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The real names of famous rappers

The real names of famous rappers
Posted at 3:45 PM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 15:48:32-05

Hip-hop has never been more popular than it is today, but many fans probably still wouldn’t know who Aubrey Graham is, even though they stream his songs every day.

Going back to the early days of rap music, stage names have been a huge part of its culture. Even many of the most popular rappers to ever hold a microphone have kept their real names a mystery, preferring to use a name that’s typically much cooler sounding than the one given to them at birth.

There have been some notable rappers that have performed under their birth names — like Tupac Shakur, Kanye West and Missy Elliott — but they are much more the exception than the rule. We’ve tracked down the real names of some of the most popular rappers in history, and you may be shocked by how unique some of them are — while in other cases, you’ll completely understand why they opted for a stage name.

MORE: Celebrities whose names sound fake but are actually real

50 Cent

Photo of 50 Cent aka Curtis Jackson
Charles Sykes/Invision for STARZ Entertainment/AP Images

Real Name: Curtis Jackson III

One of the most memorable stage names in recent rap history belongs to Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent. The rapper and television producer lifted that name from a Brooklyn gangster who was well known when he was growing up. When that man died, 50 Cent took the name for himself as a tribute to his memory. He definitely hasn’t kept his real name a secret, using it in the credits of some of his acting projects and even calling his 2007 album “Curtis.”

MORE: Listen to 50 Cent on Apple Music

A$AP Rocky

Photo of rapper A$AP Rocky
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File

Real Name: Rakim Mayers

ASAP Rocky exploded onto the hip-hop scene in 2011 and has been dropping acclaimed records ever since. The stage name chosen by Rakim Mayers is certainly memorable, and the first part of it doesn’t mean what you probably think it does. “ASAP,” in this case, stands for “Always Strive And Prosper,” while the latter part is just a nickname spun off his actual first name. Rocky isn’t the only performer who uses the ASAP initials at the start of his name; others in the collective include “Plain Jane” rapper ASAP Ferg.

André 3000

André 3000 onstage
Barry Brecheisen/Invision/AP

Real Name: André Benjamin

While he mostly prefers to go by his birth name, André Benjamin, these days, Outkast fans know him best as André 3000 or simply “Three Stacks.” The acclaimed Grammy-winning entertainer started out simply rhyming under the name Andre for Outkast’s first few albums in the mid-’90s. In 2000, he added the “3000” to his name and, while he’s never explained it himself, it’s been reported that it was meant to separate himself from Dr. Dre.

Big Boi

Rapper Big Boi
AP Photo/Aaron Doster

Real Name: Antwan Patton

Antwan Patton has been known by many names in his career — including Sir Lucious Left Foot, Daddy Fat Sacks and General Patton — but Big Boi is his most lasting call sign. Ironically, Big Boi isn’t all that big. He stands at just 5 feet, 6 inches tall. Maybe his name comes more from his larger-than-life persona and the massive size of his vocabulary, which has been on display ever since his debut in the 1990s with Outkast.

MORE: The surprising real names of 35 celebrities

Busta Rhymes

Busta Rhymes performs
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Real Name: Trevor Smith Jr.

Busta Rhymes and Flavor Flav have something unique in common: Chuck D gave them both their stage names. Chuck mentored a young Trevor Smith early in his career, and suggested he call himself Busta Rhymes. The nickname was inspired by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver George “Buster” Rhymes, who was a star player at the time. At first, Busta said he hated the name but quickly grew to love it, telling The Post Game that Chuck D “was like my father.”

Cardi B

Cardi B poses at Met Gala 2023
AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Real Name: Belcalis Almánzar

How could anyone not like Cardi B? Born Belcalis Almánzar, this lifelong New Yorker exploded onto the hip-hop scene in 2017 with the smash “Bodak Yellow” and has been a consistent hitmaker ever since. She came up with the name Cardi B as a spin on a nickname friends gave her growing up. Her sister’s name is Hennessy, so friends used to call the future rapper “Bacardi,” which she turned into Cardi B.

“No one calls me Belcalis except for my family, my mother and my daddy,” she told Wendy Williams.

MORE: Listen to Cardi B on Apple Music

Chance the Rapper

Chance the Rapper performs on Today show
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Real Name: Chancelor Bennett

Another name that doesn’t exactly sound like one that would torch the hip-hop charts is Chancelor Bennett. The Chicago rap hero got his stage name simply by shortening his first name and tacking on his job title at the end. Why bother to include “The Rapper,” you ask? Chance told GQ it was out of pure pride for his choice of work.

