It's not unusual for hip-hop artists to swap and change stage names, the most recent example being Snoop Dogg, who renamed himself Snoop Lion in July last year. Perhaps the most famous came in 2001 when Sean Combs changed his stage name from Puff Daddy to P. Diddy and still later to Sean John. More fluctuating still is the artist Madlib - born Otis Jackson Jr. - who goes by 29 additional monikers.
The 39-year-old LA-based DJ, producer and MC will perform for the first time in China with his Medicine Show Tour at Yugong Yishan on February 21.
But whereas going from Daddy to Diddy was a purposeful re-branding following a nasty legal case, Madlib's approach to self-promotion has always carried a whiff of horseplay about it.
Madlib's distance from the limelight is in part the result of deliberately misinforming fans about his projects and identity. His tendency to keep audiences guessing doesn't stop at his many names. The blurb introducing Thursday's gig on the Yugong Yishan website states that he was once an American TV comedian and associate of Malcolm X who previously escaped the World War II draft.
Gimmicks aside, hip hop fans at Thursday's show will be there for the music.
Supporting Madlib will be Beijing rapper Zhang Rui, who prefers the stage name Nasty Ray. Ray, 25, says he is a fan whose knowledge of Madlib transcends all fake-outs from the rapper.
"Madlib is more a producer than a singer. I'm also aware he goes by the MC name Quasimoto," Ray says. He considers himself among "real fans of hip-hop" who purposely avoid mainstream acts in favor of a more "niche sound."
As an MC, Ray says he, too, adopts a second pseudonym, Little Tiger. He says he does not use the name to perform, however, as he worries about confusing the audience more than Madlib.
Madlib's sample-heavy producing style includes signature rhythms often timed just after each beat. This reflects Madlib's reputation as a prankster, whose slightly awkward presentation of his work has kept listeners on their toes since his collaboration with producer J. Dilla that bore the acclaimed album Champion Sound in 2003.
Xia Ruhao, 18, a student from Beijing No.101 Middle School, says he's more awed than confused by Madlib's constant rotation of names.
Yesterday's New Quintet, a moniker used by Madlib for his more jazz-influenced work, exemplifies this mystique, Xia says.
"It's unbelievable to me how Madlib creates acts which can be touted as jazz groups but are in fact solo projects in disguise. He's just amazing that way," he says.
Xia says he is thrilled about Madlib's first gig in Beijing. However, he doesn't think Madlib will attract a wider Chinese audience due to his convoluted profile.
While Madlib fans are generally able to tell apart various names among Madlib's projects, separating truth from legend remains a task, especially for promoters.
Thursday's show is promoted by Sonically Transmitted Disease (S.T.D.). The Shanghai-based promoters affirm online Madlib's fictitious career as the star of hit US sitcom Quasimoto and Son. Their write-up states, "This guy can act and make you laugh, all while spinning mad beats on the side."
Madlib continues to adopt a series of roles as a musician. But actually making a sitcom appearance seems the most unlikely prank of all.