As mentioned on the hit HBO series Lovecraft Country, you have the power to name yourself. That’s the beauty of a stage name: you have the option to choose it. Unlike your government name or even a nickname, one of the many perks of being an artist is that you can call yourself whatever you want. Being a creative affords you the opportunity to reinvent yourself. So it’s understandable that a guy named Daystar might prefer to be known as Tory Lanez, or a guy named Nayvadius might prefer Future. You know, monikers that have a nice ring to them.
What’s mind-boggling, though, is why someone would deliberately choose a problematic or controversial stage name. Like Mulatto, for example. The term dates back centuries, and doesn’t exactly have a positive connotation associated with it. Mulatto was used as a derogatory word during slavery to refer to the bi-racial offspring of the enslaved and their masters. As her star and notoriety began to rise, it’s no wonder why rap fans and beyond took issue with the alias.
Sometimes we’re not sure what’s worse: Having a wholesome, unassuming name while behaving terribly (see the aforementioned Tory Lanez. Yikes!), or going by a problematic name with good behavior. We get it, sometimes stirring up a little controversy is the way to get noticed in a crowded market. But the truth is, not all press is good press.
At any rate, check out some of the most controversial and often problematic names of hip-hop stars from the past and present.
Despite how talented she is, this is one of the most problematic names in history, let alone music history. The name was an attempt to flip the negative connotation of that word, and give a big middle finger to those who made fun of her for being light-skinned while she was growing up. Sadly, this explanation fell on deaf ears and was refuted even further when a video resurfaced of her claiming to be neither Black nor White. Thankfully, she has since recognized how harmful her rap alias is and has decided to go by another name.
2. MC Brains
Legend has it that this moniker came about like most nicknames: James DeShannon Davis was playing dozens (a game where you crack jokes on people) and after a few names were tossed out, MC Brains is what he was given and it kinda stuck. To his credit, he had one popular song “Oochie Coochie,” which was a Top 40 hit on Billboard. For those interested, he has changed his name to MC Brainz.
We’re not sure what’s more perplexing: The fact that Joseph Edgar Foreman decided to name himself AfroMan or that his biggest hit, “Because I Got High,” was actually nominated for a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Rap Solo Performance. There’s nothing wrong with paying homage to classic African-American hairstyles, but this felt like a caricature and a missed opportunity to lift up the community and/or speak to the disproportionate amount of time in jail folks with Afros get. And eh, the music wasn’t so great either.
4. Fatty Koo
The potential talent of this group was there. We’re not sure if there has ever been another sextet of singers, rappers, and dancers. And to be honest, “Chills” is one of those R&B songs that ends up on a playlist every now and then and makes you wonder, What happened to them? Sadly, this name was a fail from jump. A Fatty isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in the context of this group, it felt a little off-key.
As stated earlier, stage names are often an attempt to escape from a real name. This might be the case with this rapper turned influencer whose government name is Algernod Lanier Washington. His pseudonym is Plies which (no it isn’t a ballet term or an acronym) actually references a pair of pliers. Yes, you read that right, it refers to a tool. These days, the rapper is way more influential in the social commentary he provides on IG. Yeah, that’s all we got on that.
6. 69 Boyz
Beyond it being a very good year, the number can be associated with a sexual act which, on some level, allows you to connect the artist to the music. The 69 Boyz were a Miami bass group most famously known for the Top 10 hit “Tootsie Roll,” which, again when you connect that to the name…. To this day, nobody is sure whether or not they were enthusiasts of the sexual act or just a group of guys all born in the same year.
While this handle stems from a nickname his grandmother gave him for his resemblance to a Native American child (insert blank stare), the term actually means baby carrier. Some say he carried underground hip-hop, while others think he just carried the hope of pure hip-hop centers. It’s really hard to tell. Given his rich Liberian ancestry and his love for Brooklyn, it’s baffling that he didn’t choose a name that suited him and his rapping style.
Growing up, the idea of three sixes was a call to, well…the devil. Although that hasn’t changed, the hip-hop group which consists of Juicy J, Crunchy Black, Gangsta Boo, and others is more likened to underground artists who had a bit of spookiness in their flow and music. Of course, they’ve elevated and no longer are underground. In 2006 they won an Oscar for “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” from the movie Hustle & Flow.
Every so often an artist has a bit of a “midlife crisis” where they assume the personality of a new name. Sometimes it works, like Sasha Fierce for Beyoncé, or Chris Gaines for Garth Brooks. And on other occasions, it’s a high-at-the-time idea. We’re leaning toward the latter when it comes to Snoop Dogg who toyed around with the name of Niggarachi. Thankfully, he decided to cancel that for himself. We couldn’t agree more with that decision.
Probably one of the most controversial and impactful names in hip-hop history, NWA, which stands for Niggas With Attitude, aligns with the exact feeling many cops had about Black men. The hip-hop group spoke out about corrupt cops long before defund the police was a hashtag. The sad part is that over 20 years later, the same things they discussed in their songs are still happening today.