“You should be proud to say, ‘I’m a rapper,'” he said.

Chuck D

Chuck D performs
Michael Zorn/Invision/AP

Real Name: Carlton Douglas Ridenhour

Let’s be honest, Carlton Ridenhour doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of guy who would light a stage on fire with his rhymes. But Chuck D is exactly that guy. The Public Enemy frontman got his stage name simply from his own nickname and middle initial. Before Chuck D became one of the hardest-hitting rappers alive, he studied graphic design in college and hosted a late-night college radio show, where he first used his eventual stage name as his DJ name.

Common

Photo of Common
Katie Darby/Invision/AP

Real Name: Lonnie Lynn

Rapper-turned-actor Common’s birth name is Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn, so you can understand why it might be easier to use a stage name. When he first started rapping, his stage name was Common Sense for his first few albums. The Oscar-winning songwriter was forced to shorten it to Common after a band that performed under the name Common Sense sued him.

DMX

DMX performs
AP Photo/David Goldman

Real Name: Earl Simmons

One of the hardest rhymers to ever do the job, DMX was the name chosen by Earl Simmons, who was born with no middle name. The rapper, who died in 2021, lifted his stage name from the DMX drum machine made by Oberheim, which was a classic used by artists including non-rappers including Rod Stewart and New Order.

Doja Cat

Doja Cat performs onstage
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini

Born with four names — none of which resemble “doja” or “cat” — the artist known as Doja Cat has revealed that the first part of her stage name comes from a strain of marijuana that she used to enjoy, and as for the feline second name, well, she just really likes cats.

Doja Cat has sniped at fans who used what she calls her “government name,” Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, as their screen name on social media. In July 2023, she tweeted that using her name was “creepy” and instructed the fans to delete their accounts.

As for her stage name, she once told Rolling Stone that she doesn’t really like it. When “SNL” joked that Doja Cat sounds like a Pokémon character, Doja Cat said it “hurt my feelings.”

Dr. Dre

Dr. Dre performs
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Real Name: Andre Young

One of the true pioneers of modern rap — and possibly the wealthiest man to ever make a living in hip-hop — Dr. Dre has mentored and worked with many people on this list. He came up with his stage name in the mid-‘80s when he was first getting his start as a DJ. The “Dr.” part was a tribute to his favorite basketball player growing up, “Dr. J.” Julius Erving, while the “Dre” part was simply a shortened version of his actual name.

Drake

Drake poses on red carpet
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Real Name: Aubrey Drake Graham

Arguably the most popular rapper on the planet today, Drake had a different career in entertainment lined up before he started rhyming. In his native Canada, teenager Aubrey Graham was an actor, appearing in dozens of episodes of the teen show, “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” starting in 2001. When he switched to hip-hop in 2007, he went with his middle name, Drake, as his stage name.

MORE: Get tickets to see Drake in concert

Eminem

Photo of rapper Eminem
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Real Name: Marshall Mathers III

Another rapper who didn’t exactly keep his real name hidden is Eminem. The hip-hop icon used his birth name in the title of his most popular album, 2000’s “The Marshall Mathers LP,” and used it again for the 2013 record, “The Marshall Mathers LP 2.” His stage name came, in a roundabout way, from his actual initials, because when he first started rapping as a teen in Detroit, it was under the name M&M, before he changed it to the more memorable Eminem in 1995.

Flavor Flav

Flavor Flav at the Grammys
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Real Name: William Drayton Jr.

Chuck D’s partner in crime from Public Enemy, Flavor Flav met his counterpart when they worked on that aforementioned college radio show together on Long Island. As for his unique name, Flavor Flav says Chuck D gave it to him, but it was a new version of a nickname he already had: Flavor Freak. That name came from his childhood, when Flavor Flav apparently had a habit of overdoing it with Life Savers candy and soda.

Future

Rapper Future performs
Robb Cohen/Invision/AP

Real Name: Nayvadius Wilburn

While Future’s parents didn’t give him the name at birth, his given name, Nayvadius, is still pretty awesome. The “Mask Off” rapper owes his stage name to a friend and mentor in the musical collective he first broke in with, Atlanta’s Dungeon Family. Future has said the name was given to him by Dungeon Family’s G-Rock, who called him “the future” of the group. That’s pretty inspiring!

Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane performs
Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: Radric Davis

Sometimes he goes by “Guwop” but Radric Davis is most commonly known as Gucci Mane. The acclaimed rapper and best-selling author picked up his stage name from a long line of others that used it in his family. In his 2017 autobiography, Gucci Mane wrote that his grandfather first had that nickname after falling in love with Gucci-brand clothing while fighting in Italy during World War II. After that, several other relatives, including Gucci Mane’s father, had the nickname before it was passed to him.

Ice Cube

Ice Cube performs onstage
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: O’Shea Jackson Sr.

This is another stage name that goes all the way back to childhood. O’Shea Jackson got his iconic name, Ice Cube, from his older brother — and it wasn’t meant as a term of endearment. The rapper told Stephen Colbert in 2017 that, when he was 13, he used to try to talk to his brother’s girlfriends, which made his brother threaten him with a unique act of violence.

“I’m gonna slam you in the freezer,” Cube remembered his brother saying. “When they pull you out, you’re gonna be an ice cube.”

Ice Spice

Ice Spice performs onstage
AP Photo/Mark Terrill

Real Name: Isis Naija Gaston

A newcomer to the rap scene, this 24-year-old Bronx native has already been deemed New York’s Princess of Rap, and she certainly seems to have an omnipresence in New York City and beyond, appearing all over social media, at events and awards shows — always sporting her signature fiery orange hair. In 2023, Billboard named her the R&B/Hip Hop Rookie of the Year, and she racked up awards buzz with four Grammy nominations in 2024, including Best New Artist.

The “Ice” part of her stage name comes from a childhood nickname, shortened from her first name, Isis. In an interview with Elle, Ice Spice explained why she chose the second word: “I was 14 coming up with like a finsta name and I was like, ‘What rhymes with ice? Spice.’ Plus I love spicy food, too. I put hot sauce on everything.”

MORE: Listen to Ice Spice on Apple Music

J. Cole

Rapper J. Cole performs at microphone
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: Jermaine Cole

This one doesn’t take a lot of detective work to figure out. “Crooked Smile” rapper J. Cole got his stage name from a simple abbreviation of his real name, Jermaine Cole. But he didn’t always want his rap moniker to be so basic. In the early days of his career, J. Cole performed under the names Blaza and Therapist, but thankfully changed his name in time for his 2007 debut mixtape, “The Come Up.”

Jay-Z

Jay Z rock and roll hall of fame induction
Associated Press

Real Name: Shawn Carter

Hip-hop icon Jay-Z has not kept his actual name a secret. In 1999, he released an album called, “Life and Times of S. Carter,” and he’s used his name for other projects, including his 2018 collaboration with wife Beyoncé, when the pair performed simply as the Carters. He has also put his name on his own charitable organization, the Shawn Carter Foundation, which helps low-income kids get an education. As for how he got his stage name, Jay-Z’s nickname coming up was “Jazzy,” so he made it a little more unique.

MORE: Listen to Jay-Z on Apple Music

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar wins Grammy
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Real Name: Kendrick Lamar Duckworth

Kendrick Lamar is another rapper who stuck close to his birth name when it came time to choose a stage name, opting to simply drop his last name, Duckworth, and go with his first and middle names. But he didn’t always rap under the name Kendrick Lamar. For the first few years of his career, the Compton, California, native performed as K-Dot, which is a nickname he still references sometimes in his lyrics.

Killer Mike

Rapper Killer Mike
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: Michael Santiago Render

With a name like Killer Mike, perhaps it’s no surprise that this guy slays. The Atlanta-born rapper and star of the Netflix show “Trigger Warning With Killer Mike” recently swept the 2024 Grammys with three wins — Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. His award-winning album is titled after his given name, “Michael.”

The Killer Mike moniker came about when fellow rappers he was in competition with declared him a killer with the mic. In 2010, Killer Mike tried to change his stage name to Mike Bigga but soon went back to the name that was more established. Despite the lethal-sounding first part of his name, Killer Mike is a strong activist for social and economic justice. If he’s trying to kill something, it’s racial and socioeconomic inequity.

Lil’ Wayne

Lil Wayne performs onstage
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Real Name: Dwayne Carter Jr.

