In 2020, Trenton Kyle was working as a librarian. Every day, he recalls, “I would come home and just make beats.” One night, he combined searing synthesizers and degraded drums into a bulldozing track and cold-emailed it to rising rapper SoFaygo, who eventually added vocals and put the song out that October as “Off the Map.” “People went nuts,” remembers Arshan Jawaid, founder of Kids Take Over, an Instagram page and YouTube channel that interviews rising rappers.
Soon after, Trippie Redd started to tease an incendiary track called “Miss the Rage,” which arrived in May 2021 and also built around a scraping, triumphant synth melody. By the end of that year, “Miss the Rage” had earned over 200 million on-demand streams, according to Luminate. And together with “Off the Map,” the song played a key role in popularizing a new hip-hop subgenre: rage.
The list of rappers affiliated with rage has exploded in the subsequent 18 months, and several seem poised to break out in 2023. The most notable example is Yeat, the Oregon native who earned over 2 billion on-demand streams last year with unruly songs full of laser-gun electronics and eccentric slang. Meanwhile, Destroy Lonely’s gleaming, synth-slathered title track to his August album, NO STYLIST, has become the Atlanta rapper’s most successful single to date, soundtracking over 165,000 TikTok videos and earning 35 million on-demand streams.
Established stars have also taken note of rage’s potent sound: YoungBoy Never Broke Again started 2023 with yet another top 10 album, I Rest My Case, that nods to the genre’s gnashing synths and rumbly low end. The rapper “is pushing [rage] even more into the mainstream than it already was,” says Kyle, who produced the new YoungBoy track “Not My Friend.”
While hip-hop producers have been mixing volatile ingredients in beats for years, searching for the most combustible combinations, rage is heavily indebted to the rowdy wing of SoundCloud rap that burst onto the mainstream six years ago. One artist who emerged from that scene is an especially important influence: Playboi Carti. Some of his songs offer a template of sorts for what is now dubbed rage: The bass hits like hurled cinder blocks, while the Day-Glo melodies seem plucked from the Mario Bros. soundtrack. Carti himself appeared with Redd on “Miss the Rage,” which helped give the style a name.
As a subgenre title, rage sounds pretty straightforward — anger, aggression, bricks through windows. But Ben Baker, who manages rage-adjacent rap artist Slump6s and producer Maajins, says the sound can include “headbanging stuff you mosh to at a concert” as well as tracks that are “slower and more melodic.” (Importantly, many rappers connected to rage also traffic in multiple styles.) What ties it all together, Maajins says, is “EDM-like synths playing a dark melody, hard-hitting 808s, and some nice percussive drums.”
This production palette helps rage stand out on the short-form video platforms that play an important role in modern music discovery. “Today, you’re scrolling and you see a song and listen for about three seconds to determine, ‘Is it good enough?’ ” Jawaid says. “With the rage beats, the synths always catch your ear right away.”
As a result, “this community and sound is getting a lot of attention,” says Jordan Weller, head of artist and investor relations at indify, a platform that helps independent acts find investors. (So much so that some rappers are wary of the “rage” label, fearing that it limits them to a single mode of music-making.) That attention isn’t just coming from stars like YoungBoy Never Broke Again; many rappers who release rage singles have forged deals with major labels.
Tana, who scored a record deal in 2021 with Republic in partnership with Galactic Records, says his battering single “Antisocial” is “one of the pioneer songs for the rage sound.” (Maajins produced “Antisocial,” which has over 100 million streams to date.) Slump6s, who is featured on the hit, also signed with Republic in partnership with Field Trip. And Field Trip inked Yeat in partnership with Geffen Records.
Other labels have gotten involved as well: 10K Projects picked up JELEEL!, who scored on TikTok with the shouty “DIVE IN!”, and Columbia has Cochise, whose boisterous “Tell Em” cracked the Hot 100. “I just give off energy to the point that it’s like, ‘ok, we can have you as an affiliate of the rage community,'” Cochise says. Carti’s own label, Opium, has signed Ken Carson and Destroy Lonely, both in partnership with Interscope.
Several of these artists will release new projects in the first half of 2023, looking to build on their initial success. “I went to the Destroy Lonely show in L.A. at the Hollywood Palladium [last November], and it was sold out,” Baker says. “He doesn’t yet have a song that has been on the Billboard charts — but he has a much stronger fan base than some artists who do.”
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2023, issue of Billboard.