10 Best and Worst Rapper Name Changes
Rappers changing their stage name is a common occurrence in hip-hop. In fact, it’s hard to find any artist who has not gone by a different alias at some point in their career.But most of these changes occur early on in a rapper’s career, before the lights beginning shining too bright. A neighborhood nickname someone records a couple tracks under may get thrown to the side for something more commanding and distinct. Your name is your brand and will follow you throughout your career.
One of the more interesting phenomenon in hip-hop is established artists changing their name. For whatever reason, rappers will take all the capital they’ve built in a stage name and throw it right out the window. Some of these changes have worked quite well, while others have flopped immediately. Here at The Boombox, we have examined 10 notable examples of these successful and failed name changes in hip-hop.
Kendrick Lamar, the current crown prince of hip-hop, is a prime example of making a name change work. The Compton native made a dent in underground while using the moniker K. Dot, dropping some well-received mixtapes and collaborating with artists like The Game and Rapper Big Pooh. But in late 2009, he decided to switch to his government name with a self-titled EP and it paid off. With each subsequent release, Kendrick Lamar's buzz grew and he eventually landed a major deal in 2012 with his TDE cohorts. The onetime underground hero is now a mainstream star as his decision to use his given name looks better and better each day.
Snoop Dogg is no stranger to the name change. He came into the game as Snoop Doggy Dogg and remained that way during his classic run at Death Row. By the time he left the label and linked up with No Limit though, the "Doggy" was dropped and Snoop Dogg became the official name. In 2012, the Doggfather became a pseudo-Rastafarian and officially declared himself to be known as Snoop Lion as he prepped the release of a reggae album titled 'Reincarnated'. Actual Rastafarians, like Bunny Wailer, weren't the only ones to scoff at the change as most fans and media outlets have largely rejected the Snoop Lion name. While the experiment may not be officially over, even Snoop reverted back to the Snoop Dogg name for his recent DJ Drama-hosted mixtape 'That's My Work 2' and will be recording another album under his most familiar name.
Perhaps no one ever has benefited more from changing their stage name than 2 Chainz. The former Tity Boi made a bit of noise with childhood friend Dolla Boy as part of Playaz Circle. While the duo's two Distrubing Tha Peace albums have largely been forgotten, their Lil' Wayne-assisted single 'Duffle Bag Boy' was pretty popular in 2007. As the years went by, Tity Boi released some solo tapes and began slowly using the 2 Chainz moniker more and more. By 2011, he'd officially dropped Tity Boi and his career took a dramatic turn. His mixtape 'T.R.U. REALigion' brought newfound attention and 2 Chainz experience a career rebirth. High profile collaborations with the likes of Kanye West and Nicki Minaj raised his profile before dropping his debut album in 2012, which reached number one on the Billboard charts. The 36-year-old 2 Chainz is now a bonafide rap star and a simple name change helped facilitate that success.
Killer Mike made quite the impact through his association with OutKast, most notably appearing on the single 'The Whole World' back in 2001. Despite seeing his major label debut drop on Sony in 2003, pushbacks and delays for his follow-up LP saw Mike ultimately go the independent route to get his music out to the world. Mike's biting social commentary made him an underground favorite, but the widespread recognition alluded him. After linking up with T.I. and his Grand Hustle imprint, the Atlanta native decided to change his name to Mike Bigga. Mike told AllHipHop.com that he "wanted to do it for a long time" as his previous moniker was not exactly marketing-friendly. But the name just didn't catch on as fans and media alike continued to refer to him as Killer Mike. The Mike Bigga name was eventually dropped completely and Mike attracted a new audience when he teamed up with underground rap stalwart El-P for his critically acclaimed album R.A.P. Music in 2012. The two have since formed the duo Run The Jewels and become one of the most beloved acts on the independent scene today.
Heltah Skeltah, the duo of Ruck (Ruckus) and Rock, first gained recognition as part of the legendary Boot Camp Clik. While their debut album 'Nocturnal' was not a massive seller in 1996, it became a cult favorite and featured the hit 'Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka' featuring their fellow Fab 5 and BCC members O.G.C. Low sales and less critical love on their second effort led Rock to pursue a solo career and leave the Boot Camp Clik's home of Duck Down Records. This left Ruck on his own, and he ending up switching things up to his birth name of Sean Price. While Rock was back under the Duck Down banner by the time Price dropped his first solo album 2005, Price was now flourishing as a solo act (under his given name) with the success of his debut 'Monkey Barz'. His 2007 follow-up, 'Jesus Price Supastar', even managed to be the first Duck Down-released album to crack the Billboard charts in eight years. Although Heltah Skeltah officially reunited in 2008 and Sean Price occasionally references his old Ruck name, the moniker is mostly a relic of the past.
