Hip-Hop

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‘The Turn Up is Real’: The Art of the Stage Dive with Rapper Vic Mensa

To see more of Vic’s crowd surfing pics and videos, check out @vicmensa on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.

The horn is like a call to arms — a quick pulsing rhythm before the drumbeat drops and all hell breaks loose. People jump, mosh pits are formed and Vic Mensa (@vicmensa) once again goes flying off into the crowd.

“The first time I ever performed that song I knew exactly what it was,” says the 22-year-old rapper about his certified banger of a track, “U Mad.” “Now it’s pandemonium.”

Vic’s overall show takes more cues from rock concerts than rap gigs. That’s on purpose. About a year ago, he bought a collection of concert DVDs from Rage Against the Machine, Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello and others, as a source of inspiration. Really, though he’s been prepping for this moment since he was young. As a kid, Vic would play Guns N’ Roses riffs and jump off his parents’ couch pretending he was Slash. Now he wants to bring that same energy to his own live performances.

“The turn up is real,” he says. “I am trying to do something different from what everybody else in rap is doing — just have my music conveyed differently live. It’s not just beats playing. And a lot of rappers do rap over vocals. That’s not my show. I am trying to do something that’s way more alive and flowing and in the moment.”

And what’s more in the moment than diving into the middle of a raucous crowd? Vic first started stage diving when he was 17, after learning from a guy named Hollywood Hulk, at a local club in his hometown of Chicago. Hulk’s tips were short but sweet: make your target clear, prime the audience so they know you’re coming, then take off.

“It’s just spur of the moment,” says Vic. “It’s almost like the crowd and the stage and me and the band and whoever else is a part of it are all one and I am just jumping into whatever I’m inside of. It’s like one big energy.”

Still, jump into the crowd and you might get your jewelry snatched, your lip busted or your wallet ripped from your pocket. For Vic, there was one show, in Santa Ana, California, where he had his gold chain taken off his neck after diving through the audience.

“I wanted that s— the f— back, so all my homies ran up and that s— turned up,” he says. “People try to snatch hats off your head. And the hats they might f— around and not give back. Like, the chain, he was like, I might have to give this back or they gonna f— me up.”

Risks aside, don’t expect Vic to stop crowd surfing. Like any good frontman, he’s not one to play it safe. He’s there to evoke feeling, emotion and movement from people in any way that he can.

“My whole approach is just to disrupt,” he says. “So that’s just what that is. It looks different, it sounds different, it feels different — so it’s not going to be understood perfectly. People that get it, get it.”

—Instagram @music