Fly Anakin relishes being invested in the lore of his favorite rappers. As a child, the Virginia-born rapper and producer would spend hours reading CD booklets and watching behind-the-scenes videos, to the point where he felt personally involved in 50 Cent’s beef with Ja Rule. A high school graphic design class gave him the opportunity to create a physical album of his own, and he didn’t waste it: “I made my own fake ass Kid Cudi album,” he tells Audiomack World with a chuckle. Meticulous world-building through music has followed Anakin for the last decade, in both his solo work and that of the collective Mutant Academy, which he co-founded with fellow Virginia rapper Henny L.O. in the early 2010s.
Though Anakin has always been self-assured in his style, his latest album Frank, self-titled and out today via Lex Records, marks a significant turning point in his story. Much of the album was recorded in 2019 while he was still working a day job, and songs like “Grammy Snubnose” and lead single “Sean Price” reflect the scrappier aspects of his come-up. The pent-up feelings Anakin had in 2019 are matched by a greater sense of freedom and experimentation on some of the softer songs throughout the album.
Frank is the largest and fullest expansion of Anakin’s lore to date. It’s the purest culmination of the silly, serious, and thoughtful artist, all tied together by a fierce skill and dedication to his chosen family. He wants listeners to get the same feeling from Frank that he got while he was an active consumer of music; the feeling he got from listening to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city in his car every day for six months straight: “When I make shit, I want motherfuckers to give a fuck the way I gave a fuck. Hopefully, they see that there’s a real person behind this shit.”
The self-titled album is usually positioned as a statement piece. What was it about this project that inspired you to name it Frank? Not even your stage name, but your government name.
I ain’t gon’ hold you, 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. So every time I heard it, all I heard was me. I don’t really know how else to explain it without calling it my name.
Once I had that idea, I started thinking about other people who have [self-titled albums] like Amy Winehouse and whoever the fuck else got a Frank album. I just stood on that. It felt like the simplest way to put it and I didn’t want to overcomplicate things.
You lay so many different iterations of yourself on the table throughout this album. What’s the biggest difference between you when you first started making music and you now?
I was winging it a lot more than I’m winging it now. I’m a little more calculated with my shit [now]. When I first figured out what I was trying to do, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just guilt-tripping myself. I had created a schedule for myself and I made sure that I didn’t go too long without dropping music.
If I don’t have something that’s prepared or in the works, that’s my personal demon. I have a lot of different projects in the works with a bunch of my friends and shit right now—Graymatter, Foisey, Theravada, Chuck Strangers. I don’t feel lazy right now. But in the prime of what was happening from 2016 to like 2019 type shit, I was beating my own ass: “Nigga, you ain’t do a song today. Go make a song. Go make a beat.”
At some point, I’d say God just intercepted whatever idea I had at the time and helped me focus a little bit. And now I’m just here. I worked for it, I did all this shit myself, and I had some help along the way, but it was me doing what I thought made sense at the time. I wasn’t taking much advice at the time. Shit just turned out the way it turned out. I’m just trying to figure this out as it goes, my nigga.
You’ve always been preoccupied with making albums as whole experiences—sequencing and skits are clearly very important to you. What do you feel is the most important thing about continuing to make capital-A Albums in the streaming era?
I just try to take it to how it felt when I was a fan of music. Not to say I’m not a fan anymore, but I’m not as much of a consumer as I was when I was a kid. I’m just tryna make people feel the way I felt when I was a consumer. I remember when I had [Kendrick Lamar’s] good kid, m.A.A.d. city; that shit didn’t leave the CD player in my car for six months. I listened to it every day, no matter where I was going, and I didn’t get tired of it. When I make shit, I want motherfuckers to give a fuck the way I gave a fuck.
I give a fuck about the packaging. If I’m able to drop an album and have all the physical shit with it, I’m hype about that. I’ve created something you can’t take away from me. It’s there forever. The Frank shit is also so old that I feel like I don’t need to rush that shit either. I think it’s gonna stand the test of time without even having put it out. I still like it after all this time.
Thinking about this reminds me of a few bars from the opening “Love Song (Come Back).” Is receiving your flowers important for you or is it more the icing on the cake?
It’s gonna take a lot for me to feel that way. It is ultimately the icing on the cake, but I don’t really feel like I’ve gotten my joints yet. I appreciate what I do have but I’m just not content at all. No matter what happens, I still feel like I’m on the ground level. It almost feels like I’m just starting.
Right now, I feel like a new artist. Mainly because of everything I gotta go through with touring and shit. They treat you like you new if you ain’t done that shit before. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been rapping. [Mutant Academy] been doing this for a decade and some change.
You mentioned earlier how you used to be invested in the lore of an artist growing up. If someone were to get a physical copy of Frank, what would the lore of Fly Anakin be?
Hopefully, they see that there’s a real person behind this shit. When I was young and bought those CDs, I felt like I was putting money directly into that artist’s pocket. I felt like I was helping that nigga. Every album, I put a thank you note on the joint, you know what I mean? This is a force, a cause, something that you should give a fuck about.