Album Review: Fly Anakin – Frank

[Lex; 2022]

My introduction to Fly Anakin was Panama Plus, one of multiple collaborations with fellow Richmond rapper Koncept Jack$on and producer Tuamie. In 2017, that mixtape felt like a breath of fresh air: in a rap landscape oversaturated with trap beats and simple hooks repeated ad nauseum, here were two young cats flowing, spitting beaucoup verbiage over beats that sounded more Stones Throw than Soundcloud.

Fast forward a few years, and Fly Anakin has released almost too many projects to count, including two standout collaborations with Pink Siifu. 2020’s FlySiifu’s coolly introduced listeners to the world of two unhurried record store employees who spend their time, in the words of Fly Anakin, “in the back smoking, supposed to be working, just talking hella shit.” The follow-up $mokebreak, which Siifu called “the Super Friends album”, capitalized on the collaborative spirit by cramming 10 features into roughly half an hour of music, to incredible results.

One thing that makes these projects so enjoyable is the contrast between co-stars. Siifu’s voice floats like a cloud, where Anakin’s cuts through beats. Frank, on the other hand, is his solo (mostly) debut (kinda). Though Frank (the rapper’s given name) may be his most laid-back project yet, Fly Anakin’s acidic tone takes center stage.

Between his scrappy, nasally voice and quick, verbose approach, I quite simply don’t understand what Fly Anakin is talking about half the time. E-40 once said “I’m not rapping too fast, y’all just listening too slow,” and that critical conceit might apply here. Still, I can’t help but view his occasionally unintelligible lyrics as a shortcoming. Take “Ghost”, for instance. Richmond rap legend Nickelus F, who has a history of killing Fly Anakin on features (“Worldwide2x”, “Whatchu Need”), comes through with a verse that is so direct and funny (“I’m a misfit, nitwit / wash my face with the same towel I wash my dick with”) that Frank’s can’t help but feel lesser in comparison.

Even though I prefer Anakin as part of a team (the Siifu-featuring track “Black Be The Source” stands out here too), Frank is a consistent and relaxed effort. Evidence laced the beat to make “Sean Price” knock, and I respect any shoutout to the late Sean Price, one of the best to ever do it. “WaxPoetic” is so smooth as to be near vaporwave. Madlib’s “No Dough” beat is the exception to the low-key atmosphere of the album, and Fly Anakin attacks it accordingly, resulting in another highlight.

Frank is a collection of relatively old songs: most were recorded before the pandemic. “The songs were just sitting for so long that they just became music to me. I had to name [the album] after not really knowing what the fuck it was anymore,” he told DJ Booth. For a bunch of old tracks, then, Frank sits together quite nicely. With a since-expanded team, including a relationship with the super-talented BbyMutha, he’s likely to keep improving. But I don’t have to tell Fly Anakin to keep going – that’s what he does.