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Naming and Spelling Practices in Hip Hop. by Alleen Pace Nilsen Arizona State University. Hip Hop grew out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s. It rejects the status quo and emphasizes the individual.

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naming and spelling practices in hip hop

Naming and Spelling Practices in Hip Hop

by Alleen Pace Nilsen

Arizona State University

Hip Hop grew out of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.
  • It rejects the status quo and emphasizes the individual.
  • Besides new approaches to music and rap, it includes break dancing, new kinds of art such as tagging and graph writing, and entrepreneurship related to clothing and entertainment.
  • It is not limited to African Americans and in fact is now an international movement.
the importance of the disk jockey or dj
The Importance of the Disk Jockey or DJ
  • Creative spelling is part of Hip Hop’s rejection of the status quo. In the literature we found these alternate spellings of DJ:

Deejay DJing DJin DJ’n

  • Several performers added one or both initials to their names as did DJ Kool Herc, usually credited with making the DJ a performer in his own right. Examples include:

Blue Jays DJ AJ DJ Clark Kent

DJ Craze DJ Evil Dee DJ Kay Gee

DJ Timmy Tim Jazzy Jay Juicy J

the importance of mcs
The Importance of MCs
  • In the late 1970s MCs (Master of Ceremonies) became almost as important as DJs.
  • Various spellings include:

mc, emcee, eemceein, MCing, MC’n and Femcee for a woman.

  • Run DMC was named to honor the speed with which he ran between turntables.
rock another favorite in names
Rock--another favorite in names
  • Examples include:

Coke La Rock

Iroc (aka Roca Dolla)

King Ad-Rock (one of the Beastie Boys)

Roc-A-Fella (a record production company)

Rock City Rockers (a b-boy group)

Rock Steady Crew (a b-boy group)

Scott La Rock (originally Scott Sterling)

cool or kool is also important
Cool or Kool is also important
  • Hip hoppers like the strength of the k sound whether it is spelled with a k, c, or ck.
  • Examples include the Outkast group and the name of rapper Kurtis Blow
  • Krayzie Bone’s name also illustrates the sense of play that runs through hip hop. He is a member of the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and plays alongside Layzie Bone, Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone, and Flesh-n-Bone.
first association with kool
First Association with Kool
  • Clive Campbell, a New York high school student, an immigrant from Jamaica, is given credit for his 1973 invention of a new kind of DJ.
  • He didn’t like the name Clive, and so decided to go by Herc, a shortened form of Hercules, a nickname given to him because of his size and strength.
  • When working as a DJ, he called himself DJ Hurc and later added Kool because he liked the TV commercials for Kool cigarettes.
names that build on the idea of cool
Cold Crush Brothers

Cold Crush Four

Fresh Kid Ice

Kool Moe Dee

Ice Cube

Ice T

Vanilla Ice

Wayne “Frosty Freeze” Frost

Names That Build on the Idea of Cool
the value of being different
The Value of Being Different
  • Leslie Dunkling has said that the secret to a successful public name is that it is easy to pronounce and easy to remember, while at the same time having enough originality that it will somehow stand out.
  • One way to achieve different spelling without changing pronunciation is to double the ending letter of a name as in Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, and Nate Dogg.
  • The C.I.A. used this technique for an extra joke when they named a cut Ill-Legal.
traditional vs hip hop spelling as in these examples
Traditional vs. Hip Hop Spellingas in These Examples

TraditionalHip Hop

American Colors Amerikkan Colors

Deaf Jam Def Jam

Deaf Leopard Def Leppard

Craft Works Kraftwerks

Mama’s Mamaz

Rough Riders’ Records Ruff Ryers Records

Soldiers Souljahs

Stacks Stax

Houdini Whodini

renaming as a process
Renaming as a Process

People who have once changed their name, often feel free to change it again.

E. G. Sean Coombs chose the stage name of Puff Daddy, but in 2001 changed to P. Diddy.

Then when he went into business, changed back to Sean Coombs, maybe so he could use the eye-rhyme of Sean Jeans on his clothing.

