Virtually every rapper is known by many names. Even the ones who rap under their government name wind up with a countless of aliases: Kanye West is the name on his driver’s license and his albums, but we also know him as Yeezy, Yeezus, the Louis Vuitton Don, and so on.
But sometimes we see a more drastic mid-career change to a new professional name. Jeffery Williams, the Atlanta rapper known best as Young Thug throughout his brief but notable career thus far, told GQ last year that he may someday change his name to Jeff The Rapper. And a few days ago, with his new mixtape Jeffery on the horizon, Thug’s 300 Entertainment label boss Lyor Cohen appeared on the Rap Radar podcast and announced an even more drastic name change. “Young Thug is not going to be ‘Young Thug’ anymore,” said Cohen. “His name is going to be ‘No, My Name Is Jeffery.’” This may read like a weird joke, but Cohen sounded serious.
Although recording artists outside hip-hop have notably changed names before—Prince temporarily becoming recognized by a symbol and John Mellencamp dropping the Cougar come to mind—but shifting monikers in rap tend to be more common. The producer and label executive known as Sean “Puffy” Combs became the rapper Puff Daddy, who released the blockbuster album No Way Out in 1997. But following an acquittal from gun charges in 2001, he sought to reboot his public image with a high-profile name change. Thus, P. Diddy, a nickname that his late friend the Notorious B.I.G. used on record years earlier. “No more Puff Daddy—the first week of June, we’re going to have a name change ceremony,” he told MTV News. Four years later, though, he shortened the name to simply Diddy. And with a sequel to his first album, No Way Out 2, on the way, he’s been using the name Puff Daddy again lately.
In the past, most of rap’s notable mid-career name changes have been a matter of truncating the previously established name to a punchier or more casual variation. MC Hammer became simply Hammer at the peak of his fame, and Vanilla Ice briefly became V-Ice during his career decline. As kid rappers Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo grew up, they eventually became simply Bow Wow and Romeo, respectively. Young Jeezy became just Jeezy shortly before his 36th birthday. T.I. shortened his best known name down from TIP to avoid confusion with Q-Tip, but more recently has begun releasing music as TIP again. Jay Z officially removed the hyphen from his name in 2013, but he’ll always be Jay-Z to me. Snoop Doggy Dogg decided to become Snoop Dogg around the time he jumped from Death Row to No Limit. In 2013, he told the world that he was changing yet again, to Snoop Lion, and releasing a reggae album. But once that album had run its course, he simply went right back to being Snoop Dogg.
In contemporary rap history, however, name changes have been a little more about taking a name with potentially controversial connotations and scrubbing away the offensive parts. Playaz Circle’s Tity Boi became 2 Chainz as his solo career started picking up steam, and his massive success was no doubt helped by a more marketable name. The late Chinx Drugz changed his name to simply Chinx, which seemed odd considering that the first half of his name, a racist reference to “chinky” squinted eyes caused by drug use, is arguably more offensive than the Drugz part. When Ghostface Killah signed to Def Jam, the label convinced him to release 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album as just Ghostface, but the Killah came back for subsequent albums. Labels have even tried to clean up their own names—Death Row Records at one point became Tha Row, and Murder Inc. Records rebooted as The Inc. In a rare change that made a name a little more edgy than it was before, Lil Boosie began releasing music as Boosie Badazz after his release from prison in 2014.
It’s notable just how often rappers announce a name change with no follow through, though. In 2009 Killer Mike said that he’d change his name to Mike Bigga, but the name never stuck. Uncle Murda said he’d become Uncle M in 2011, but that never happened. Young Dro said in 2012 that he was reinventing himself as 3Krazy, and then continued releasing music as Young Dro. Gunplay announced in late 2014 that starting the next year he’d be Don Logan, a name inspired by Ben Kingsley’s character in the film Sexy Beast, but his 2015 major label debut Living Legend was released under the name Gunplay anyway.
Young Thug has always been a divisive name, but it’s not an explicit reference to drugs or violence or a tity (sic), so there had never been much of a sense that it was holding him back. And in an era full of massive hit songs with assorted profanity in the titles, bowdlerizing the artist credit for mass appeal seems like a dated and unnecessary tactic. If he was only concerned with a simple marketable name with wide appeal, just Jeffery would’ve been preferable to the ungainly phrase "No, My Name Is Jeffery" that Lyor Cohen has stamped as his new name (and by the way, is there a comma? Or is it just No My Name Is Jeffery?). Young Thug has always been a somewhat confusing, mercurial presence in interviews, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the “official” name change currently making headlines is forgotten as quickly as Mike Bigga. In fact, I have to admit I hope it does. But no matter what we call him, Jeffery Williams always finds a way of defiantly, unapologetically being himself.