Arts, Culture, and Entertainment

Open up! How the hip-hop scene has evolved into mosh pits

The tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival turned attention to how hip-hop performances have encouraged an aggressive style to enjoy rap shows.

Travis Scott points the mic at the audience during a concert.

Many hip-hop rappers such as Sheck West and Ski Mask The Slump God are known for their high-energy performances that can feature anything from crowd-surfing and stage diving to head-banging in mosh pits. Hip-hop fans can often be seen throwing themselves from the stage to the crowd on top of one another and opening up circles for mosh pits.

The culture around mosh pits has come under heavy scrutiny following the tragic deaths of eight attendants at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas. CNN said the full Nov. 5 festival was so tightly packed that audience members were pushed towards the stage. Victims were crushed, could not breathe and passed out.

While mosh pits may seem like a normal ritual in concerts and performances across the musical spectrum, they have not always been accepted in hip-hop. Mosh pits have been around since the 70s in the punk-rock scene, per Variety Store TV. Alongside the Punk Pogo, where punks would dance and bounce up and down at concerts, the dance style of slamming into one another evolved as more intense styles of mosh pits.

It’s speculated that hip-hop started to gravitate toward mosh pits with the Beastie Boys. From there, it emerged at the concerts of Public Enemy, Anthrax and Limp Bizkit. However, in the last decade, Odd Future took moshing to the forefront of a new generation of hip-hop. Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt and Syd and Matt Martians made their own hip-hop rules, which incorporated this skater-punk aesthetic. Since, mosh pits at rap shows have coincided with the genre’s shift away from the original “beat box” style and toward more driven and intense sounds.

While “old hip-hop heads” are used to seeing fans enthustiastically nodding their heads, performances like those of Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug and A$AP Mob have encouraged this cultural shift that has led to rap acts adopting performance styles like mosh pits.

Sara Peña, a hip-hop fan and Astroworld Festival attendee, said she’s experienced being in a mosh pit but found it to be an unpleasant experience.

“I saw A$AP Rocky at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival and I literally had three different guys collapse on my shoulders,” Peña said. “I’ve never felt so suffocated, ever. After that experience, I realized I don’t want to put myself in that situation because, at that point, it’s not even enjoyable.”

Peña said while she was at Astroworld, she avoided the mosh pits on several occasions. “I’m there for the music,” she said. “I’m not there literally risking my life.”

Hip-hop journalist and music festival goer Victoria Hernandez said she believes newer artists have included mosh pitting in their concerts because they’re influenced by the punk-rock genre.

“A$AP Rocky is someone who comes to my mind. He’s been very vocal about bad brains being an influence on him,” Hernandez said. “These newer artists like Playboi Carti carry this punk mentality with them too. Their music has been influenced by punk, therefore the concerts are more influenced by punk.”

Hip-hop DJ and media personality RaymondT agrees and said this is more of an influence perspective.

“All of these mosh pits come from a whole other area like punk rock,” he said. “That’s where that element started and carried over into. And if we look at hip-hop today, it’s almost like hip-hop has taken more of the rock star life. Calling themselves hip hop stars of today, your modern day rock stars.”

While mosh pits have been integrated into this new wave of hip-hop, the fatal Astroworld Fest has been a wake up call to concert-goers.

“I hope this creates more of a responsibility from the artists to say, ‘Let’s have fun, do what we do, but let’s be safe,” RaymondT said.

“I think the security and everything moving forward, [...] they are going to return, they’re going to look at these scenarios and be like, ‘Okay, how do we prevent this from happening again?’”