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Fly Anakin
Frank Skye Butchard , March 11th, 2022 09:55

The solo debut from Richmond VA's Fly Anakin may be the one of the most important hip hop records of the year, finds Skye Butchard

Though billed as his debut solo album, Frank is by no means the rap world’s introduction to Fly Anakin. The Richmond rapper has steadily earned a reputation as part of the Mutant Academy, forging natural partnerships with like-minded artists Big Kahuna OG, Ohbliv, Henny L.O and koncept jack$on. His distinctive raspy voice and animated performances naturally stand out, revealing a lyrical precision that’s head-spinning when he’s on form.

Collaborations with fellow southern underground eccentric Pink Siifu only heightened his powers. Their chemistry gave FlySiifu’s a levity and freshness to their knowingly old-school pitch of two men trading bars over soul-sampling instrumentals.

Frank carries over all the hallmarks of a great Fly Anakin project: there’s a lavish yet minimal approach to beat selection, a consistent woozy atmosphere that never threatens to kill the vibe, and stellar rapping that’s slippery and forceful in the same breath. Still, this is a heftier project that earns the expectation that comes with that ‘debut solo album’ tag.

While skits return, Frank trades FlySiifu’s zany and concept-heavy interludes for candid voice clips. We hear Fly Anakin joking with his friends about not being able to grab a PS5, or describing his anti-social tendencies as he rises in the industry. The record has the same feeling of proximity to the artist in the studio as the classic 90s hip-hop that influenced it. Within this framing, the album reflects the toil of its own creation, emphasising the hunger clear from Anakin’s vocal.

He performs with constant forward momentum, each syllable pushed with the right amount of emphasis. Take ‘Sean Price’, where a laidback beat from Evidence is matched with internal rhymes that tumble over each other, and an intentionally rushed delivery that gives the track a drunk swagger.

‘Ghost’ is sobering in comparison, with blunt lines about police brutality delivered with the weight neccessary: “Coppers cutthroat on my side, can’t keep up with the names that died / It’s Fruitvale station everyday, I'm mad evasive / These niggas busy being goofball material / I’m scratching off the serial to make this shit more liveable.”

The Madlib-produced ‘No Dough’ is pure joy and confidence, with more flow switch-ups in a minute and a half than some manage on an album. Fly Anakin shines on production duties on ‘Bad Business (Killswitch)’ - a lumbering, otherworldly beat loop that’s forward-thinking and nostalgic simultaneously. Elsewhere, ‘Poisonous Primates’ gives the same skin-rush as Freddie Gibbs 'Cataracts’, but rather than basking in the moment, Fly Anakin’s track is underlined by a need to keep going.

There’s no obvious world-building or self-contained story to give Frank the pomp and circumstance you might expect from a major breakthrough rap record in 2022, but he doesn’t need one. The subtlety and detail of his songwriting does that on its own. The world is his for the taking.