Perhaps the most difficult name change to judge, at least for now, is Mos Def switching to Yasiin Bey. In 2011, the Black Star member announced his intentions to retire the Mos Def name and be known as Yasiin Bey. This was a big move as Mos Def had not only built this name up in hip-hop, but also in his acting career. He made a few appearances on the Showtime show ‘Dexter’ and began being credited as Yasiin Bey during his time on the series. Like fans, most media outlets have been slow to embrace the change as headlines and stories tend to refer to him as “Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def” or something similar. While it’s too early to dub this experiment a flop, it certainly has not gotten off to a great start.
When it comes to recording under different monikers in hip-hop, only Kool Keith can outdo MF DOOM. Daniel Dumile stepped onto the rap scene as Zev Love X, a member of the group KMD. He made his first appearances on the 3rd Bass single 'The Gas Face' and KMD released their debut album ‘Mr. Hood’ in 1991. The group disbanded when Dumile’s brother and fellow KMD member DJ Subroc died in a tragic accident and Elektra Records dropped the group that same week. Dumile exiled himself from rap for a few years before returning in 1997 under the name MF DOOM. After linking up with Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle ‘Em Records, DOOM began to make a mark in the underground rap world while recording under a variety of names such as King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn. DOOM’s profile grew in the mid-2000s when he began collaborating with artists like Madlib, Danger Mouse and Ghostface Killah. MF DOOM became the underground rap hero to a new generation of listeners who had no idea of his Zev Love X past and made no connection to his KMD days. Now simply known as DOOM, he remains an enigma that the hip-hop world always keeps a close eye on.
There’s never been a character in hip-hop as unique as the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The Wu-Tang member gathered quite a few nicknames during his career. And while he was affectionately called Dirt McGirt or Ason Unique, Ol’ Dirty Bastard always remained his most notable name. But in 1998, he told the world that he would be “ODB no more.” Instead, the Wu’s wild card wanted to be known as Big Baby Jesus. As you might expect, the bizarre name never truly caught on as most onlookers dismissed the new name and continued to refer to him as the Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Despite past reluctance, the Big Baby Jesus moniker still lives on with Wu-Tang fans today as one of ODB’s more memorable nicknames.
R.A. the Rugged Man’s career got off to a rough start. Previously known as Crustified Dibbs, the Long Island rhymer was meant to debut on Jive Records with the album ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’. Instead, Dibbs’ album was shelved following a sexual harassment lawsuit by a Jive employee and a lewd performance at a 1994 label showcase. Blackballed throughout the industry, the rapper was forced to take a different route. Now known as R.A. the Rugged Man, he made a name for himself through show-stealing guest verses and compilation appearances. Working with everyone from the Notorious B.I.G. to Jedi Mind Tricks, R.A. carved out his own niche through his wild antics and memorable rhymes. In 2004, he finally released his first solo album called 'Die, Rugged Man, Die' on Nature Sounds. And independently, his most recent effort 'Legends Never Die' reached number one on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. It’s clear that the name R.A. the Rugged Man was the right fit for the right rapper.
Smif-N-Wessun made a splash on the scene with appearances on Black Moon’s seminal album ‘Enta da Stage’ before releasing their own debut in 1995. ‘Dah Shinin’ brought the duo critical acclaim as the album further introduced the Boot Camp Clik and showcased the unforgettable production of Da Beatminerz. But not long after releasing their classic, Tek and Steele were issued a cease and desist by the firearms company Smith & Wesson. Forced to drop their name, the duo ultimately chose the Cocoa Brovaz as their new moniker. Unfortunately for Tek and Steele, the name never really caught. ‘The Rude Awakening’ proved to be an apt title for their second album as it failed to recapture the critical and commercial success of its predecessor. When Duck Down and Priority Records parted ways, the duo was left in flux. They eventually caught on with Rawkus Records, but the album they recorded for the label never saw the light of day. Tek and Steele returned home to Duck Down not long after and, with the release of a new album in 2005, officially became Smif-N-Wessun once again. Since then, the duo has released a variety of projects including a collaborative LP with Pete Rock. Tek, Steele and fans alike are all glad that the Cocoa Brovaz days are over.