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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. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: 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
  • 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
  • Creative spelling is part of Hip Hops rejection
    of the status quo. In the literature we found
    these alternate spellings of DJ
  • Deejay DJing DJin DJn
  • 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
  • In the late 1970s MCs (Master of Ceremonies)
    became almost as important as DJs.
  • Various spellings include
  • mc, emcee, eemceein, MCing, MCn and Femcee
    for a woman.
  • Run DMC was named to honor the speed with which
    he ran between turntables.

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
  • 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 Bones 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

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 didnt 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
  • 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

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 Spellingas in These
  • Traditional Hip Hop
  • American Colors Amerikkan Colors
  • Deaf Jam Def Jam
  • Deaf Leopard Def Leppard
  • Craft Works Kraftwerks
  • Mamas Mamaz
  • Rough Riders Records Ruff Ryers Records
  • Soldiers Souljahs
  • Stacks Stax
  • Houdini Whodini

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
  • When Jon Stewart interviewed Snoop Dogg in
    December of 2009, the singer said that as a kid
    he used to love watching Charles Schulzs 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 ones 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

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
  • 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

  • DOZE
  • UPSKI Wimsatt
  • BMOC
  • BOM
  • EPMD
  • KOS
  • NAC
  • ODB
  • RSO
  • URB

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
  • 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.

  • 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 Daaood, 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
    celebritieswhether in athletics or
    entertainmentas 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
  • Taking the right to name yourself is a mark of
  • 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
  • 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 its
    okay, or even GOOD, to devise your own spelling.
  • This is especially true with the names that
    parents devise for their babies.
  • While many parentsespecially African Americans
    who grew up with Hip Hoptake 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

  • Arizona Humanities Council Symposium in Tempe, AZ
    July 2009.
  • Cant Stop Wont Stop A History of the Hip-Hop
    Generation by Jeff Chang. St. Martins Press,
  • HipHop America by Nelson George. Penguin Books,