While a handful of famous rap and hip hop artists have opted to use their real names on stage — Talib Kweli and Kendrick Lamar, to name two — it is far more common for them to use a stage name. From the early days of hip-hop culture, street artists have used made-up monikers, at first to evade identification when graffiti tagging, but also to create a tailored persona while performing. Although many modern artists in the genre may lack deep roots in urban street culture, the use of stage names is here to stay. (Here are 25 of the strangest band names and where they came from.)
Some performers were born with names that don’t exactly evoke the image rappers are known for — like Drake, christened Aubrey Drake Graham, or Ice-T, originally Tracy Lauren Marrow.
In some cases, rap monikers are derived from the artists’ birth names. Detroit rapper Marshall Mathers originally went by M&M, which stood for his initials, before changing his stage name to Eminem. Others are references to childhood nicknames: Snoop Dogg’s mom used to call him Snoopy, after the popular Peanuts character. (Speaking of nicknames, here are 35 unforgettable nicknames in sports.)
Travis Scott, whose stage name appears generic enough to be his real name, was actually born Jacques Bermon Webster II. He took “Travis” to honor a favorite uncle and “Scott” in homage to an early inspiration — rapper and producer Kid Cudi, himself born Scott Mescudi.
To determine the birth names of some 40 top rap and hip-hop artists, 24/7 Tempo consulted lists published on several music and general interest sites, including HighSnobiety, CapitalFM, Ultimate Classic Rock, Classic Bands, and Cosmopolitan, verifying information wherever possible on the artists’ own sites. (Information on each artist’s biggest song and both its peak position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and its number of weeks on the chart came from Billboard.)