul” and “Sale.” Meanwhile, pop artists will say words like “Besoin” and “Bébé”.

It’s interesting to see how the words used by the artists of a genre reflect the identity of the genre and the image it projects fairly well.


This article highlights facts on lyrics and is not judgmental. It certainly doesn’t mean that pop artists are any less creative than artists of other genres, as musical tastes are subjective, and each genre has its own strengths and qualities, be it the diversity of lyrics or catchy, melodic choruses. That’s what music is all about: different genres, a variety of lyrics, a vocabulary that changes between rap, rock, pop, reggae… etc. But we all listen to music.

For Deezer, lyrics are more than just a feature, they are a strength, a giant source of data that can tell many stories. The objective of this analysis is to highlight the power of lyrics data, which can help us, at Deezer, improve our content and recommendations.