Most of us don’t even bat an eye when we refer to rappers by the names of some of the world’s most notorious drug lords and mobsters. The fascination with the gangster lifestyle has become a fixture for these artists and building these names are vital to their career.
But what is the purpose of renaming yourself after someone who has already existed and infamously at that? Why would you want to live up to someone else’s name and reputation?
Perhaps naming themselves after the gritty figures will bring them the same respect and fear of those who held the name before them. Maybe these gangsters are whom they truly look up to as these infamous people did have more money than most of us would see in a lifetime.
One of multi-platinum rapper Nas’ names was Nas Escobar, whose real name is Nasir Jones. He named himself after the Columbian drug lord, Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, who became so rich that Forbes Magazine named him the seventh richest man in the world. This status is a far cry from where Nas lived in the projects in Queensbridge and quite possibly, which could be his reason for choosing such a name.
Noreaga, a platinum solo rapper as well as half of rap group Capone-n-Noreaga, named himself after the infamous military dictator of Panama, Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno, who was detained as a prisoner of war and tried on counts such as money laundering and drug trafficking. He is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Paris.
Even historic figures are included. King Tut, known as the Pharaoh of Egypt, was worshipped as a god. Two men in the hip hop industry have renamed themselves after this king.
This first is Walter Johnson, who is more popular for being involved in Tupac Shakur’s shooting in 1994 rather than the music business. Johnson was killed in January of 1997. The second is more well-known as a music figure. Darnell Brittingham, a rapper among Camron’s group Dipset, also renamed himself as King Tut. Recently, he made news for allegedly stabbing a female and then shooting himself just forty eight hours after being released from prison.
Real or fake, rappers seem to name themselves after the most notorious characters. One of the arguably best rappers, Notorious B.I.G., referred to himself as the black Frank White, who was a drug lord in the movie, King of New York
Scarface, solo rapper, member of rap group Geto Boys, and former president of Def Jam South, named himself after the ultimate gangster movie, Scarface. It is a remake of the 1932 movie portrayal of gangster, Al Capone.
Al Pacino who plays the main character, Tony Montana, gives a riveting performance about the ultimate come-up and his character is revered as a symbolic figure on how to rise from nothing. It is no wonder that a lot of rappers who came from poverty make constant references to Montana. Lines from the Scarface are constantly repeated in hip hop songs from artists as Lil’ Wayne and G-Unit. Fat Joe has gone so far as to get a tattoo of Al Pacino as Tony Montana.
It seems as though many rappers name themselves after leaders of crime families, especially the most recognized name of all, John Gotti.
Irv Gotti, whose real name is Irving Lorenzo, used this stage last name in honor of John Gotti. Although Irv is not a rapper, he is responsible for bringing some of the most popular ones to light, such as Jay-Z, DMX, and Ja Rule.
South Florida’s very own Rick Ross has released his album, Teflon Don, which was John Gotti’s nickname after being acquitted so many times. Ross has many nicknames which seem to all be affiliated within the same realm.
As the self-proclaimed “Biggie of his city” said, “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover, whipping work, hallelujah”. Larry Hoover, the alleged leader of the Gangster Disciples gang, is currently serving a life sentence for drug conspiracy and extortion. Big Meech is the leader of the Black Mafia Family (BMF) and is presently incarcerated. Ross also has a song called BMF, which stands for Blowin Money Fast. The rapper has tweeted that Meech “embraces his joint and movement”
Though, not everyone is happy with Ross’ many aliases. The main name we all know Rick Ross by actually belongs to a drug kingpin who ran quite a drug empire with thousands of employees. Initially sentenced to life in prison, he was released after serving twelve years. The original Rick Ross is now suing the rapper for his identity.
In addition, John Gotti’s grandson, Carmine Agnello, has also expressed his dissatisfaction towards the rapper for using his grandfather’s nickname, Teflon Don. In the New York Daily News, Agnello has stated, “I think he’s a great artist, but you can’t start calling yourself that to sell records. He wants to go for that whole image, but hey, be yourself”. Gotti’s grandson also added, “Only in America can you go from being a corrections officer to calling yourself Teflon Don”.
It appears that some rappers have such an admiration towards these figures, they forget that the youth looks up to them and wants to emulate what they do. It also seems as they neglect to portray the other side of this life, the side where many of them spend a great deal of their lives in jail or wind up dead. A lot of them don’t hear what the original gangsters they named themselves after are now saying.
The original Rick Ross alongside Frank Lucas, whose life was portrayed in the movie American Gangster, has been encouraging the youth to stay away from the hustlers. Ross has been quoted saying, “You have to think long term and know what’s going to benefit you in the long run”.
Lucas, who is now confined to a wheelchair, told a New York Magazine interviewer, “I have remorse”. He currently tells kids to go and get their education and “stop listening to the guy on the corner with the gold chain and big Cadillacs”.
Wu-Tang rapper and leader, Rza, played a detective in the movie American Gangster. He wants those that glorify these characters to remember what happened in the end. As stated in L.A. Focus, “Even though Frank Lucas only did fifteen years jail time, if you meet him on the streets now he’s basically crippled. Life will get back at you.”
Rapper 50 Cent, who named himself “after a stick-up kid from Brooklyn who used to rob rappers”, made an insightful statement on this topic in the book, From Pieces to Weight. “If I was going to take a gangster’s name, then I want it at least to be that of someone who would say “What’s up” to me on the street if we ever crossed paths. I couldn’t see Gotti or Escobar giving me the time of day.”