Amid the tragedy that occurred at Travis Scott’s Astroworld, what does rage and raging in rap look like moving forward?
In Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, the rage is primarily placed on Limp Bizkit as the band goes into their staple song, “Break Stuff.” The sequence — from bassist Sam Rivers flipping off the crowd as he walks onstage to fans tearing off pieces of wood (and riding them across the audience) from a nearby sound tower — is meant to convey the moment the festival took a turn for the worse, the nu-metal group propelling the energy of the event into something chaotic and destructive. Attendees interviewed provide necessary context: how festival goers (most of them drunk, unruly, and young white men) were already angry and frustrated for a number of reasons — high temperatures, expensive water, and overflowing portable toilets (which resulted in many attendees being covered in piss and shit). But, ultimately, it’s Limp Bizkit that people point the blame at, as scenes from their performance are meant to imply that it’s their fault the crowd’s rage took a turn for the worse. It’s understandable that Woodstock ’99 has resurfaced amid the tragedy that occurred last weekend at Travis Scott‘s Astroworld in Houston.
In an effort to understand the disaster, people are trying to pinpoint who to blame, just like the 1999 music festival. Was it a lack of security? The capitalist and corporate greed of those at the top overseeing Astroworld? Unruly youth broken down by the effects of an ongoing pandemic? Travis Scott himself? Everyone has their own opinion on who or what is responsible, the tragedy bringing issues of live music safety to the forefront — and raging’s place in it, especially in rap.
Raging has primarily come to embody the practices associated with music genres like hardcore and punk, specifically moshing and stage diving. Although contemporary rap didn’t bring these two practices into the genre — Beastie Boys (who originally started out as a punk band) were known for stage-diving at shows in the late ’80s while Onyx normalized moshing in their 1993 hit single “Slam” — it has popularized it. Scott, and a handful of other mosh pit and stage diving-inciting acts like Odd Future and A$AP Mob, all came up in the early ’10s, and brought with them a raucous energy that has been passed on to current rap stars like Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Rico Nasty, and Trippie Redd.
But it’s Scott that serves as rap’s raging provocateur: the Texas artist has defined and redefined raging for almost a decade now, so much so that he has even named his fans “ragers.” Rage is an important and necessary emotion in music. In 2015, the University of Queensland (an Australian public research institution in Brisbane), released a study that shared that listening to “extreme” music — chaotic, loud, powerful and emotional vocals that contained themes of anger, anxiety, depression, social isolation, and loneliness — may actually have a calming effect on listeners, as well as help them process their emotions and feelings in a healthy way. The practices of raging, particularly moshing, can also be a means of releasing emotions in a healthy way.
“I think the draw of moshing…you share that excitement if everybody likes the artist,” Paul Wertheimer, a crowd safety expert said in a 2019 interview with Genius. “So it’s a communal experience — it’s physical, it’s consensual physical contact.”
However, in that same interview, Wertheimer also spoke on the dangers of moshing, saying: “It’s hitting other people, it’s knocking people over… it can be very violent and it can be bloody and it can be deadly.”
Raging has manifested in a number of volatile ways at rap shows in recent history. In 2014, Tyler, the Creator was arrested for allegedly inciting a riot during a SXSW performance; 2017 saw a free XXXTentacion show in Tampa end in a riot after the concert was canceled last minute because of overcrowding; and a similar incident took place in 2021 when a Carti show in Houston (only mere weeks before what happened at Astroworld) was canceled, resulting in fans rioting outside the NRG Arena where the show was supposed to take place.
As for Scott, the artist has a track record of incidents like this. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct after he encouraged fans at Lollapalooza to climb over security barricades and onto the stage. In 2017, he was arrested on charges of inciting a riot, disorderly conduct, and endangering the welfare of a minor after a concert in Arkansas, where authorities said he encouraged fans to rush the stage. That same year, he was also sued by a fan who was allegedly pushed from a third-story balcony after Scott encouraged him to jump during a live performance in New York City, which resulted in the fan being paralyzed. (His reference to this incident in his 2018 song “STARGAZING” — “And it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries / I got ’em stage divin’ out the nosebleeds” — has come back to haunt him recently.)
Rage and raging is crucial to Scott’s identity, even if his own definition of either is pretty vague. In a 2015 video with GQ titled “How to Rage With Travis Scott,” the rapper talked about the meaning behind raging, sharing that his desire to become a professional wrestler as a child is what inspired him to make his concerts “feel like it was the WWF.”
“Raging and, you know, having fun and expressing good feelings is something that I plan on doing and spreading across the globe,” Scott said. “We don’t like people that just stand — whether you’re Black, white, brown, green, purple, yellow, blue, we don’t want you standing around.”
The allure of Scott’s concerts is this extreme: pushing the bounds of rowdiness and providing a space for his fans to express their rage. That’s the thrill of music that incites rage, especially in a live setting — that you have this communal place and, within that, these pockets where participants can mosh and find camaraderie with each other in doing so. But even in rage there can be safety. Amid the Astroworld tragedy, those from a hardcore and punk background have stressed mosh pit etiquette, something that Scott’s really young fanbase may not be aware of. And this is where the disconnect occurs: when an artist like Scott, who adopts punk aesthetics and sensibilities to craft his identity and persona, fails to also adopt — and enforce — the rules that keep rage maintained (even if slightly), it can add additional problems to a performance that’s already unsafe on a structural level.
Raging will continue to be a presence in rap. But, as Astroworld has shown, trying to grow and sustain a brand built off raging can come with disastrous results. (Even the once-anarchic Tyler has scaled back as he’s gotten more successful; his shows still lively but drastically less chaotic than his Odd Future days.) Those that have cultivated an identity and sound through raging will have to tread lightly about how they engage with it moving forward, understanding that raging can transform into something beyond their control, in an instant.