I believe it was Lil Yachty who once said, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Or maybe it was Shakespeare—I always get those two confused. Either way, the good thing about being a rapper is you can change names as quickly as you change socks—at least until you become famous.
We’d all love to believe it’s only the bars that matter—that if you can rap you will be heard—but that simply isn’t true. In order to get people to listen, to get them interested, you need a name that rolls off the tongue; a name fit for fame.
Take Diddy/Puffy/Puff Daddy, who knows a thing or two about both names and artist marketing. The Lox, who signed to his Bad Boy label in 1995, weren't always The Lox. Just check out this clip from DJ EFN and NORE’s Drink Champs podcast with Jadakiss and Ja Rule.
[Puff] said The Warlocks wasn’t marketable so he made us cut the ‘War’ off and just be ‘The Lox.’ Then he told us, “Figure out what that is. Y’all come up with something.”
Ja Rule: Living Off Experience, nigga, that’s hard
While that name would have killed with the Warcraft community, for the rap community, The Warlocks is a terrible name. Bad Boy's street team still couldn't work The Lox, but they would have been in serious trouble trying to work the Warlocks. Great call, Puff.
Naturally, this got me thinking about other original rapper names, and compared to what I found, The Warlocks actually has a nice ring to it.
Mac Miller was first known as Easy Mac, and the cover for his Mackin Ain’t Easy tape is exactly as you'd imagine from a rapper named after a cheesy children's meal. Originally, Dr. Dre was "Dr. J," named after the Hall-of-Fame basketball player—which, to keep it a buck, makes zero sense in any way shape or form.
Logic initially went by the highly questionable moniker Psychological before shortening it, and J. Cole was The Therapist, which might be the worst original moniker ever. A good way to tell if a name is bad is to do the, “Yo, man, you should check out the new [insert stage name] tape” and if the name makes you laugh out loud, it's terrible.
Nothing makes me cringe more than picturing myself saying, “You hear the new The Therapist song?” out loud.
Jermaine's not the only one to take his name from someone with a Doctorate degree though. There’s also Macklemore’s first name: Professor Macklemore.
When I came out to Pratt Art School for the summer, I was going to thrift shops and dressing up in random crazy outfits. Whenever I do that—and I’d go out in the town and get drunk and shit—when I would go do that, I was “Professor Macklemore.” Eventually, people just started calling me that. After I put out my first album, I was 17, I dropped the Professor and started just going by Macklemore. —Macklemore (Complex)
One name that isn't terrible but also isn't very good is JAY-Z, who was originally known as “Jazzy” but changed his name to honor his mentor Jaz-O.
Speaking of rappers named after Jazz, the late Phife Dog inspired a whole generation of emcees, including one of the most respected lyricists of all-time. At Phife’s memorial, André 3000 revealed he took his earliest stage name from him:
The only thing me and Big [Boi] had was "Scenario" on cassette and we rapped for days, just going. And in high school, my first rap name was Jhaz because of these niggas. It was J-H-A-Z; I don't know how I was thinking I was spelling that shit. [Crowd laughs.] Because of "Jazz (We've Got)." We would sit in high school and be like, "Man, we love them." —André 3000
To think, we could have had a Jazzy and Jahz collabo track. The only thing that could top that would be a joint album from Professor Macklemore and The Warlocks.
Did you hear that new Therapist and Psychological joint? Man, shit is crazy.
Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and picture the artists we know and love with a different name because it’s all we’ve ever known, but it's comforting knowing that not everyone gets it right straight out of the gate.
Not every rapper can be smart enough to name themselves after a delicious candy.