Original image

How 12 Famous Rappers Picked Their Names

Original image
Image credit: Stu Rapley, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What’s in a rap name? If you’re Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, you don’t have much explaining to do: You’ve already got a one-of-a-kind tag that rolls off the tongue and boasts incredible nickname potential. (We’re looking at you, Yeezy.) But if your given name was, say, Clifford Smith—no disrespect intended, Method Man—you’d probably want to pick something with a little more punch. Here’s how 12 famous rappers settled on their unforgettable stage names.

1. Jay Z // Real Name: Shawn Carter

The wordsmith-turned-media mogul has his Brooklyn neighbors to thank for his onstage alter ego. “When I was younger, [I was] laid-back, wouldn’t speak out of turn, just a real cool dude,” he once told MTV. “So the older guys, the OGs from around the way, were like, ‘That’s a jazzy little dude.’” He eventually shortened it to avoid associations with those same eccentric older gentlemen: “They had electric blue suits and jheri curls, and, you know, chains with chest hair ... I just took the J and the Z from Jazzy.”

2. Rick Ross // Real Name: William Leonard Roberts II

The larger-than-life Miami native modeled his identity after notorious L.A. drug kingpin Freeway Rick Ross. (Fun fact: Despite rapper Ross’ tendency to boast about his drug dealing prowess, he actually worked as a corrections officer before making it big.) In 2010, the real Freeway Rick Ross—by then a free man, having served 13 years of a 20-year sentence—filed a $10 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music and his now-famous copycat for using his name and identity without permission. The judge ultimately dismissed the suit, which he felt wasn’t filed in a timely enough fashion. (Ross had known about Roberts’ use of his name since 2006, but waited until 2010 to seek damages.)

3. Waka Flocka Flame // Real Name: Juaquin James Malphurs

The origins of Waka Flocka Flame’s stage name are guaranteed to give you the warm fuzzies. Growing up, “My cousin and I used to watch [The Muppets],” the Atlanta-born star explained in 2010. His cousin started calling him “Waka,” after Fozzie Bear’s favorite catchphrase. Collaborator Gucci Mane later added a little edge by calling him “Flocka Flame.”

4. Snoop Dogg // Real Name: Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.

The West Coast icon’s pick has equally adorable origins. “As a kid born in the ‘70s, Mom used to put on a TV show called Charlie Brown,” he explained in 2009. “And there was a character on there named Snoopy, and I used to love him to death. My mama said I started to look like him … ‘cause I watched him all the time.” But what about that brief stint as Snoop Lion? During a 2012 trip to Jamaica, a Rastafarian priest “looked me in my eyes and said, ‘No more. You are the light; you are the lion.'” Can’t argue with divine inspiration.

5. Tupac // Real Name: Lesane Parish Crooks

The late rapper was born Lesane Crooks; his Black Panther activist mother, Afeni Shakur, renamed him before his first birthday. Her inspiration: 18th-century Incan revolutionary, Tupac Amaru II, who led an indigenous uprising against Peru’s Spanish colonizers.

6. Notorious B.I.G. // Real Name: Christopher George Latore Wallace

The beloved East Coast star’s original stage name, Biggie Smalls, was an homage to Calvin Lockhart’s character in the Sidney Poitier-directed Let’s Do it Again (1975). But when he discovered that the name was already in use, he decided to play up his stature in a different way, relegating Biggie Smalls to the status of unofficial alias.

7., 8., 9., 10., and 11. The Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA (born Robert Fitzgerald Diggs)—whose tag was inspired by the Five Percent Nation’s Supreme Alphabet—says the group chose its name as a tribute to their favorite kung-fu film, 1983’s Shaolin and Wu Tang. “I thought that Wu-Tang was the best sword style,” he told NPR in 2013. “And the tongue is like a sword … I say that we have the best lyrics, so, therefore, we are the Wu-Tang Clan.” Although his cousin, GZA (real name: Gary Grice) was also inspired by his Five Percent Nation religion, the rest of the clan—including Ghostface Killah (Dennis Coles), Method Man (Clifford Smith) and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Russell Tyrone Jones)—named themselves after their favorite kung-fu characters. (ODB's pick comes from the alternative translation of 1981’s An Old Kung Fu Master, Ol’ Dirty and the Bastard.)

12. Childish Gambino // Real Name: Donald Glover

You can thank the internet for Glover’s hip hop alter-ego. As a college sophomore, the rapper and Community star typed his name into a Wu-Tang Clan name generator. As his friends sat around laughing about their results, “I was like, ‘You guys, it’s not funny anymore. This is something big.’ I just really liked it,” he explained during a 2011 talk show appearance. There’s some debate as to which name generator he used. If you visit either and type in “Donald Glover,” they produce the same result—which means that one of the site’s creators has since backcoded his product to make people think it was his creation that gave the world Childish Gambino.

Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
10 Fun Facts About The Great Muppet Caper
Original image
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Miss Piggy is framed for thievery, it’s up to Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and their eccentric pals to clear her name in The Great Muppet Caper. Released in 1981, the madcap Muppet comedy was followed up the next year by Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. The latter film is often considered Henson's masterpiece, and the extraterrestrial fantasy is deservedly praised for having some of the most innovative puppetry ever caught on film. By comparison, The Great Muppet Caper is seldom recognized as a special effects tour de force—yet, that’s exactly what it was. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Oscar-nominated Muppet adventure.


After The Muppet Movie hit theaters in 1979, Jim Henson wanted to shift gears and dive right into his most ambitious project yet. Three years earlier, he’d discovered the otherworldly sketches of artist Brian Froud. Together, the two men set out to adapt these into a somber, puppet-filled fantasy movie. But the idea was a tough sell. Despite the Muppets’ knack for edgy humor, audiences generally dismissed puppetry as children’s entertainment. Given its serious tone, this new project—dubbed The Dark Crystal—seemed like too much of a gamble for Paramount Pictures, which rejected Henson’s sales pitch. 

