For every hip-hop concertgoer there is a memorable concert story, and for every concert story, there is bound to be some bittersweet tale of being absorbed and shredded by a turbulent mosh pit.
As of late, moshing has become a regular occurrence at rap shows of both the underground and the mainstream. They are often whirling dervishes of swinging fists and flying bodies. They are landing zones for stage diving artists. They are also cathartic, energetic expressions of angst and fandom. You may walk out of the pit with a transformed soul, or one less shoe and a few bruises. Yet as celebrities have joined the fray and considering its dubious past in rock, punk and metal, will moshing ever come to an end in hip-hop?
Though common in shows of various genres across the globe, moshing still remains an enigma. Locating that first concert where a mosh pit formed and fans threw their bodies against one another to the sound of the music is a difficult task. One hardcore enthusiast said moshing began in New York City in 1981 during a Black Flag performance. Others claim moshing first happened in an Orange County club, also in the early 80s. Its entrance into hip-hop is equally hazy.
Describing the nature of a mosh pit is just as problematic.
“The mosh pit is a great place to reach a state of pure being. It’s also a great place to break your glasses, your jaw, or your spirit,” one critic wrote. A culture writer observed that mosh pits are often “young, male and white.” A Cambridge University medical journal called moshing “a source of increased morbidity and mortality.” Lil Jon, the man who brought crunk into the mainstream, once called mosh pits “an escape from the madness of the world” and “a brotherhood.” But recently, some artists have been questioning who is allowed in this brotherhood, and who is left out? Mosh pits may have their roots in anarchic communities of punk rock and grunge, and anti-establishment hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys. But with celebrities recently joining tamed versions of mosh pits across the country, is moshing now a mere fad of the mainstream establishment, destined to die off from overuse and overexposure?
“I don’t personally like going in,” said Martiza Ortiz, 21, an avid hip-hop concertgoer, speaking on mosh pits. The last time she willingly entered a mosh pit was on her birthday in 2013 during a Tyler the Creator show in Santa Cruz.
“I was in the middle of a mosh pit, but as I was trying to get out of it, this guy punched me, and I got a black eye—on my birthday,” Ortiz said. She punched back and the two exchanged blows until the venue security kicked the man out.
“I like to tell that story ‘cause Tyler definitely gave me a shout out during the concert,” Ortiz said. “He was like, ‘Shout out to the crazy bitch throwing punches out here.’ Or something like that.”
It is fitting that Tyler would be filmed taking part in the ritual, himself, during a Kanye West performance at The Forum in Los Angeles, as a part of Kanye’s 2016 Saint Pablo tour. Though Tyler was the most unabashed of them all, Tyler was merely a part of a long, sweaty trail of celebrities who moshed along with the average fan during the Saint Pablo tour.
August 2016, flanked by security guards, Kim Kardashian joined the pit in Kanye’s Madison Square Garden performance. A week later, also at Madison Square Garden, Kardashian jumped back into the pit, this time with her younger sisters, Kendall and Kylie Jenner. Jonah Hill and Vic Mensa were apparently somewhere there, too. During the tour’s stop in Cleveland, Lebron James and other members of the Cavaliers were seen in the mosh pit. And even before stepping onto the Oracle Arena court for a regular season game in a Warriors jersey, Kevin Durant raged on the Oakland arena’s floor in the pit with the fans, drawing a shout out from Kanye during his performance of “Famous.”
In an article for DJ Booth, Hershel Pandya, a Toronto-based writer wrote that the Beastie Boys were responsible for the raucous introduction between the two worlds—punk and hip-hop—mosh pits acting as the bridge. Pandya also credits Public Enemy as a crossover catalyst, who at one point toured with heavy metal band, Anthrax.
Pandya characterizes moshing as a phenomenon that loosely floated between hip-hop shows in the 1990s, popping up at shows of Onyx, Wu Tang Clan, or Busta Rhymes.
Recent years, where the practice has been more widespread and common, hip-hop is moving with a new set of mosh pit orchestrators: Tyler the Creator and Travis Scott, who have both been arrested for inciting a riot, Lil Uzi Vert, who is noted for brining a punkish air to his performances, and the wave of underground Soundcloud rappers breaking into the mainstream like Lil Pump, Smokepurpp, and XXXTentacion.
Counter-movements against moshing have already been waged inside rock, punk, and metal scenes. Some bands have created “safe spaces,” for their performances, an attempt to make their shows “less intimidating for female fans.” Smashing Pumpkins famously spoke against mosh pits in 1995, only to see a 17-year-old female fan trampled to death inside a mosh pit during a Dublin, Ireland performance a year later, and again in 2007, an unconscious fan was dragged out of a mosh pit during a performance in Vancouver, Canada and later died in the hospital.
Though no mosh pit-related fatalities have been recorded at rap shows, there is no telling if and when hip-hop will host its own reckoning for the aggressive crowd phenomenon. But for now, we can get used to the sight of celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenners leaving their VIP sections to join the raging hordes, and we can revel at the concertgoer’s pit stories, a black eye on a birthday, and all.