Hip-Hop’s “Third Grade Reading Level” and the Myth of White Intellectual Superiority.

This past Monday, Seatsmart.com published a study conducted by (white) data analyst Andrew Powell-Morse entitled Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis.

Powell-Morse ran the lyrics of 225 songs that spent at least 3 weeks at #1 on the Billboard’s charts in the past 10 years through Readability Score to obtain an average US reading level.

Out of the four included genres (country, rock, pop, R&B/hip-hop), hip-hop scored the lowest, with an average U.S. reading level of 2.6. According to the study, Eminem’s lyrics are the most advanced, followed by Nicki Minaj and Macklemore, who both also scored within the third grade reading level measure.



Readability Score measures reading level using the Flesch Reading Ease test, which calculates reading ease using words per sentence and syllables per word.

Merriam-Webster defines intelligence as “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations :  reason;  also :  the skilled use of reason (2) :  the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)”

Though it’s certainly easy to read, I’m still trying to figure out how the ability to write a lyric about a boy toy named Troy who used to live in Detroit and who apparently knew how to please his women (as long as they were well-endowed) proves the ability to learn or understand anything other than how to make a song about butts that millions of people pay to hear (which sounds a lot like “applying knowledge to manipulate one’s environment” to me) — and I really hope to God third grade students aren’t writing anything similar to that — but Seatsmart and others quickly drew the conclusion that reading level equals intelligence as indicated by the title of the study. Seatsmart even refers to the artists with the lowest scores as “the dumbest”.

It’s no surprise that hip-hop ranked the lowest, and it’s no surprise that 2 white artists round out the top 3 scores in hip-hop. As we know, hip-hop is generally associated with Black people and Black culture. Black people, and, more specifically, Black students have been held to white supremacist intelligence standards for as long as these measures have existed, and results based on these measures have been used to explicitly and implicitly suggest that Black culture is inferior for just as long.

These standards have real world consequences, like an over-reliance on racially biased testing that leads to a devastating achievement gap. As the National Center for Fair & Open Testing explains, “testing leads to standardized instruction that ignores individual differences, needs and cultural variation, such as ‘scripting curriculum’.” Standardized tests in school, for instance, have consistently favored “One size fits few, and that one size takes as its norm white, middle to upper class experiences and cultural practices.”

Seatsmart’s study is trivial, but its implications are serious. Black writing, speech and thought have consistently been held to racially biased standards that lead to the still widespread belief among white people that Black people are lazier and stupider.

black stupid

A song is not a book. A rap song is definitely not a book. It should not be read like a book, and if Drake started spitting lines from William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I’d find myself a new favorite light-skinned emo-singer/rapper/Degrassi alum in a quick second. I would expect most people who listen to rap, smart or stupid, to do the same.

And a Black child is not necessarily going to know the same things as her white counterparts, but that doesn’t mean what she knows is any less valuable.

Conflating smartness with meeting criteria that do not define intelligence is an effective tool of white supremacy, but based on its definition, it should be clear that intelligence can be expressed in a variety of ways. It can be simple. It can be complex. It can be hood. It can be Wall Street (which means it is probably also criminal). But it is not what Seatsmart – or College Board – says it is.

Also, I can’t believe I just defended the sophistication of modern mainstream rap. May the ghost of Tupac forgive me.

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  1. When I saw the original article I felt off about it but didn’t pinpoint why. Your analysis was poignant, appropriate and on point.

  2. Why are Asian Americans the highest performers on the SAT I test (both Math and Verbal sections combined), on the average, despite the fact that they face the obstacles of cultural and language differences, as well as social and economic disadvantages, such as lower parental incomes and parental education. Over 70% of the Asian American SAT I test takers are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.According the the studies and the data from the CC, the poorest Asian Americans from families in the lowest income levels with parents of less than a high school education outperform blacks on the SAT I test, on the average, from families in the highest income levels with parents with a college degree or more. This is the racial gap that is independent of the social economic gap between the races and ethnic groups. Asian Americans even outperform whites when these parameters are examined. One cannot explain the better performance of Asian Americans over whites and blacks due to the alleged racial biases of the SAT I. How can a study of the SAT I test exclude the Asian American group, the highest performers (especially on the Math and even on the Verbal sections). If this test is racially biased against blacks, then it must be biased against Asian Americans, but they still outperform whites, as well as blacks.

    When I was a child, I thought the “gap” was evidence that the big guy didn’t distribute talent the way I wished he would.Then I became a college student, and was convinced that the “gap” was the result of the legacy of slavery and discrimination.Then I realized that the very absolutely top performers (Asians, Jews, Indians from the country called, “India”) outperformed those who were supposedly running the system.Then I thought, maybe some people and -ACCKKK!!! – groups are just plain better at certain things than others, and maybe we should accept that fact rather than fight a losing war with reality – who tends to win these tings.Apparently, that makes me a racist.So, apparently, “racist” has come to mean, “One who just calls it like it is whether he likes it or not, even if he is an Anglo Saxon who has been compelled by the evidence to admit most Jews and Asians are smarter than he is.”So, apparently, I am a racist.Alas.