Most news stories listed him as P. Diddy (Sean) Combs, but when Michael Jackson died in 2009, his memorial statement was released under the name of Sean (P. Diddy) Coombs.

from codozar calvin broadus jr to snoop dogg
From Codozar Calvin Broadus, Jr. to Snoop Dogg
  • When Jon Stewart interviewed Snoop Dogg in December of 2009, the singer said that as a kid he used to love watching Charles Schulz’s Snoopy Dog on TV and so he took for himself a name that he loved.
  • He first took the name of Snoop Doggy Dog, which he later changed to Snoop Dogg.
  • Feeling free to change one’s name apparently makes a person fee free to be creative with other words. For example, Snoop Dogg is famous for using –izzle as an infix in such words as televizzle, Americizzle, and in a minitizzle. One of his TV shows was named Doggy Fizzle Televizzle.
clipping as a way of change
Clipping as a Way of Change
  • One kind of clipping is based on dialectal pronunciations as when the –g is left off in World Class Wreckin Cru and Rappin’ Duke.
  • Gangster is spelled Gangsta, Flavor as Flava, and Killer as Killa.
  • Silent letters are dropped as in DJ Quik and double letters are made single as in Geto Boys.
  • N (sometimes with apostrophes) is used in place of and, while some words are simply abbreviated as with Dead Prez.
playing with initials and capitalization
Playing with Initials and Capitalization
  • Eminem aka Marshall Mathers
  • Tanya “Sweet Tea” Winley
  • Spoonie Gee
  • Warren G --one of their hit songs is Regulate: The G-Funk Era
  • AC/DC
  • Derrick Jones chose D-Nice
spelling in all caps






UPSKI Wimsatt










using numbers as names
Using Numbers as Names
  • There is no set pattern of when to write out a number, e.g. 2 Pac and also Tupac
  • Curtis Jackson invented the stage name of 50 Cent.
  • The recognition of alliteration comes from the sound rather than the repetition of letters, e.g. The Furious 5, The Funky 4 Plus One More, and Fab Five Freddie.
  • C.I.A. cut a record “Just 4 the Cash,” using 4 in place of for, which is a common “joke.”
spelling to reflect ethnic pride
  • In 1976, Kevin Donovan went to the same school as Kool Herc and when he decided to make a name for himself as a DJ, he chose Afrika Bambaataa, to honor an ancient African Chief.
  • Kaman Daa’ood, a 1960s poet (one of the Watts Prophets) also used double vowels in his name.
  • Whether or not these are accurate representations of African pronunciations, their “differentness” communicates a rejection of the Biblical names most often given to Americans.
  • There was a circular effect among celebrities—whether in athletics or entertainment—as when Cassius Clay changed to Muhammad Ali and Lew Alcindor changed to Kareem Abdul Jabar to honor Islam.
the why and what of hip hop spelling
The WHY and WHAT of Hip Hop Spelling
  • Taking the right to name yourself is a mark of individuality.
  • With many African Americans, it also reflects ethnic pride.
  • And both on international and domestic fronts, it reveals junex vs. senex conflicts. It is a way for young people to declare their independence.
in conclusion
In Conclusion
  • The influence of Hip Hop spelling will continue to spread not so much in the spelling of specific words and names as in the attitude that it’s okay, or even GOOD, to devise your own spelling.
  • This is especially true with the names that parents devise for their babies.
  • While many parents—especially African Americans who grew up with Hip Hop—take pride in devising what they claim are phonetically spelled names, the variety in the spelling of terms used throughout the community hints at the enormity of getting agreement on what letters communicate what sounds.
  • Teachers of first graders tell me that they can no longer assume the spelling of even the shortest and easiest-to-pronounce names as shown by these four variations: Amy, Aimee, Amey, and Aimi.
  • Arizona Humanities Council Symposium in Tempe, AZ July 2009.
  • Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang. St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
  • HipHop America by Nelson George. Penguin Books, 1998.