My name is my name. Marlo Stanfield may have said it but Pusha T is the one who adopted the quote for the title of his solo debut. It’s the kind of saying you expect to hear from a rapper, the best rap names have a way of representing an identity, capturing the person. Pusha T is a name that speaks for itself, embodying Terrence Thornton, a man who raps about pushing cocaine with the heartfelt compassion of a father rapping about pushing his son on a swing set. His name is perfect for the music he makes, perfect for his persona and still exuding a sense of cool.
From the villains to the heroes, from the coolest to the grimy, from the lil to the young, from the God given to the pseudonyms, the name has always been an important aspect of rap. It stood for something, you couldn’t call yourself Jam Master Jay and not have the party jamming. You couldn’t be the Fresh Prince and not be fresh as royalty. Don’t you dare put MC at the beginning of your name and not be the master of ceremonies. Rap is full of names that are good, bad, and absolutely perplexing.
With so many rappers entering and exiting the hip-hop stratosphere, rarely do we get a chance to appreciate the names that come with these artists. When I think of modern rap names, those I would consider good, they tend to resemble nicknames that could be given to most wanted criminals or old-school pimps. In the past there was Big Daddy Kane, Snoop Dogg and Ghostface Killah but now it’s Trinidad Jame$, Run The Jewels, and GoldLink who instantly come to mind, you get the feeling that they are one flop away from pimping corners and being broadcast on CNN for fleeing from the police.
Killer Mike and El-P’s union could easily double for rapping bank robbers, with the way they infiltrated into rap unexpectedly is proof they could accomplish a string of heists. The "$" can come off as corny at times but Trinidad was from tooth to toe covered in gold making the universal symbol for moola fitting of the artist. Rich Homie Quan is another that I would consider an excellent rapper name, the Atlanta version of Money Makin Mitch. What person doesn’t want to have a rich homie? Quan isn’t the most common name but Rich Homie Quan really isn’t the most common rapper. It speaks of his unique flashiness without giving off the image of another generic rapper. No Atlanta artist has yet had a name that matches the playa of Daddy Fat Sax or Sir Lucious Left Foot.
I have an appreciation for Chance The Rapper’s name, in a way, he took it back to the old days but instead of using MC as a prefix Chance ends his name with “The Rapper.” Even though he’s evolved from just rapping, it’s a testament that even during his early years there was a real determination to be a rap artist. Nitty Scott, MC is a better example of a fresh way to flip and pay homage to the past.
Earl Sweatshirt hinted that he might be changing his name, a name that he has kept since his early teenage years. It’s the kind of silly moniker only someone in a collective called Odd Future would come up with. While most rappers couldn’t pull it off, the name works well for young Earl. He’s a bit odd, still extremely silly, and a sweatshirt is probably the most non-gaudy garment one could wear. The sweatshirt might never be the most popular fashion statement but it’s what you wear when you want to feel comfort, never to impress, and Earl is a rapper that might never be widely embraced but those that hold him dear will enjoy him in the comfort of their homes.
I relate the name Mac Miller to the witty class clown that was smart but couldn’t help but being overly playful. Mac is hilarious—easily one of the most amusing young rappers—but he’s also extremely talented. It’s such an appropriate name that I understand those that confuse it for his actual name (Malcolm James McCormick).
Joey Bada$$ is actually a great rap name, it’s tough with a touch of swagger, you can almost imagine the name belonging to a man that does drop kicks off top ropes and power bombing haters while wearing a gold medallion. You wouldn’t expect a Joey Bada$$ to be a young man from Brooklyn, New York with an affinity for '90’s hip-hop though. While he isn’t the most macho man—young Joey is far from a weakling—he will knuck if you buck.
Aubrey Graham would’ve been a terrible rap name even though it perfectly fits the softer more sensitive side of Drake. The name Drake doesn’t necessarily scream cool or powerful, it seems like the name you would give someone that’s a rank higher than jester but less than a prince in a royal hierarchy. Being a great rapper is what made Drake’s name synonymous with greatness. For all his success, he name remains mediocre.
Kendrick Lamar's talent validates his decision to rap using his real name, but honestly, Kendrick Lamar is the kind of name you expect to manage an office that sells paper. If he could play pro basketball as good as he could rap, in the NBA he would continue the myth that all the greats have two first names (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James). It’s interesting how ScHoolboy Q's name doesn’t necessarily reflect the music the artist makes. The idea that comes with being a schoolboy is far from how we view Q. I remember an interview where he said that he did great in school but the rapper he grew to be isn’t known for hitting the books, inside schooling listeners on the very real reality of being from Figg side. The juxtaposition works, an unexpected twist you could say.
Future would be a complete failure if singing the hook on “Racks” was his only contribution to rap. How ironic would it be if a man named Future only had one hit?
It goes without saying, Young Thug is a terrible name. It’s incredible that such a generic name is supposed to reflect such an enigma. Thugger is outrageous, completely in a world of his own, if only his name represented his off-kilter personality. One name that is undoubtedly worse than Young Thug is Tity Boi. As a boy, he acquired the nickname from his mother who would breastfeed her only child, but it’s far from acceptable as a rapper. He realized this when transitioning to 2 Chainz.
Not every rapper could pull off 2 Chainz but it’s his personality mixed with a style that made it more than a name. He was 2 Chainz and that helped people embrace the change. When he first made the switch, new fans that he acquired weren’t aware that he and Tity Boi were one in the same person. It’s been stated time and time again that despite being unique, Childish Gambino as a name is pretty atrocious. I wonder if he has any intentions of changing the name indefinitely, he has matured immensely since his humble beginnings. If 2 Chainz can get away from being Tity Boi I’m certain Donald Glover can escape the Wu-Tang name generator.
Comic books taught us that every great hero needs an alter ego, not just a costume to conceal their face but a name that perfectly described their secret identity. A simple name, just hearing it was enough to imagine what kind of man or woman was behind the mask. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assume The Flash would be fast or Superman has powers that exceeded a regular man. The name you choose in rap is no different, it’s another part of the mystique, another layer to how we view the music and the artist.
How can Atlanta rap not be entertaining when you have a PeeWee Longway, Metro Boomin, Migos, and a Gucci Mane!? Don’t they sound like they could be members of the Sinister 6 or Legion Of Doom!?
A$AP Yams had nicknames for days, I would’ve loved a Yams name generator. He easily had some of the greatest monikers the internet has ever witnessed from a mogul in the making since Puffy: Yamborghini, Wavy Bone, Lil Newport, Huey P Screwton, without Yams. But until the entire industry takes their pseudonyms as serious as Yams, until we no longer have to reckon with the boring predictability of names like Young Thug and instead get more originality like Rich Homie Quan, there's still much work left to do for the culture.
By Yoh, aka The Writer Formally Known As 1 Past 2Futurez, aka @Yoh31