Twenty-one-year-old rapper Rico Nasty is reclaiming and redefining the word nasty. Rico, born Maria Kelly, is doing it in multiple means — her stage name, her acclaimed Nasty project, released in June, and her live shows which have become notorious for inciting all-girl mosh pits.
Whether you’ve been to one of Rico’s live concerts or not, social media has documented the particular rowdiness of her shows and the female-dominated mosh pits that occur throughout but most notably whenever she performs Nasty standout “Rage.” The gelled spikes of Rico’s hair can be seen thrashing up and down in tandem with the waves of the crowd, and oftentimes the audience starts moshing before the beat even drops. The anticipation is palpable: it’s as if Rico’s fan base — largely women of color — can’t wait to release the stress of the day, which immediately melts into a community of confident rage upon entering the venue.
Brittany Garcia, a Latinx lesbian who’s been to three of Rico’s concerts across California, shares how the artist’s mosh pits are a safe space to express anger in a healthy way.
“I was having a really bad day before the Oakland show, I had lost my phone and [my case] had my credit card and my IDs in it — I was crying,” Garcia said. “But once I got into Rico’s pit I completely forgot.”
In a study conducted by recreational specialist Tyler Edwards in 2013 on moshing’s effects on stress release, he observed that forms of therapeutic recreation, of which hardcore dancing is a main example, offers an outlet for people to express versions of themselves most people don’t see. Oftentimes, that version of one’s self is a more vulnerable side. Though Edwards’ findings show that women are generally more apprehensive to participate in a mosh pit than men are, Rico’s rawness situates her as a firmly empowered woman, and that symbolism on stage bleeds into the crowd every time.
“[The mosh pit] was very therapeutic and made me forget about my own struggles for a few hours which was nice,” Garcia said. “Being around women who go through the same kind of scrutiny and problems that you do reminds you that you aren’t alone. We’re all there for the same reason, to heal and have fun.”
According to Edwards, “being around social groups helps you open up” and become more connected to people. So the healing that manifests both within the self and amongst the crowd at Rico’s concerts offers real catharsis. “Once [someone feels] connected, they start socializing more in other aspects of their life because of that live music experience they had,” Edwards wrote in the study.
Rico has a handle on the importance of sparing young women feelings of alienation, as evidenced by her highly interactive sets.
“Before I was an artist I would go to regular concerts and something that was always important for me was having a safe space for women to just enjoy themselves,” Rico said. “And I feel like that’s what my show is; no matter how rowdy it may get, you know, it’s all women, and half the time if men are at my shows I feel like I have to ask them [if they’re OK] because the women go so fuckin’ hard. I feel like they just own it…they own that shit ’cause they probably can’t act like that at anyone else’s concert.”
Madison Dias, a young teen from Washington D.C. who’s seen Rico perform in her home region, the DMV, twice, finds solidarity among other women at her live shows.
“Rico’s music is very empowering for women, and it unites us,” Dias said. “Being surrounded by women in a concert atmosphere is inspiring because it demonstrates how much we need to stand together and support each other, especially in our society where we may be seen as the lesser gender.”
The mosh pit, a universe inside the larger universe of the concert, is a world free of judgment. It’s a world of controlled chaos, which sometimes gets interpreted from the outside as aimless violence. But really it can be a unifying environment of self-love and self-care.
Heather Hissong, a fan from Detroit, feels similarly about the community Rico’s concerts help build.
“Females aren’t supposed to act out or if they do they’re considered ‘ghetto,’ ‘crazy,’ or ‘too much.’ Her concert helped me release a different part of myself I didn’t know was waiting to come out,” she said.
Even Rico herself notices the bonds that are created in the crowd.
“You can see them making friends they’d never usually make…they’re side-by-side, they know all the words, you’d think they’re best friends,” she said.
Isa Canal, who’s attended two of Rico’s concerts in her native Bay Area, notes how moshing at a Rico show subverts standard notions of who owns, and gets to participate in, the punk aesthetic.
“When people think of mosh pits, most tie it in with the punk scene which is a genre mostly dominated by white males,” she said. “People see moshing as something aggressive, full of anger and something that is not ‘lady-like.'”
Mosh pits are generally understood as almost maliciously violent, testosterone-driven bonanzas. But at Rico’s shows, where the fanbase is decidedly loving and diverse, mosh pits invite a more positive release of pent-up energy and emotion.
“I am the type of person who keeps everything pent up inside and let’s it all out in the pit,” Canal said. “After the mosh pit, I leave with bruises and a calm, relaxed state of mind.”
Contrary to the angst that’s usually associated with mosh pits, one study by The University of Queensland found that listening to extreme music actually has positive effects, making listeners calmer, not angrier. When dealing with internalized sadness or frustration, loud and abrasive music like Rico’s matches the levels of her fans’ interior emotion and helps to process them. The study says: “The music helped [the participants] explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.” When exposed to aggressive lyrics, the results showed that the participants’ “levels of hostility, irritability, and stress decreased.”
Rico is comfortable with occupying space as a leader in today’s rap scene and is unafraid to speak her mind when it comes to the preservation of women’s minds and bodies.
“The President of the United States doesn’t have respect for women and they think that shit is OK,” she said. “Now you have people on the Supreme Court who don’t give a fuck about women, that have done horrible things to women, and it doesn’t matter anymore because the President says it doesn’t matter. And it just makes me scared for all the women who deserve justice.”
Rico has had a stellar year, so much so that it feels like her star has gotten exponentially brighter since she dropped Nasty a mere four months ago. This success is no doubt thanks to her devoted fan base, whose support of the rapper has culminated in impressive attendance at her concerts nationwide. For young women of color who idolize Rico — maybe because she reminds them of women in their own life, maybe because she represents someone they wish they had — her mosh pits are just one of the many ways her music gives women the space to address their mental health, providing a release and display of anger that’s not often alotted to women — let alone women of color.
“I can empower someone to not give a fuck,” Rico said. “Not give a fuck in a good way, in a healthy way. In a way you can not give a fuck and still be successful.”
Evan Nicole Brown is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who focuses on music, culture, art, and identity. She’s written for Chicago magazine, Office magazine, and Atlas Obscura. She can be found on Twitter here.
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