Swag Surfin’ [Photo Gallery]
**THE TEXT BELOW ORIGINALLY APPEARS IN THE DEC./JAN. 2012 ISSUE OF XXL, ON STANDS NOW**
At its core, hip-hop is an interactive art form. From b-boy battles to freestyle cyphers, some sort of back-and-forth component is almost always involved. Lately, though, the usual call and response at rap shows has evolved into a jump and catch instead, as rampant stage diving has resurfaced. “We learned from Wu-Tang—[they] were definitely the ones in hip-hop to start it,” says Bad Boy Records rapper Machine Gun Kelly, specifically citing Method Man and his partner in rhyme Redman. The pair, rarities in rap, have been executing the stunt for more than a decade.
The first artists to take the plunge into the crowd were rockers, ranging from punk icon Iggy Pop to Axl Rose, the Guns N’ Roses front man who was known to dive into the audience to attack unruly concertgoers.
Only recently has stage diving become an accepted rap practice, indicative of hip-hop’s continuing shift toward punk sensibilities (skinny jeans, skateboarding and guitar playing, for instance). Now a slew of acts are known for regularly splashing into audiences, including Wiz Khalifa and Tyler, the Creator. “I like to connect with the crowd,” says B.o.B, another crowd surfer. “It’s almost like your way of showing the crowd that you trust them—because it’s not always the safest thing.”
Calling it a leap of faith might be an understatement. “I lost so much shit,” says Big Sean of his stage-diving days. Now he strolls into the front row for flicks with fans. “I remember, one time, I elbowed this girl in her head by accident, and she was, like, really hurt and crying.”
Other times, rappers feel the pain themselves. In August 2010, Waka Flocka Flame plunged into a Minnesota audience only to sink within seconds. Curren$y broke his foot during a dip into the crowd at Rock the Bells over the summer. And Tyler also broke his foot, this past June, while attempting one of his frequent stage dives, yet it didn’t stop him from giving it another go—cast and all—the following month. (And that was just the beginning: See page 34 for proof.)
Despite the dangers, rappers show no signs of grounding the high-flying act. Machine Gun Kelly has even introduced a new iteration, which he calls the Slim-N-Surf, where MGK stands on his hype man Slim’s back while Slim gets passed through the crowd on his stomach. “If you’re gonna crowd surf, you gotta do badass jumps and shit,” he says. “You gotta go super hard.”
Surf’s up. —Adam Fleischer