So, how does a guy named Dwayne end up rapping under the name Wayne? It’s actually kind of a sad story. Dwayne Carter Jr. has said he decided to drop the “D” from his name because his father, for whom he’s named, abandoned him and his mother when he was an infant, so he wanted to distance himself from the man. As far as the “Lil’” part goes, Wayne stands at just 5 feet, 5 inches tall.

Logic

Rapper Logic performs
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Real Name: Sir Robert Bryson Hall II

Logic was born with a name that makes him sound more like royalty than a young rapper raised in Maryland. When Sir Robert Bryson Hall II started his rap career, he wanted to make music that “challenges the mind,” he told RealTalkDMV. So, he went with the stage name Psychological. After working under that name for a short period of time, he shortened it to Logic in time for his acclaimed 2010 mixtape, “Young, Broke & Infamous.”

Ludacris

Photo of Ludacris
AP Photo/Jim Blackburn

Real Name: Christopher Bridges

When Chris Bridges was working as a radio DJ in Atlanta, he worked under the name “Chris Lova Lova” for a time. Thankfully, he changed his stage name to the much cooler Ludacris in time for his 1998 debut album. The rapper-turned-actor got his stage name from a derivation of the word “ludicrous,” which is certainly one way to describe his lyrics.

Megan Thee Stallion

Megan Thee Stallion performs onstage
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Names: Megan Jovon Ruth Pete

Of the four names she was originally given, the “Hot Girl Summer” artist only carried “Megan” into her stage name. At 5 feet, 10 inches, Megan Thee Stallion has said that she was often called a stallion in her teens for being “tall and fine.”

“Since I was younger, probably about 15 or 16, I’ve always had the same body,” she told Houstonia magazine. “Older guys would always be like, ‘Oh, you a stallion.’ So I finally had to ask like, is that a good thing? Everybody pretty much took it and ran with it, and then I put it as my main name on Twitter, and ever since then, everybody’s just been calling me Stallion.”

MORE: Listen to Megan Thee Stallion on Apple Music

Migos

Takeoff, Quavo and Offset of rap trio Migos
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Real Names: Kiari Cephus (Offset), Qavious Marshall (Quavo), Kirsnick Ball (Takeoff)

Migos was arguably the most popular hip-hop group of the past decade, performing under the stage names Offset, Quavo and Takeoff. Offstage, Offset (Kiari Cephus) and Takeoff (Kirsnick Ball) were cousins and Quavo (Qavious Marshall) is the latter’s uncle. It’s unclear how they each came up with their own names, but the group’s name, Migos, is both an abbreviation of the Spanish word “Amigos” and a reference to drug activity in their native Georgia.

Tragically, Takeoff was fatally shot in Houston on Nov. 1, 2022.

Mos Def

Photo of Mos Def
Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Real Name: Yasiin Bey

Rapper and actor Mos Def has been known by a few names during his acclaimed career, but he was born Dante Smith and changed his legal name to Yasiin Bey after retiring his stage name in 2011. Of his stage name, Bey said to Rolling Stone that “it’s a name that the streets taught me, a figure of speech that was given to me by the culture and by my environment.” The name Mos Def is shorthand for “most definitely.”

Nas

Rapper Nas performs onstage
Wade Payne/Invision/AP

Real Name: Nasir Jones

Another one of the greatest rappers to ever write a rhyme, Nas stuck close to his own given name when it came time to choose a stage name. Nas is simply a shortened version of his own first name, Nasir. At first, he used the stage name “Nasty Nas,” a nickname he still uses, but simply went by Nas for his 1994 debut album, “Illmatic.”

Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj
AP/Evan Agostini/Invision

Real Name: Onika Maraj

Nicki Minaj has about as many alter egos as any rapper in history — including her own stage name. Minaj’s name at birth was Onika Tanya Maraj, which is plenty memorable on its own, but she apparently never liked the name. Her friends called her Nicki growing up, and when she signed one of her first record deals, the guy from the label thought her name should be Minaj, so she went with it even though she apparently doesn’t love that name, either.

“I’ve always hated it,” shetold The Guardian of her stage name.

MORE: Get tickets to see Nicki Minaj in concert

The Notorious B.I.G.

Notorious B.I.G. at Billboard Awards 1995
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Real Name: Christopher Wallace

One of rap’s most legendary figures, The Notorious B.I.G. actually had to change his original stage name after a lawsuit. Christopher Wallace first rapped under the name Biggie Smalls, which was the name of a character in the 1975 movie, “Let’s Do It Again.” But he was sued to drop the name by the film’s rights owner and changed his persona to The Notorious B.I.G. in time for his first album, 1994’s “Ready to Die.”