    • nope, racist just means racist. thank you for demonstrating, though.

      • How was that racist?Is it just ‘racist’ now to say factual information that’s offensive and related to race.You addressed my last point except the part where i pointed out that the SAT is more benfical to asians and jews.Mind explaning how that makes the test white supremacist.

      • You mind because it would unfurl what you’re saying and you would have to reconsider your views on race, and your army of self-hating white people would suddenly know better.An immature and anti-intellectual stance to take.

        Inherent differences between the races don’t mean that one is better than the other.It just means that we know there are differences.We can still all support one another and work it out, even knowing that we have differences that are physical, mental, emotional, etc.

        Godspeed, and hope you accept the truth before it smacks the current regime in the face — the ones who will ultimately suffer will be the ones who were betraying everyone else.

      • IQ (intelligence) is inherited and not equally distributed among human races. Multiple IQ tests conducted world-wide over several decades have been normed for every conceivable variable and Blacks always rank at the bottom, even in non-verbal tests. There has never been an IQ test administered anywhere in the world where the racial rankings were different than; Jews, Asians, Whites, non-White Hispanics and then American Blacks and African Blacks.

        Racial activist groups have tried to create their own tests to demonstrate intellectual parity of the races and attack the integrity of existing tests but the rankings are always the same; African Blacks average a 70 IQ (only 2% of Whites score this low), American Blacks are 85 (due to mixing with Whites, 20% on average), non-White Hispanics are 87, Whites 102, Asians 106 and Ashkenazi Jews at 115. Blacks have never ranked anything other than last on any IQ test ever created.

        Even using culture-free, unbiased testing designed by Black psychologists, no amount of testing or wishful thinking shows any improvement in Black IQ. Raven’s “Progressive Matrices” is completely non-verbal yet even the brightest of the African Blacks (South African university students) still score only 85 — a whole standard deviation above sub-Saharan Africa but it’s also a whole standard deviation below Whites.

        In the United States, self-identified Blacks and Whites have been the subjects of the greatest number of studies. They state that the Black-White IQ difference is about 15 to 18 points or 1 to 1.1 standard deviations which implies that between 11 and 16 percent of the black population have an IQ above 100 (the general population median).

        The mean intelligence of American Blacks (who themselves are a standard deviation above African Blacks due to White admixture) is much lower than for American Whites. The least intelligent ten percent of Whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of Blacks have IQs that low. Only one Black in six is more intelligent than the average White; five Whites out of six are more intelligent than the average Black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

        Further, only one-in-3.5 million (.00003%) of African Blacks have an IQ of 140 or higher (genius level). But one-in-83 (1.2%) of U.S. Whites is a genius. Therefore the per capita genius rate for U.S.-resident Whites is 41,000 times higher than it is for African Blacks.

        There is a strong correlation between IQ and success. Economists have started taking an interest in the value of human capital, particularly the factor that psychologists call cognitive ability. In other words, it’s the ability of a person to solve a problem most efficiently. Not with violence, but by thinking. It is worth noting here that Blacks possess 10x more of the dysfunctional MAOA gene (or “warrior gene”) that is associated with violent and/or impulsive behavior.

        Researchers collected information on 90 countries, including far-off lands from the U.S. to New Zealand and Colombia to Kazakhstan. They also collected data on the country’s excellence in science and technology—the number of patents granted per person and how many Nobel Prizes the country’s people had won in science, for example.

        They found that intelligence made a difference in gross domestic product. For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.

        • And see, here is where we have an issue. Here is where intelligence is demonstrated. As I mentioned before, intelligence is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. So now we have to define “knowledge” and “skills”. You mention an intelligent quotient. Success. GDP. You take for granted that we agree on the definitions of these and that they indicate knowledge and skills – we don’t.

          What white-centered thinking does is completely ignores non-white realities, which is itself the greatest indicator of a lack of intelligence. Success in a capitalistic system is defined by the ability to create hegemonic systems and perpetuate oppressions. By that measure, Black people will necessarily come up short. That’s good. I have no interest in belonging to a community that has perfected oppression, manipulation and domination. That is not intelligence. That is evil.

          Markers of intelligence to me are the ability to create and sustain communities where children are cared for, the plight of the poor is centered and social health — mental and physical — are understood most important. Your “high IQ” communities do not demonstrate that.

          Also, we don’t allow children to write their own tests and expect them not to be biased to support their own skills. So why would we expect tests created by white society to be unbiased? Further, we don’t teach blind folks that tests MUST be visual and expect them to be able to create a test that is not biased against them. So why would we expect “progressive Black” people to be able to create an IQ test, a test rooted in whiteness and capitalism, and expect them to be able to create a test that is fair?

      • Blacks are the only racial group with no DNA from the large-brained Neanderthals who lived in Europe. Modern humans did not come out of Africa; the African humanoids came out and mated with the Neanderthals and Denisovans to create a composite hybrid that is modern man. Forensic scientists determine race by cranium shape; Blacks have a small frontal lobe and sloping frontal plane and a smaller cranium-to-mandible ratio. Caucasoids have the largest craniums, an almost vertical frontal slope and a massive frontal lobe. The mongloloid is very similar and also more evolved. It is the frontal lobe that separates our behavior most from the animals and is responsible for language and rational thought.

