Fly Anakin isn’t keen on earthlings.
The Richmond, Virginia-based rapper has been slowly and steadily making a name for himself as the kingpin of a freak hip-hop clique, aka the Mutant Academy. Over the last several years, via a slew of Bandcamp releases that are mostly compilations, Anakin, and his first and most frequent collaborator Henny L.O., have established themselves as the de facto leaders of this ten-man-strong group who favor old school samples with eerie twists, and nasty, funny flows that speed by, expertly rapped, either in close proximity to one another or solo.
This year, in particular, has been good to his Mutant Academy crew, whose breakout album Chapel Drive finally began to prick up ears outside their Virginia locale. But Chapel Drive is just one of a host of projects Anakin and his co. released this year; quickly followed up by People Like Us and Panama Plus, with plenty more on the way.
With four MCs and six or seven producers, Anakin’s crew is able to create a sound that’s cohesive, but wildly variant, emerging as one of the most interesting young collectives of the year. There isn’t a trace of trap or mumble rap here, but even the traditionally boom bap beats and sometimes slower flows build off the genre’s history, updating it in small, precise ways. Slot their sometimes gritty, sometimes woozy output alongside rap experimentalists like Shabazz Palaces, New York’s Rat King, or World’s Fair of Queens.
Named Frank Walton after his father, Anakin was raised in Richmond, Virginia, and is still mourning the loss of his mother, who died in 2009, but supported his rap career unequivocally. The young rapper is now 23, and on the cusp of bringing his crew’s sound into the mainstream, even if the success feels bittersweet after her loss. He wrote his first bar at the tender age of nine to impress his brother, and a couple years later, at 13, began writing rhymes in earnest.
Ten years after that, his skill is apparent but still building — the best kind of situation for a young, independent rapper to be in. Recently, Walton and I corresponded over email about the origins of his interest in hip-hop, how Mutant Academy grew, and what it feels like to be rapping in Trump’s America.
What’s your real name and what was your family life like growing up? Have you always lived in Richmond?
I’m named after my father Frank Walton, I just started liking my name a couple years ago just because of the meaning. Shit just don’t fit me. My dad was always around financially our relationship ain’t the strongest but it’s love. I lost my mother in 2009 she was the one that pushed me to keep rapping. I made like four songs before she passed so she ain’t see none of the success I got so far. The struggles and the memories keep me going. I been in Richmond all my life, surrounded by drama and drugs whether it was being sold or smoked. I was in the next room writing rhymes tryna stay out the way.
What is Mutant Academy in your mind and when did it start? How did you select the name and who is a part of it?
In my mind, every member got superpowers, but we’re human and we ain’t shit so we stuck on earth entertaining ya’ll. Mutant Academy started out as a duo between Henny L.O. and myself in 2011. He came to me with the name, I designed the logo. 2015 we decided to expand and brought along some talented people we met along the journey. The current roster is Fly Anakin, Henny L.O., Koncept Jack$on, and Big Kahuna OG in the rap department. Producers- Foisey, Unlucky Bastards, Sycho Sid, Ewonee, Graymatter, BSTFRND and new member we haven’t announced yet.
What is the rap and hip-hop scene like in Richmond, VA? How have you seen it change since you first started rapping?
When I was young Richmond was a scary place sometimes and the music was raw right along with it. Now if you say the wrong word at a show people could possibly blackball you. Everybody’s mad sensitive but they want “art.”
Speaking of, when did you first start rapping, how did you get involved with hip-hop and who inspired you?
I wrote my first rhyme at 9, I just wanted to impress my big brother at first. I picked it back up at 13 and now I’m 23. I watched more music videos than cartoons growing up I always knew I was gonna be doing this.
This year you put out Chapel Drive, which was a joint project, then in July, People Like Us. Is one of these more a group project and one solo? What are the pros and cons for you when it comes to working with other rappers as opposed to doing something alone?
I see every project like a chapter, mirrors_episode.1 struck a cord and I started getting credit for my work, so that’s my favorite on some morale shit.
Chapel Drive was the first collaborative effort from Mutant Academy as a family with Koncept & myself as the frontmen. People Like Us was a side project I put together while we finished up the next album. In my case I don’t lose much working with my peoples, we all have similar taste and open minds. I’m just in love with creation all together, as long as the energy matches we get busy. Making solo shit will forever be easy but working with someone just as dope will push that pen. Stop hating and make money together rappers.
Do you have more releases on the way scheduled for this year?
Koncept Jack$on and myself dropped another album this year completely produced by Tuamie, Panama Plus. Always watch the mutants, there’s always something dropping, from every member. Expect a lot of visuals in the near future as well.
You mentioned that you’ve been a part of some underground cult classics, can you talk about a few of those?
I was at Ohbliv’s crib listening to beats once, he came across this joint with the illest Jamie Foxx sample. I asked him for it but he was resistant at first because he didn’t like the beat. Me and his wife convinced him, he sent it, and it became “Panty Raid” (from my album Velvet Type Joints. Months later, Bliv played it in New York and said people knew it word for word. There’s plenty more but this article would be long as hell.
What’s your favorite guest verse that you’ve ever done?
This song I did a long time ago for Nikobeats called “Wednesday,” me and Henny bodied that shit and the beat is still crazy. One time for Niko.
Who are some producers who you would love to work with/inspire you?
Every producer in Mutant Academy inspires me, I wanna work with Alchemist one day. Ohbliv is my favorite producer. Him and Tuamie trade spots everyday. If I ever get the chance I wanna rap on an unreleased RZA beat from like ’95-’97.
What are your thoughts about making rap music in Trump’s America? It feels like the climate and urgency has definitely changed since he was elected
Trump is making real rap matter again, people finally waking up and seeing shit ain’t right so we making the soundtrack to match the moment. Speaking our truths.
If you had to describe your personal approach to hip-hop, what would you call it?
I bring reality to the table. It’s cool to have songs about bullshit but you still need that real shit to get through rough days. I make music for everyday people with shit going on. We tryna strengthen the weak.