Post Malone

Rapper Post Malone performs onstage
AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

Real Name: Austin Post

He’s one of the most in-demand rappers today, and Post Malone’s stage name is very similar to his real one. Born Austin Post, the rapper obviously just moved his last name out front for his stage name. But how did he get Malone? According to the man himself, Post Malone got it from a rap name generator online. That’s a new one!

MORE: Listen to Post Malone on Apple Music

Queen Latifah

hip-hop legend Queen Latifah
AP Photo/Yukio Gion

Real Name: Dana Elaine Owens

Youngsters today might not think of her as a rapper, but music fans of a certain age will never be able to see the word “UNITY” and not sing-spell it in their heads, thanks to Queen Latifah. This trailblazing multi-hyphenate rose to fame in the very male-dominated world of hip-hop in the ’80s and ’90s, and in 2006, she became the first hip-hop artist honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

At 8 years old, Dana Owens chose her new name. She picked “Latifah” from a book of Arabic names because it means “delicate, sensitive, kind [and] nice.” As she explained in an interview with Time, she didn’t want to be “MC Latifah,” so she went with “Queen” instead. “It felt like, every woman is a queen and should be treated as such — at least, that’s what my mom taught me. So, I kinda just connected the two, I ran it past my boys, they liked it, and so I kept it.”

Rae Sremmurd

Photo of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Real Name: Khalif Brown (Swae Lee), Aaquil Brown (Slim Jxmmi)

It might sound like one person’s name but Rae Sremmurd is the name of a popular hip-hop duo that’s made up of real-life brothers Khalif and Aaquil Brown, also known as Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi. The “Black Beatles” pair got their odd-sounding group name from their frequent producer, Mike Will Made It, who owns a production company called Ear Drummers. The name Rae Sremmurd is simply Ear Drummers spelled backward.

Remy Ma

Remy Ma performs at the Essence Festival
Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Real Name: Reminisce Mackle

Formerly a member of the rap group the Terror Squad, New York native Remy Ma’s stage name is pretty close to what you’d find on her driver’s license. Her real name is Reminisce Mackle, but that’s her married name, which she didn’t get until 2008, well after her rap career was underway. For the first few years of her career, her stage name was Remy Martin, after the French cognac brand.

Rick Ross

Rapper Rick Ross
AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann

Real Name: William Roberts II

This is another stage name that most people probably assume is the rapper’s actual name, but Rick Ross was actually born William Roberts II. The “Stay Schemin’” rhymer, like 50 Cent before him, took his stage name from a real-life gangster. This one came from “Freeway” Ricky Ross, a famous cocaine dealer from 1980s Los Angeles. The actual Rick Ross sued the rapper to stop him from performing under his name, but the judge ruled in the rapper’s favor, citing the First Amendment.

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg performs onstage
AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Real Name: Calvin Broadus Jr.

In his decades as a hip-hop legend, Calvin Broadus has had many stage names, including Snoop Doggy Dogg, Snoop Lion and, simply, Snoop Dogg. The way he got the most constant part of his names is actually pretty sweet. As a kid, he loved to watch the old “Charlie Brown” cartoons, and his mom actually started calling him “Snoopy” because he loved the dog character so much.

Travis Scott

Travis Scott performs
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Real Name: Jacques Webster II

For as dull as the name Travis Scott may sound, you might think it was this “Sicko Mode” rapper’s real name — but you’d be wrong. Houston kid Jacques Webster chose the average-sounding stage name as a tribute to a family member he admired.

“My uncle’s name is Travis,” Scott told Grantland. “He was like my favorite uncle.” The last name “Scott” also came from the same uncle, because that was his nickname.

Wiz Khalifa

Wiz Khalifa performs in concert
Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP

Real Name: Cameron Thomaz

Another stage name that certainly stands out from the pack is Wiz Khalifa. Cameron Thomaz just doesn’t have the same memorable ring! The Pittsburgh-based rapper got his name from family members. He has said “Wiz” was his nickname growing up because he was a talented kid, while his grandfather gave him the name “Khalifa,” which is Arabic for success.


The real names of famous rappers originally appeared on Simplemost.com