        When humans evolved from Blacks they mated with the large-brained Neanderthals in southern Europe and created an increase in cranium capacity. At least 20% of the Neanderthal genome made its way into the 5% of human non-Black DNA. This is significant because there is only 2% difference between human and chimpanzee DNA. Blacks are the only race with no Neanderthal genes. According to studies of brain weight at autopsy, endocranial volume of empty skulls, head size measurements by the U.S. military and NASA, and two dozen MRI volumetric studies Blacks’ brain size is 5% smaller than Whites, and 6% smaller than Asians and Jews. There is a correlation of brain size with IQ of about 0.40 and that these racial differences in brain size are present at birth. Larger brains contain more neurons and synapses and process information faster; by adulthood, Asians average 1 cubic inch more cranial capacity than Whites who average 5 cubic inches more than Blacks. This is a genetic trait because even malnourished Asians from poor countries have a larger brain on average than well-fed Blacks from western countries.

        Further, this reflects what we observe in real life (including the so-called “Achievement Gap”). People have made long-term observations of the different races and reached rational conclusions; the more White a society is the more prosperous, inventive and safe it is. 19 of the 20 poorest countries are African (Haiti). In sub-Saharan Africa the only countries that could be considered successful were White-governed, (Rhodesia and S. Africa). To this day they still can’t even feed themselves even though they are the oldest race and therefore had a head-start. In fact they never even created a written language or a physical structure taller than one story until White colonizers did it for them. A Black in America has twice the lifespan of a Black in Africa. It would be longer except the top cause of death for 16-34 year-old Black males is another Black male killing them. Whites are 17 times more likely to experience violence at the hands of Blacks than the other way around.

        IQ distribution by race:

        • Ashkenazi Jews = 115 (Jews are a race and a religion)
        • Asian = 106
        • White = 102
        • Non-White Hispanic = 86
        • American Blacks = 85 (average 20% White mix)
        • Sub-Saharan Blacks = 70 (Only 2% of Whites score this low)

        Blacks have the lowest IQ of any race because they are the only race with no DNA from the large-brained Neanderthal who lived in Europe. Europeans have about 6% Neanderthal DNA, Asians also have about 4% Denisovan DNA. This is what caused the dramatic increase in cranium capacity (and brain size as MRIs reveal), brain function and nervous system development as humans evolved from Blacks and migrated out of Africa.

        It is worth noting that some groups succeed all the time, everywhere. Some have never succeeded anywhere. Blacks are the oldest race so they should be expected to be the most advanced, but they have never been successful anywhere.

        For example, some of the highest National IQs:

        Hong Kong 107
        South Korea 106
        Japan 105
        Taiwan 104
        Singapore 103
        Austria 102
        Germany 102
        Netherlands 102
        Italy 102
        Austria 102
        Netherlands 102
        Luxembourg 101
        United Kingdom 100
        Switzerland 101
        Luxembourg 101
        China 100
        United Kingdom 100
        Norway 98
        Iceland 98

        And the lowest:

        Lesotho 72
        Swaziland 72
        Cameroon 70
        Angola 69
        Cen. African R 68
        Eritrea 68
        Somalia 68
        Nigeria 67
        Gabon 66
        Zimbabwe 66
        D. Rep Congo 65
        Sierra Leone 64
        Senegal 64
        Gambia 64
        Liberia 64
        Guinea 63
        Equat. Guinea 59

    • Asians aren’t smarter than whites. The difference in IQ is only 4 points which isn’t any relevant difference. White Jews have the highest IQ.

  3. With only 7 artists in the top hip-hop artists list, you can’t use that data to determine anything about hip-hop or any of the artists in question. 7 is simply too small for any relevant data analysis. Moreover, the Flesch-Kincaid Reading is well-understood to be a complete joke. Basically, the “study” was terrible, and on other sites I’ve read that the author understands that – he just wanted to create clickbait. You can’t make any definite conclusions based on the “data,” such as saying that this means black artists are perceived as dumb, since that intentionally validates this awful study. You can make the point, however, that the author of the study perceives black artists as dumb, since faux-science represents only the opinions of a few (as opposed to good science, which strives for universality). Anyways, it seems unfortunate to me that most (incredibly necessary) discussions about race these days are stirred by clickbait articles written about clickbait topics that conflate reckless extrapolation with sound arguments.

  4. Reblogged this on Blackness, Queerness & Flows of Survivance and commented:
    A lovely read by one of my favorite bloggers 😀

  5. This article makes a very valid point. Whoever compares Asians or Jews to African Americans or Blacks has clearly not taken the time to self educate on racial dynamics in this country. Jews and some Asian ethnicities(Chinese and Japanese) have long been approved as honorary whites, because of their ability to assimilate/blend with the dominant culture and therefore have more privileges and access than Blacks.

  6. Agree with everything you wrote. It’s stupid to apply this test to lyrics. People spend too much of their time trying to prove that their better than others

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