For our latest First Look Friday, we spoke with Fly Anakin about his album Frank, the Mutant Academy, giving pep talks to Jay Versace, and more.
Sleeping in on Sundays at the Walton household was unheard of. As a child, Fly Anakin — born Frank Walton — would wake up every Sunday at around 9 AM to the sounds of Lenny Williams’s soulful “‘Cause I Love You,’ ‘ accompanied by the smell of eggs on a hot skillet. With all five senses triggered , it was always impossible for Frank to go back to sleep, especially when his Dad was singing along with the vigor of a stage performer. Soul and R&B classics from Earth Wind & Fire and Gerald Levert became vital as they vibrated the walls with love and passion.
As High School came along, he passion for music developed. Frank would jam-pack his iPod with as many Wu-Tang albums as he could — including their solo LPs — as well as any other golden age hip-hop he could get his hands on. He eventually transitioned to the more stoned-out and hazy raps from Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y. Wiz’s raps became less relatable as his career progressed and Frank aligned himself more to Curren$y. “I couldn’t really relate to Wiz’s new shit as much,” Anakin told Okayplayer during a Zoom conversation. “He was just talking about champagne, so I listened to the Curren$y shit a lot more and he was just hitting them notes that I needed to hear.”
In the early 2010s, Frank, along with his friends dubbed the Mutant Academy, embarked on a journey to become MCs themselves. Since 2014, Frank would release a total of 17 projects compiled of albums, eps, and collaboration tapes. Most notably, Fly Anakin would release a series of tapes under the moniker FlySiifu with his partner in crime, Alabama rapper Pink Siifu. Frank wears his influences on his sleeve, tapping into east coast legends every time he picks up a mic. When Frank raps, his voice becomes distinctively nasally, relaxed, and medicated from the weed smoke. Despite the serenity in his vocals, his bars cut like katanas through sheets of paper.
Frank’s official debut album is self-titled for various reasons. Frank started to work on the album back in 2019 where he was working in a retirement home. Frank took the plunge, he decided he was done working miserable nine to five jobs and pursued his passion full time. Then the pandemic happened and Frank decided to shelve the album, waiting for the perfect time to drop.
Last month, Frank was finally released via Lex Records. It’s his most definitive work to date. Frank is filled with beautiful chops and soulful loops, mixed in with hard-hitting moments that leave the iron mic stained in blood. The production is handled by his brethren in the Mutant Academy and the features consist of Nickelus F, Pink Siifu, Billz Egypt, Madlib, and more.
A couple of days after the release we were able to connect with Fly Anakin — who was smoking a joint and fussing with his cat — on Zoom. We discussed growing up in Richmond, Virginia, the Mutant Academy, and his newfound success.
How would you describe Richmond, Virginia in comparison to, let’s say, DC?
Fly Anakin: There’s some drastic differences. The main difference with Richmond and DC is that Richmond doesn’t have a Metro system. So it’s a little harder to get around unless you ride or like you taking a bus or shit. But there’s way more shit to get into than DC. There’s way more opportunities. Probably still not that many opportunities, but it’s a little more. We got more resources out there. There are better venues. I think DC got it in agriculture. I mean, they got it in certain aspects, but Richmond is just like one of those undeniable cities that you could go to and live really well and have a lot of good. You can have a great experience in Richmond depending on what you are doing and who you are dealing with.
When I first heard you, the first thing I recall is Ghostface.
The Stoned Immaculate dropped the day before my high-school graduation. So Curren$y was with me that whole time. When I got my first tattoo I was listening to fucking Pilot Talk. He’s like my family member in my head.
It’s Curren$y and Ghost. Them niggas did the most for me, as well as Erykah Badu. Erykah is a big influence. Seeing how she could write a song bro, I bought a couple of her albums and shit and some of the albums she got the lyrics written out. In certain songs, it’d be like three or four minutes long and there’d just be like seven, eight bars long. You’d be like, how the fuck does she stretch all these lyrics out to the point where I felt like she wrote a full song?
A big pillar with you is obviously your friends in Mutant Academy. How crucial is holding onto that friendship and keeping it together?
It’s very crucial bro. Everything I do is to uplift Mutant Academy. Every time I’m being honored on these publications or being introduced to these shows and shit they be like, “Fly Anakin of Mutant Academy” or “Mutant Academy’s own… ” Definitely Mutant Academy is the most important part of our career. That’s like my baby basically.
