Rappers’ Names – What Do They Even Mean?

Obie Trice, real name, no gimmicks – Obie Trice

I love rap music: a genre with many colourful characters, where every song is basically an excuse to boast about how dope you are. The whole genre is basically a dick measuring contest, and that’s what we love about it.

Of course the best way to impress the world and [more importantly] other rappers is to have a great rap name. The purpose of which is to strike fear into your enemies’ hearts, while also proving you’re a badass MC.

Kevin G - Mean Girls
Second article of 2017. Second consecutive Mean Girls reference. Strong

Outlandish rap names have been part of the genre from its very inception. This dates back to DJ Kool Herc [real name Clive Campbell], who is credited with originating the genre in the 1970s. This name comes his basketball nickname “Hercules”, and kool with ‘K’. Obvious.

Most rap names can fit into a few categories; we’re going to look at some of the most prevalent of these and what they mean.

Real Names

Some lucky people are born with names that just work as stage names. Let’s kick off with the top 5 of these:

  1. Nasir Jones
  2. Kendrick Lamar Duckworth
  3. Kanye West
  4. Obie Trice
  5. Denzel Curry

Denzel Curry still has a long way to go in the rap world, but with a birth name like that he can’t go wrong. I initially thought he was claiming to be a mix of the outrageous basketball skills of Steph Curry with the knicker-melting good looks of Denzel Washington. The fact this is his real name makes me respect him even more.

Denzel Curry baby girl
For reference this is what a Steph – Washington baby would look like

Here are some other stage names that are inspired by the subject’s birth names:

dr. dre
Stage Name: Dr. Dre

Real Name: Andre Young

Reason: Combining basketball legend Dr. J with Andre, Dr. Dre was born. Interestingly, OutKast’s André 3000 originally rapped as Dre; but had to add the 3000 to avoid confusion with the good doctor.



Stage Name: Eminem

Real Name: Marshall Bruce Mathers III

Reason: Simples, based on initials. He started as Double M, then became M&M and settled on Eminem just before his debut album Infinite.


ll cool jStage Name: LL Cool J

Real Name: James Todd Smith

Reason: Ladies Love Cool James was a nickname given to him at school by one of his mates in 1984. 30 plus years in hip-hop, this seemingly silly name has become an institution.


Lil and Young

It seems like every new hip-hop artist in the last 10 years is called some variation of Young Rapper or Lil Name. Back in the 1990s it seemed the trend was to be Big MC, but this is a lot less popular nowadays. Which is weird because you’d assume it would be better to be Big than Lil.

Perhaps people thought calling yourself “Big” was bad luck after the untimely deaths of Big L, Big Pun and Notorious B.I.G.

lil rappers

Special mention has to go Lil Yachty whose real name is Miles – not even with a “y”; literally spelt like kilometres. Anyway, I recently figured out his Lil Yachty / Lil Boat alter ego thing. Basically he’s Lil Boat when he raps and Lil Yachty when he sings.



It’s not exactly Eminem and Slim Shady, but to quote the man’s Twitter bio, “they hate on me but they hated Jesus.”

DJ, MC and Rapper

People are idiots. Sometimes you need to make your job extremely obvious to the audience to avoid confusion.

chance the rapper

Stage Name: Chance the Rapper

Real Name: Chancelor Johnathan Bennett

Reason: He’s a rapper and Chance is short for Chancelor



dj khaledStage Name: DJ Khaled

Real Name: Khaled Mohamed Khaled

Reason: So good they named him twice, Khaled Khaled knew he couldn’t lose with the name Khaled. He used to be called Arab Attack, but changed it after 9/11. Probably for the best.


DJ Khaled album covers
He still regrets trying to make Ace Hood a thing


dj mustard

Stage Name: DJ Mustard

Real Name: Dijon McFarlane

Reason: This one still makes me laugh:

“My real name is Dijon. My mom named me Dijon so everybody used to call me Mustard. I just put DJ in front and ran with it.”

Much like our last category these aren’t the most original of names. It is interesting to note that no one seems to be putting MC in front of their names these days. MC Lyte, MC Hammer and MC Ren were doing it in the 1980s and 90s but this trend is pretty much dead.


