Rap is a sensational craze that has taken modern music by storm. It has increasingly gained popularity over the past forty years and will continue to gain momentum as new rappers emerge on the scene. A relatively new phenomenon amongst new rappers is going by the name “Lil.”
A lot of rappers include“Lil” in their name for various reasons. Although some like to credit the frequent use of the stage name to trends of pop culture, “Lil” has roots in African American history and culture and often is inspired by societal aspects rappers express in their music.
If you’re interested in learning more about the racial and societal inspirations behind the name “Lil,” read on!
Racial Influence on Rapper Names
Because rap and hip hop culture was mainly inspired by minority groups, it comes as no surprise that many of the names used in hip hop today have some sort of racial derivative. This is especially true with regard to African Americans and their culture.
Nicknames within the African American community are one of the oldest traditions that have been passed on over the years. A common theme in early African American culture was to provide descriptive nicknames for family and friends.
The origin of these descriptive nicknames began with the term “golla,” meaning from Africa. Golla was a common nickname placed in front of someone’s name to indicate their race. There were racially indicative names used across many cultures, but it was most prevalent among African Americans.
As African American culture progressed, they developed many more descriptive words that were placed in front of someone’s name. These ranged from colors, character traits, and size. Many young African American boys began receiving nicknames like “Little Tim,” “Little Joe,” or “Little Pete.”
As years went on, terms of big and little were passed on outside of family and friends. Gang activity heavily used these names as well. Gang members were given nicknames inside of their gangs. For example, if one member was particularly flighty, the other gang members may call him “Crazy.” Then, if Crazy were to take a young person under their wing, they would then be “Big Crazy” and “Little Crazy.”
Sometimes the “little” term was deemed to someone based on resemblance to other gang members or even being related to someone in the gang.
Although gangs are typically viewed in a negative light, minority and majority members alike are accredited with keeping the terms “big” and “little” alive, so they could be used in hip hop culture of the 20th and 21st centuries.
As the practice of these nicknames was already set in place, it makes perfect sense that so many rappers use some derivative of “little” in their stage name. Rap and hip hop were predominantly established and influenced by African American culture. Many artists were taking nicknames they had already been given as their stage names.
As hip hop progressed and more people, of all races, began their careers in rap, the name “Lil” became somewhat sensationalized. It began being used so much that it became subject to ridicule. Sadly, there are many artists who only use the name “Lil” because it is trendy and cool. However, it should not negate the fact that the term has a rich history and background.
Societal Influences on Rapper Names
Another, lesser-known and accepted, factor on the name “Lil” comes from societal views of things considered “big.” Starting in around 2006, there became a distrust on all things “big.” People started having a problem with Big Banks, Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Business, and many other things that seemed too vast and powerful to be fair to the common American.
People liked the idea of small towns, small businesses, and small everyday people you knew and trusted. People found comfort in the safety from exploitation among these smaller organizations. Rappers began to get inspirations for names from this antitrust idea.
Though this is not the most common proposal on where the name “Lil” comes from, it is still something to be considered when the term “Lil” is considered outside of a racial or trendy perspective.
Examples of “Lil” Rappers
The list of rappers who have incorporated the term “Lil” into their stage name could go on for quite some time. In fact, the list would be five hundred and eighty-two names long. Though it’s not very feasible to discuss every one of the many “Lil” rappers, here is an excellent place to read about some of the most notable.
Lil Troy may not have too much background on where his name came from, but he did set the precedent for rappers using the popular term in their name. He was the first documented “Lil” rapper when he coined the name in 1988, almost 20 years after rap and hip hop emerged as a new genre.
Lil Durk derived his stage name after his father’s real-life nickname. His father was named Dante but went by Durk for short. He was then named after his father’s nickname and was named Durk. He then went by the name “Lil Durk” when he started performing as a tribute to his father.
Lil Jon’s name was born way before he started pursuing a career in rap. He may also have one of the simplest names on this list. In high school, he hung out in a group with two other men named John. One John was a really big guy, and our Jon was the smallest of the group. The three then went by John, Big John, and Lil Jon, and the name stuck with him through his hip hop career.
Lil Uzi Vert was originally known as just “Vert” when he first stepped onto the hip hop scene. It wasn’t until he was already walking the red carpet that he got the inspiration to add to his stage name. Someone said to him on the red carpet that he “rapped fast, like a Lil uzi,” referring to the machine gun. Since then, he has gone by Lil Uzi Vert as a tribute to his insane speed.
Lil Yachty got his name from being in a group called “The Yacht Club.” All of the other members of this group were substantially older than him, so he took on the name “Lil Yachty” to pay tribute to the time he spent in the group. The name plus its background also explain why he tends to have an ongoing nautical theme in his music.
Lil Windex definitely has one of the most unique names, both in actual name and origin. Though it is hard for the average person to fathom the mind of an artist, this is a new extreme. He said he got the name “Windex” from his friends because he was always drinking the blue glass cleaner.
He then added the “Lil” to his name to avoid being sued by Windex and also as a tribute to the size of his manhood. Creative names in the hip hop industry are plentiful, but this one might just take first prize.
Five hundred and eighty-two people decided to pursue a career in rap under some name starting with “Lil,” and now it’s not such a secret as to why. “Lil” had come from years of African American culture, which was then carried on by many races affiliated with gang culture before it was finally transferred over to hip hop to become a rap name sensation.
It’s hard to know if the “Lil” trend is about to wither away and die down, or if it’s only the beginning of a long line of “Lil’s” to come in the future.
- Genius: Why Are There So Many “Lil” Rappers?
- Quora: Why do so many new rappers have ‘Lil’ in their name, such as Lil Peep, Lil Purpp (smokepurpp) and Lil Pump?
- Reddit: Why are so many rappers called “lil”? : NoStupidQuestions
- Complex: How Did All These Lil Rappers Get Their Names?
- Giddy Up America: There Are So Many Rappers With Lil in Their Name
- High Snobriety: A Lil Ranking of ‘Lil’ Rappers From Worst to Best