Fly Anakin Does Things His Own Way On His Debut Album, ‘Frank’

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Although Richmond, Virginia-based rapper Fly Anakin has been around for a while, my first introduction to him was on 2020’s FlySiifu, his collaborative album with Alabama genre-bender Pink Siifu. At the time, my impression was of a rapper enamored with the murky trappings of the backpack rap I had grown up on in high school, but since grown out of. The experimental, lo-fi sampling and abstract, stream-of-consciousness raps reminded me of longtime favorites like Madlib and MF DOOM; Anakin, who would have entered high school five years after I graduated, would likely have gravitated to this freewheeling sound as it first gained exposure beyond indie record shops and underground rap forums via Adult Swim bumpers.

That sound has become the staple of his aesthetic, a tradition he continues on the recently released Frank, his self-proclaimed debut album. The fact that he calls it this despite having seven years of commercial releases under his belt helps to highlight his status as a child of the inventive digital era of hip-hop, where nearly anything goes as long as it sounds cool and you can get away with it. For what it’s worth, this is an album that does sound cool and gets away with a lot. It’s packed with eerie, unearthly samples and laid-back, dismissive raps, an iconoclastic survey of the modern rap landscape that chooses to go left, swimming upstream of the more accessible 808-driven approach of Anakin’s peers.

In a profile for Bandcamp, Anakin explains his reasoning for calling Frank his debut, and for giving it his own government name, Frank Walton. “The album is me standing up to my shit and owning up to who I am instead of hiding behind a rap name,” he said. “I always thought my name was kinda stupid for who I am and I never really felt my name matched me — so this is me wearing my name and owning my name.” In doing so, though, he throws into clearer focus the fact that he’s always been this person and always held these philosophies. That is to say, he’s never much cared to live up to anyone else’s standards but his own.

Consider this couplet from the Evidence-produced “Sean Price,” named for the bellicose Brooklyn rapper who passed away in 2015 and shared Anakin’s disdain for fitting in. “The sacrifices set my price to the heights of the holy lights / At first, I did the shit to get mics, now it’s keeping on the lights.” The Richmond rapper at times comes across disillusioned by his experiences in the rap game, much like many of his heroes, but then, like those heroes, his love for the craft shines through in the polish with which he spits his laconic yet lithe, lathe-like verses. He’s versatile and not without a sense of humor; he just doesn’t have time for gimmicks and games.

Meanwhile, the production falls somewhere just left of the en vogue, sample-first, beats-never aesthetic, full of muted drums and soul interpolations awash in dreamy filters. It’s interesting to see what he does with the “beats to study to” playlist staple style; his voice cuts across these muddy soundscapes with confidence and charisma. So do his guests’ vocals, with features ranging from Anakin’s fellow Mutant Academy crew stalwarts Big Kahuna OG (on “Telepathic”) and Henny L.O. (on “Dontbeafraid”), as well as Richmond veteran and former Drake collaborator Nickelus F, who contributes an absolutely bonkers verse to “Ghost” that I still can’t decide if I hate or love.

Despite the album’s title and expressed theme, Anakin never deigns to indulge in autobiography or introspection on Frank, choosing to instead direct his energy toward impressively constructed blocks of text expressing his own unique take on standard hip-hop topics. It’d be cool to see him tackle some more personal subject matter in the future, but for now, it’s enough that he’s doing something different — not just for the sake of being different but because this is genuinely who he is. Enough rappers follow trends and far too many fall short trying to run counter to them just to prove a point. Fly Anakin finds the balance, making the sort of hip-hop music he loved growing up and updating it to create something refreshing and classic at the same time.

‘Frank’ is out now on Lex Records. You can stream it here.