Enter Sir Lew Grade. The head of ITC entertainment, he’d been a financier behind both The Muppet Show and the original Muppet Movie. Late in 1979, he struck a deal with Henson. Grade promised to pour $13 million into The Dark Crystal on one condition: Henson had to make a sequel to The Muppet Movie first. The puppet master agreed.

Their plan was to shoot the films back-to-back. Fortunately, Henson had two workshops at his disposal—one in London and another in New York City—and was able to divide the puppet-building labor between the two. The Dark Crystal’s production HQ moved from the Big Apple to London. Meanwhile, the New York venue—where the puppets of Sesame Street were made—tended to most of The Great Muppet Caper’s needs.


John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

Back in 1979, James Frawley had sat in the director’s chair for The Muppet Movie. But this time, Henson called his own number. After The Great Muppet Caper, Henson went on to direct the cult classic, Labyrinth. He also co-directed The Dark Crystal with his longtime collaborator Frank Oz.


Although four writers worked on the script, none of them could coin a satisfying title. So Henson opened the matter up to his Muppet staffers by throwing a name-the-movie contest. One apparent Tim Curry fan suggested The Rocky Muppet Picture Show. Another proposed A Froggy Day in London. Then along came Henson’s 19-year-old daughter, Lisa, who pitched The Great Muppetcapade. Her dad tweaked this into The Great Muppet Caper and the rest is history.


Diana Rigg and Miss Piggy in 'The Great Muppet Caper'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Long before she was throwing shade like a boss as Game of Thrones’s Olenna Tyrell, Diana Rigg had made a name for herself on The Avengers, a British espionage drama. In The Great Muppet Caper, she plays Lady Holiday—an esteemed fashion designer who also happens to be Miss Piggy’s employer. Riggs leapt at the chance to work with this particular Muppet. After all, her four-year-old daughter, Rachel, was “passionately in love” with the character.

Riggs told The A.V. Club that when Rachel visited the set one day, she “burst into tears when she saw Miss Piggy.” “I think she was more frightened than anything,” Rigg explained. “Because Miss Piggy was huge. They had several Miss Piggys.”


There were indeed “several Miss Piggys.” One scene alone called for nearly 40 interchangeable Piggy heads and seven bodies. We are referring, of course, to that grand, Esther Williams-style swimming number.

“It’s safe to say that no one else has ever done a sequence like this in any other film. At least not with a pig,” Henson said. In every sense of the word, it was a massive undertaking: A custom-made heated pool measuring 50 by 80 feet had to be built on a sound stage. Puppeteer Frank Oz prepped himself with “three days of scuba training.” (“I was under water for a week,” Oz said.) And on top of everything else, the scene called for special, water-resistant Piggy puppets. Unfortunately, these tended to rip easily, hence all the extra body parts.


Pursued by angry dogs, over a dozen terrified Muppets scale a castle drainpipe near Caper’s climax. Executing this scene was no easy task for the puppeteers who performed in it. To lift these guys upwards in rapid succession, 11 tiny elevators had to be made. Since space was tight, each one had a small, wooden platform that was about the size of a dresser drawer. Every Muppet handler involved with the scene had to stand on one of these without bumping into any of his or her colleagues. The tiniest of malfunctions could’ve sent several people crashing to the ground, but fortunately the contraptions ran without a hitch.


Wanting to top Kermit’s bike ride from the The Muppet Movie, the director decided that just about every non-human character in the cast would take up cycling for the sequel. In a song called “Couldn’t We Ride,” Kermit, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang happily pedal through London’s Battersea Park.

Effects artist Faz Fazakas oversaw this amazing display of movie magic. At his side stood Brian Henson, whose father asked him to help figure out the scene’s technical elements. It was a big moment for the younger Henson. A teenager back then, he’d never been given such a large behind-the-scenes project on one of his dad’s movies before. Guided by a love of physics, Brian met the challenge by devising a complex system of rods and marionette wires. Radio-controlled Muppet heads were also used.


Fozzie and Kermit in 'The Great Muppet Caper'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Unless you’re a hardcore fan, you probably didn’t notice this, but the end credits list one Amy van Gilder as a “Muppet Doctor.” There’s a story here: The Great Muppet Caper opens with Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo flying in a hot air balloon. Then, the trio crash lands onto a busy street. For a certain bear, it was a rough experience. Part of the scene was filmed on location in New Mexico where, at one point, the Fozzie puppet was torched by a propane burner. Amy van Gilder—a veteran puppet maker—came to the rescue and fixed him up on-site. By the way, she and Jim Henson shared a cameo in the movie. At the fancy restaurant, they play the first couple Gonzo photographs.  


Joe Raposo, the songwriter and composer behind such beloved Muppet tunes as “Bein' Green,” composed eight new songs for The Great Muppet Caper. Among these was “The First Time It Happens,” a love song which earned a nomination for Best Original Song at the 1982 Academy Awards. It lost out to "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)."


Although one’s a frog and the other is clearly a bear, Kermit and Fozzie introduce themselves as identical twins in The Great Muppet Caper. No explanation is ever offered. Growing up, a young Jason Segel thought the gag was hysterically funny—so much so that he later recycled the joke for 2011’s The Muppets, which he co-wrote. This film sees Segel playing Gary, a human being whose brother, Walter, happens to be a Muppet. How’d that happen? The script doesn’t say. Anyway, Segel says that this was inspired by Kermit and Fozzie’s equally weird relationship in The Great Muppet Caper.

Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.


More from mental floss studios