Originality gestates in the space between extremes. Ryan Oakes siphons a signature style from the nexus of hip-hop and hard rock uplifted by surges of electronic experimentation and unassuming pop appeal. The Virginia-born and Los Angeles-based vocalist, rapper, multi-instrumentalist, and artist carves out his own hyper-charged hypnotic hybrid with no shortage of energy and attitude. His commitment to independence and integrity has yielded nearly half-a-billion streams and a devout fan base. However, he perfects this vision like never before on his 2023 full-length debut album, Wake Up.
“I put my own personality into the music as much as I can,” he notes. “There are some witty lines and a lot of personal truths. We’re trying to blend the genres so well to a point where you can’t label what we’re doing. It’s super detailed down to the smallest piece. That’s the Ryan Oakes secret sauce. It’s something no one else can replicate.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., he embraced a creative spirit and taught himself keyboards, drums, and guitar at a young age, dedicating himself to music inspired by the likes of Linkin Park, JAY-Z, Green Day, and more. After tearing it up in middle school with an early band, he picked up a mic and freestyled his way through high school parties to the applause of his classmates. At the same time, he excelled at lacrosse. During senior year, a buddy on his way into the Marines joked, “The day I get home, I want you to have a mixtape out.” Armed with a $20 microphone from Best Buy, Ryan recorded at a feverish pace—exceeding his friend’s expectations. Posting his first song, he quit the lacrosse team and eventually made his way to Los Angeles in 2017. Touching down with no money or plans, his track “Drinking About You” serendipitously exploded, eventually tallying over 43 million Spotify streams.
“It blew the hell up on Spotify for no reason,” he notes. “It was like the universe patted me on the back and said, ‘This is the right path’. It gave me the confidence to run with it, keep my head down, and grind until I could get to where I’m at now. It’s crazy how far it’s gone, but I don’t even think we’ve even scratched the surface of how far we can take it.”
He served up music at a dizzying pace, dropping over 250 songs across mixtapes such as Millennial Meltdown , Pity Party , A Series of Unfortunate Events , SLUMBERLAND , and BURNOUT . Beyond praise from Rock Sound and many others, Earmilk hailed the latter among its “Best Albums of 2022 [Wrap-Up]” and attested, “A compilation of slick riffs and catchy melodies, BURNOUT goes to show that Ryan Oakes can’t be held to a single genre.” Along the way, “NUMB” amassed over 26 million Spotify streams, while “2AM” reeled in 18+ million Spotify streams and “HELLBOY” gathered 13+ million Spotify streams and counting. Plus, he collaborated with everyone from MOD SUN and Futuristic to NEFFEX and State Champs.
Kickstarting the next chapter, he bulldozed the way for WAKE UP with the likes of the eponymous single “WAKE UP,” “WHITE FLAG” [with Magnolia Park], and “DOWN.” Meanwhile, “HEAVYWEIGHT” [with Loveless] has already cleared 2 million streams and counting. Alternative Press professed, “The track channels the familiarity of early 2000s rap-rock and pushes it further into the future and massive chorus courtesy of LA duo Loveless, who supply anthemic vocals, heavy guitars and intense rhythmic energy.”
Now, he heralds the album with the single “RUINED” [with Ekoh]. Lullaby-style keys underscore blunt and bold rhymes wrought from a relationship gone south only to slip into a catchy guitar-backed chorus. Ekoh counters with his own confessional recollections.
“If you listen to my music, it’s no surprise I’ve had my fair share of terrible breakups,” he states. “This is about a relationship that’s so unbelievably toxic it feels like there’s no escape. Ekoh and I have been buddies for years, so it was a matter of time before we collaborated. We found the perfect song.”
Then, there’s “SPACESHIP” [with Abigail Osborn]. Piano-laden glitchy 808s brush up against an otherworldly hook from Osborn as Ryan pours his heart out on the verses.
He goes on, “The song is really deep. It could be about someone you might have lost or passed away. You’re wishing you lived in the moment while this person was here and took advantage of your time together.”
On “GROUND ZERO” [with AViVA], he tears through bars with tenacity only for the chorus to ponder, “Am I losing my mind?”
“You can be your own worst enemy,” he says. “You can be super self-destructive, slow your own soul down, and get in your own way if you think too much. It’s a moral battle with yourself.”
The finale “SLEEPWALKER” layers manically raw raps above skittering beats punctuated by a bass thump and distortion groan. Fittingly, it concludes with a scream of the phrase “Wake up!”
“It’s down the mental health lane,” he reveals. “When you experience dissociation, you’re numb to everything around you like a zombie. Usually at the end of those toxic relationships, you’re not excited anymore. I tried to illustrate the subtle intensity of this feeling and how you’re sleepwalking through life.”
Ultimately, Ryan strikes a balance and forges a lasting connection.
“On this album, I tried to give a piece of everything I do,” he leaves off. “I get into mental health, flex moments, rock, and pure OG rap songs. I brought all of these flavors together. It’s all cohesive to me.”