Nowadays, it’s notoriously uncool to arrive in the rap game bearing your own name. Unless you’ve been blessed with a brilliant one at birth — Kanye West sounds like he was born to be a star — most artists have to find a way to seem reputable, and changing their moniker seems like the greatest way to do it.
For as long as the genre has been about, rap stars have taken on new names to elevate their status in the game. It’s a practice that’s spawned meme-worthy generators for rapper names. See: putting “lil'” in front of literally any inanimate object. The N.W.A boys – Eazy-E, Dr Dre, Ice Cube – all left their original ones behind when they made it big. But nowadays, with the rise of SoundCloud and social media elevating more and more hip-hop artists into the mainstream, making sense of everybody’s backstory, and the name they used to go by is becoming more and more difficult by the minute.
Well, fear no more! Here’s a handy, A-Z list of rappers’ pseudonym origin stories. Dig through all of your favorite rapper’s names – the real ones they were known by before their first mixtapes dropped — and then flex your newfound knowledge on your unsuspecting friends and foes.
Yeezy collaborator and musical polymath 070 Shake was born Danielle Balbuena in her home city of New Jersey, hence her ‘070’ moniker.
The legendary 2 Chainz was known as Tity Boi before he made it big, but his birth name is Tauheed Epps.
Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph was shot six times on his 21st birthday, and so turned to rap to make his life better. He’s now known as 21 Savage.
The Harlem-hailing fashion killa we know as A$AP Rocky was raised in the New York neighborhood being called by his real name, Rakim Mayers.
Azealia Banks has just cut out her middle name, ’Amanda’, for her current moniker, but used to go by the name Miss Banks back in the day.
When she’s not Bhad Bhabie (or the ‘Cash Me Outside’ girl on Dr. Phil), rap’s most controversial young woman goes by the name of Danielle Bregoli.
Memphis’ biggest breakout rapper is BlocBoy JB, but before he got the call to collaborate with Drizzy, he was known as James Baker.
Strangely, there was, indeed, once a time when Cardi B didn’t rule the world. Back then, pre-reality TV and dominating rap career, she went by the name Belcalis Almanzar.
Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper’s very literal stage name is just a condensed version of his birth one: Chancelor Johnathan Bennett.
Chicago’s queen of dirty mouthed, sex-positive rap cupcakKe has the name Elizabeth Eden Harris printed on her passport.
Viral hitmaker Desiigner has one of the most glam rapper names around, but his full name is so exuberant it could be a rap moniker in itself: Sidney Royel Selby III.
Paterson, New Jersey native Willie Maxwell II got hooked on music by playing drums in his local church. Now, he’s known as Fetty Wap.
It tracks that one of the more famous rappers in the game is named after the famous Scarface frontman, but where did the français come from? French Montana learned French fluently when he was still known as Karim Kharbouch.
Before Atlanta’s very own Future made it big and made killer LPs alongside Drizzy, he was known as Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn.
His name might make him sound like someone who’s lived a badass rap lifestyle, but behind his moniker, G-Eazy is known as Gerald Earl Gillum from Oakland, CA.
With over 70 mixtapes under his belt, it’s no surprise that Radric Delantic Davis’s name has been rendered irrelevant when heard alongside his ubiquitous rap nickname: Gucci Mane.
Born in Germany but raised in the states, Jermaine Lamarr Cole became J. Cole when he decided to launch his rap career back in 2007.
Raised in humble town Cali back in the late eighties, nowadays we know Johnny Reed McKinzie, Jr. as Jay Rock.
The founder of the Pro-Era rap collective bursting out of New York right now, Joey Bada$$ first started making music under the moniker JayOhVee – a little closer to his real name: Jo-vaughn Virginie Scott.
A new leader in the emo-rap era, Juice WRLD was once known as Jarad Higgins. The 19-year-old Illinois native was influenced rap-wise by G-Eazy, and got into rock through Billy Idol.
Rapper and actor Juicy J flits his time between the silver screen and letting loose behind the mic; his OG name is his only consistency. Back in the day, this dude went by the name Jordan Michael Houston.
Cleveland-born rapper Kid Cudi didn’t go by his rap moniker back when he met Kanye for the first time while hustling at BAPE. He went by the name of Scott Ramon Seguro Mescudi
The controversial kid behind “No Flockin” Dieuson Octave has been nicknamed ‘Black’ since he was six years old. But now, as a music maker, we know him better as Kodak Black.