Funnily enough, most of the big hip hop artists that use initials for their stage name, have letters that are unrelated to their actual names. Which is a little odd:

jay-zStage Name: Jay Z

Real Name: Sean Carter

Reason: Back in the day Carter was known as Jazzy, until Jaz-O took the Brooklyn MC under wing. To pay homage Jazzy became Jay-Z. They two had a very acrimonious falling out in the 1990s probably because Jaz likes to tell people he created Hov’s success.

In other news:


T.I.Stage Name: T.I. or sometimes T.I.P.

Real Name: Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr.

Reason: Back in the day T.I. was known T.I.P. which came from a childhood nickname “Tip”. When the rapper first got signed he landed on the same label as Q-Tip; to avoid confusion T.I.P. became T.I.

He also tried to get some miles out of an alter ego gimmick with a full length album called T.I. vs. T.I.P. It was actually pretty good, even the song where T.I.P. accused T.I. of selling out. Word is he’s back T.I.P. now but who’s keeping up?


dmxStage Name: DMX

Real Name: Earl Simmons

Reason: DMX started out as a beat boxer and his rap name comes from the Oberheim DMX drum machine. As time went on X adapted the initials to stand for “Dark Man X”.


As we have seen a lot of these stage names have at least a degree of boasting, but these here names are particularly blatant examples of this.

gucci maneStage Name: Gucci Mane

Real Name: Radric Delantic Davis

Reason: A nickname adopted from Gucci’s father who he calls “the Original Gucci Mane”; when asked by Hip Hop DX to elaborate, he replied with this nonsense:


“Being born in a small town in Alabama, my moms and my pops side are both from down there. Its real country down there and my grandmother gave my daddy a lil country name–she didnt know nothing about them clothes.”

Which leaves us with questions like, why did Gucci Mane Sr. have such a nickname if people hadn’t heard of the brand? Plus, his dad didn’t even wear the clothes. I dare not question the judgement of a man who has a fucking ice cream cone tattooed on his face; he’s clearly made tip-top life choices up to this point.

Gucci Mane
Pictured: top notch decision-making

The important thing is that Gucci Mane Jr. loves boasting almost as much as he loves novelty jewellery and of course, he wears a lot of Gucci. Let’s leave it at that before we confuse ourselves further.

gucci mane - bart simpson chain
Hip-hop would be approximately 20% less interesting without Gucci

fetty wap


Stage Name: Fetty Wap

Real Name: Willie Maxwell II

Reason: The man behind “ignorant R&B” has another simple stage name. “Fetty” is slang for money and “Wap” is an homage to Gucci Mane aka Guwop.



Real-Life Criminals


Another branch of the boasting rap name, we have those that are inspired by real life criminals; like Nas who was Nas Escobar from 1995 to 2001. Until Jay-Z ruined that with the hilarious:

Went from Nasty Nas to Esco’s trash
― Jay Z – Takeover


rick rossStage Name: Rick Ross

Real Name: William Leonard Roberts II

Reason: The former prison officer took on the name of notorious drug trafficker Ricky “Freeway” Ross, Likely an effort to add legitimacy to his fantastical tales of gangster life, the man lives in a fantasy world.


I know Pablo, Noriega<br> The real Noriega, he owe me a hundred favors
― Rick Ross – Hustlin’

Freeway Ricky even sued the rapper for misusing his name. Interestingly Freeway, a more legitimate [and better] rapper, took his name from the drug trafficker and avoided a lawsuit.


50 centStage Name: 50 Cent

Real Name: Curtis James Jackson III

Reason: Another controversial one, Jackson took his name from New York stick up man, Kelvin “50 Cent” Martin. A man who loved robbing people so much he would supposedly do it even if you only had 50¢. People from Fiddy’s hood don’t like him using this name either.


Interestingly, both these rappers have upset people for misusing the gangster’s names for profit. Probably should have taken the Nas approach and chosen someone the name of a gangster who isn’t alive enough to take offence.

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So there we have it, 13 rap stage names explained. We have learned some things, but overall, nothing we didn’t know already. People who rap, like most entertainers are egomaniacs and will pick a very boast-worthy name, except Lil Yachty. That kid just takes too much acid.

Host of Culture Hash, writer of music, TV and film opinions

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