We made friendships based off of our love for music. It’s being on SoundCloud, rapping here at the same time. It was like a sense of community being built through SoundCloud. A lot of people from SoundCloud kind of make that shit permanent. Like we found Ohbliv on SoundCloud. Ewonee was from SoundCloud. Foisey, SoundCloud. Fucking Sycho Sid, Unlucky Bastards — all these people we met ’em on SoundCloud. And Koncept Jack$on hit me up on Twitter because of some shit he heard on SoundCloud. So a lot of that shit was just built off of that. Just having a community.
So Frank was recorded before the pandemic, right?
This was probably done in 2019. I’m pretty sure it was about 2019 and the last two or three songs I added were “Love Song,” “No Dough,” and then the bonus track. And they count as old at this point ’cause that was like 2020. So yeah, in 2019, the bulk of it was finished already. Twenty-twenty it was revised and really put together. And then 2021 is when I redid the skits. So it’s still kind of fresh, but the songs themselves are old as hell. Personally, I liked the music, but I also already had grown past it. I already know my skill level has risen since then. So it’s like, it’s fun to be able to see the perspective of what people would’ve thought in 2019. So I wish I would’ve dropped it then instead of holding onto it.”
What made you hold onto it?
I had a whole another album ready to drop. At The End of The Day was done, and I had the bulk of Frank. But I still had to figure out what to do with that album, and then make space to drop At The End of The Day. So once I dropped At The End of The Day, the pandemic happened. Kobe [Bryant] died the same day I dropped that album. As soon as I dropped that album, the fucking world ended basically. I couldn’t do no shows for it. So that’s a whole album that I couldn’t tour. Only one video was shot, because it was on my dime. And anybody that was willing to shoot some shit at the time was scared to travel because of COVID[-19]. [So I was like I] need to strategize this next album because I don’t want the same thing to happen with that album. So I sat my ass down and said, I’m not gonna rush this shit.
You start off the album with a love song. Why’d you start it off that way?
Bro, it really just boiled down to how do I wanna impact the listener on that first song. That was like the last addition to the album and I couldn’t stop listening to it at the time. So I knew that it was a good song. I just wanted to make sure I made a mark with that first track. When you hear the first one, I wanna make sure you wanna hear the second one and the third one and the fourth one, just based on what I just set in stone. And people don’t do that shit. Like, it’s not that common to just say, “fuck it. I’m gonna just sing the intro.”mBut that’s how I was feeling. And I ain’t give a fuck how nobody else felt about it. So I just did that shit. So it makes sense that it worked because I was definitely, and also super confident shit like I know this song is flying.
I’m from a class of niggas that don’t care about hooks. So I just wanted to take the step away and actually put some extra emphasis on the hook, and how the song makes me feel versus just rapping until the beat stops. Just trying to make shit a little more colorful, bro.
The production from Foisey on here is so vibrant. I feel like he brings something out of you that’s a little bit different from your other producers.
Foisey, he’s like the jelly to my peanut butter bro. And we were just good friends on top of that. It’s different, ’cause we’ve been working for years now. So we know each other like the back of our hands. So if he wants me to rap, he knows what to send me, but if he wants me to challenge myself he also knows what to send me. The one thing I picked up on while just putting this album together is Foisey had the hardest songs. And then I started thinking about other albums and Foisey had the hardest songs on other projects as well. So I was like, I need to just pay more attention to the magnetism that me and Foisey have.
The final track on the album, “Bag Man,” is produced by Jay Versace who’s had a crazy year. How did you two hook up?
I met Jay like 2018 and around that time he was just starting to make beats. We had a Fly Siifu session and that’s when he gave us “Mind Right.” So “Mind Right” and “Bag Man” was really side-by-side as far as when the songs got done. When we initially heard “Mind Right”, he was singing in the background of the song with the sample and shit, and it sounded so fucking beautiful, bro.
The main reason I even picked the beat is because I heard him singing on this shit. So he gives us the beat. Mind you we were in the studio while this happens. When he sends the beat when I’m supposed to record it, he took the singing off. And I was like, “What happened to the singing?” Like I was genuinely confused. And he’s like “Nah, I don’t really like using my [voice]” I left it where it was because I know how it is sometimes. Maybe you just don’t feel comfortable.
I’m still mad he took that shit off. But yeah, after that happened, I seen him at one of the shows and shit, so I gave him a big pep talk, I’m like, “Bro. Stop being a bitch. You can do whatever the fuck you think you can do. All of this shit is very possible.” I’m telling him things that I needed to tell myself at this time, really. But like, I was just giving him everything that I could to just try to get him to break out of being nervous or shy about wanting to create. So not to take credit for what he did or nothing, but I feel like I was definitely a person that fueled this nigga to just go crazy with that shit.