“I always paid attention to how many cats I would rock with or who I worked with on projects and everything because, you know, what's important, is: To stay focused on the growth of your brand, you know. Every MC is a brand. Whether you want to admit it or not.”
- Bumpy Knuckles (formerly known as “Freddie Foxxx“) - “Eyeneverputmy4cusaway”
Nowadays, Hip-Hop is about much more than just the musical or lyrical content. The artistic side now needs to be accompanied by other facets of the business in order to gain notoriety and acclaim. MCs have always needed a reputation in the rap game. However, not only do rappers need to build a reputation, they also need to have albums, mixtapes and tours to create a buzz for themselves. They now also need to portray or create a certain image. Part of that image is created by their name.
You know the saying, “First impressions are the most important”? Well, a rappers name tends to be what gives the audience a first impression of them. It has to sound “cool” and “hip” and it also has to be memorable. After all, this name is going to be plastered on CDs and mixtape covers, advertisements, products they endorse and so forth. So, it is important that they get the name correct and are 100% happy with it even before they ever get hot in the industry. However, some rappers eventually begin to regret their names and have second thoughts after some hindsight. Some rappers “brands” also tend to get stale and therefore seek ways to refresh their brand. Some do this by changing their name.
For better or worse, the changing of a name in Hip-Hop tends to be somewhat controversial. Some see it as a desperate move; some see it as completely unnecessary and some see it as a bad move which tarnishes their “brand”.
The most infamous and recent example of a rapper changing their name which has led to a generally pessimistic response from the Hip-Hop community is Snoop Dogg. He is now known as “Snoop Lion“. After visiting Jamaica in February 2012, Snoop Dogg claimed that he now belongs to the Rastafarian religion and that he is “Bob Marley reincarnated”. He will no longer focus on making Hip-Hop music and will now focus on Reggae music that his “kids and grandparents can listen to.”
“I want to bury Snoop Dogg and become Snoop Lion. I didn’t know that until I went to the temple where the High Priest asked me what my name was and I said, ‘Snoop Dogg’. He looked me in my eyes and said, ‘No more. You are the light — you are the lion’.”
- Snoop Lion (formerly known as “Snoop Dogg”) - July 31st, 2012.
This name change from Snoop was met with pessimistic and almost derisory reaction. This isn’t the first time Snoop changed his name. He entered Hip-Hop as “Snoop Doggy Dogg” but then later refined it down to his commonly known name of “Snoop Dogg”.
“Refining” a rap name isn’t foreign to the industry. “Nasty Nas” was refined to “Nas”; “Noreaga” was refined to “N.O.R.E” (and now known as “P.A.P.I“); “Big Punisher” was narrowed down to “Big Pun”. Chicago MC “Common Sense” would later be known as “Common” and New York group “The L.O.X” used be known as “The Warlocks”. Narrowing down and perfecting the name through some tweaks tend to be good moves. However, there are more meaningless and pointless examples such as “Lil’ Bow Wow” who got old and changed it to “Bow Wow”. Not much of an improvement, in all honesty.
With refining a rap name/brand usually being a good move, changing your name completely tends to be met with a lacklustre response. Last week, Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane took to twitter to tell the world he was changing identity. He wanted to be known as “Guwop”.
July 2nd I'm officially changing my rap name to Guwop and retiring the great GucciMane Thanks Fans, for 8 years as Gucci now it's Wop turn
— Gucci Mane (@gucci1017) March 4, 2013
However, half an hour later, he changed his mind and went back on that move.
I am officially NOT changing my name to Guwop it will officially stay Gucci Mane due to my Fans' response.. Trap House 3 & Juug House July 2
— Gucci Mane (@gucci1017) March 4, 2013
Notice that he plugs his upcoming projects which are due to release on the same day as the proposed name switch? An obvious move. With both names being as ridiculous as his tattoos and music, the name change for Gucci would only be seen as an attempt to seek attention. He certainly got that attention for a brief half hour.
The most “notorious” for needlessly changing their name in the Hip-Hop industry for the worse is Diddy. He came into the business as “Puff Daddy”. This seemed to be the best name for him considering what he changed his name to. In 2001 he announced that he would now be known as “P. Diddy”. 4 years later, he changed his name AGAIN to just “Diddy”. In Scotland, "Diddy" is essentially another word for “tit” or “titty” and is usually meant as a derisory insult. This isn’t the only ‘L’ he took from the UK regarding this name change. London-based music producer Richard Dearlove, who has been using the “Diddy” moniker since 1992 sued “Puffy” for a whopping £100,000. After this court-case, not only did he pay £100k (which can be seen as pocket change in relation to his wealth) but also can now only be known as “P. Diddy” in the United Kingdom.
Last year, MC-turned-actor “Mos Def” changed his name to “Yasiin Bey” for a rather interesting reason.
“I began to fear that Mos Def was being treated as a product, not a person, so I've been going by Yasiin since '99. At first it was just for friends and family, but now I'm declaring it openly."
- Yasiin Bey (formerly known as “Mos Def”) - GQ Interview, September, 2012
Mos Def never wanted to become “a brand” and wanted to be seen as a person. Again, this was met with a relatively lacklustre response from the Hip-Hop community. Is this reason a legitimate or even smart one to have? Should we be sceptical on this name change like the others and see it as an attempt at some attention seeking for any impending projects?
Name changes are not always bad. Some examples of good name changes tend to be ones made before the artist started getting hot and becoming “a brand”. Swizz Beatz changed his name to avoid any lawsuits like Diddy had by losing the “DJ K-Swiss” name.
In a strange polar opposite, Timbaland is known as such, after a subsequent name change from his former “DJ Timmy Tim” which now seems unthinkable to use, looking back in hindsight.
Q-Tip used to be known as “MC Love Child” which, again, using hindsight, was a great move to make for the rapper/producer.
Last year’s hottest artist, Kendrick Lamar used be to known as “K-Dot” back when he was cutting his teeth on The Game’s mixtapes in 2006/7. He changed to his real name (Kendrick Lamar Duckworth) to become more personal, very much like Mos Def’s reasoning.
Another more famous artist who ended up using their own name was Tupac Shakur, who used to use the pseudonym of “MC New York” when he was 16 years old. By the end of his career, he was known as “Makaveli”.
These name changes were great for the brand of the MCs in question. These are typical examples of artists experimenting whilst paying their dues and later becoming wiser about their possible brand opportunities and therefore making subsequent changes for the better.
Name changes have a wide spectrum of results. Some name changes are awful; some name changes are pointless and some are the best thing to happen for a rapper, regardless of the reasons behind doing so.
As both Snoop Lion’s “Reincarnated” documentary and album of the same title are released today and next month respectively, most wonder what exactly the true reason is for Snoop changing from a ‘Dogg’ to a ‘Lion’. Is it to refresh his lengthy career and gain a new audience? Is it purely just to grab money from an audience of another genre of music? Or, is he really being genuine in the move to the Rastafari movement? Like most name changes in Hip-Hop, only time will tell.