One of the most respected and now missed kids of the SoundCloud, emo-rap generation, the late, great Lil Peep was born Gustav Åhr.
Lil Pump is one of the few people on our list of rappers who could keep his real name and still sound cool as hell. This Miami native was born Gazzy Garcia.
Kimetrius Foose’s stage name – Lil Skies – is a play on Dark Skies, the moniker used by his dad when he too made rap music.
Lil Uzi Vert
Cloud rap’s coolest Lil Uzi Vert was born Symere Woods in Philadelphia back in ‘94.
With a name like his, Logic has always carried clout, ever since the day he was born. After all, his mum and dad named him Sir Robert Bryson Hall II.
Recently freed lyricist and hip-hop icon Meek Mill’s famous moniker comes from his middle name: Robert Rihmeek Williams.
An alt hip-hop genius, the gender-fluid and fierce Mykki Blanco was born Michael Quattlebaum Jr. in Orange County, California.
Born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad and Tobago, Nicki Minaj entered the pantheon of famous rappers with a pseudonym picked up during her days growing up in Southside Jamaica, Queens.
IRL, Cardi B’s, Georgia-born Migos boyfriend Offset is called Kiari Kendrell Cephus.
The rapper credited with igniting the resurgence of the White Trash rap aesthetic Post Malone is also known as Austin Richard Post.
Migos man Quavo, like his bandmates, has a Georgia state heritage and is known better to his family as Quavious Keyate Marshall. He also goes by the Huncho moniker too.
Critically acclaimed, Baltimore rap royalty Rico Nasty might live up to her raunchy pseudonym with her lyrics, but is known as Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly to those closest to her.
He might be one of grime’s biggest forebearers in Great Britain, but his alliances with the leaders of rap too mean that you should probably know Skepta’s real name is Joseph Junior Adenuga.
Ski Mask the Slump God
Former best friend of the late XXXTentacion, Florida’s Ski Mask the Slump God is also known as Stokeley Clevon Goulbourne.
One half of the unstoppable family duo Rae Sremmund, Slim Jxmmi goes by the name of Aaquil Brown when he’s off stage.
Taking inspiration for her stage name from the city she grew up in, Stefflon Don – whose actually lived in Birmingham, Rotterdam, and the British capital – was called Stephanie Victoria Allen before she got into the rap game.
The other half of Rae Sremmurd, Swae Lee is known better as Khalif Malikibnsham Brown.
The youngest member in the Migos trio Takeoff was born Kirshnik Khari Ball. Rumor has it, he’s working on a solo record with Lil Yachty.
Some rapper names are so ridiculous they’re clearly pseudonyms but you’d be forgiven for thinking Travis Scott is actually Travis Scott by birth. Not so! The rapper – who’s also currently Kylie Jenner’s boo – was actually born Jacques Berman Webster II.
Ty Dolla $ign
Born and raised in mid-’80s Los Angeles, Tyrone William Griffin, Jr – the son of a member of the funk band Lakeside – went on to become one of his own generation’s focal talents: Ty Dolla $ign.
Cash Money signee Tyga’s moniker might stand for ‘Thank you God always’, but his real name is actually Micheal Ray Stevenson.
Weed-smoking rap legend Wiz Khalifa takes inspiration for his stage name from the words ‘wisdom’ and the Arabic word for successor, but his birth name is Cameron Jibril Thomaz.
Founder of the internet’s most talked about new rap collective ‘YBN’, Cordae Dunston is known as YBN Cordae when he’s performing with the group.
Actor, rapper and A$AP Rocky collaborator YG hails from Compton, where he once went by the name Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson.
Young Thug might have a seriously outlandish rap delivery and aesthetic, but his real name is surprisingly unremarkable: Jeffery Lamar Williams.
The greatest thing to come out of Sweden since ABBA and IKEA, cloud-rap king Yung Lean was known as Jonatan Leandoer Håstad before he took Stockholm’s sad boy sound mainstream.
Known for being a big voice on the queer rap scene and the voice behind the Grimes and Azealia Banks-approved “Ima Read,” New York City’s Zebra Katz also gets called Ojay Morgan.
For more like this, check out our ranking of the 20 Best Travis Scott songs.