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Jack McKain

Meet the MC: Fly Anakin

Covering everything from old-school boom bap to trap and conceptual storytelling, Fly Anakin has spent the past decade growing into one of the United States’ foremost rap talents. He speaks to DJ Mag about his new project ‘Skinemaxxx’ and staying true to himself

The first rapper to truly make an impression on Frank Walton, AKA Fly Anakin, was his big brother. “I gotta give it to him. He was the first rapper I seen in real life, the first n**** I knew that had a song. He used to tell me he’d take me to the studio too... but he never did,” Anakin tells DJ Mag over Zoom, between exhalations of weed smoke. “That n**** had me thinking I could be a rapper at a young age. That was my fire and desire. I gotta complete what he started.” 

As a kid growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Anakin would crank the volume and aim the speaker out the window towards the street where his brother and his friends were posted up, filling the air with the sounds of classics like Ghostface’s ‘Ironman’, ‘Guerilla Warfare’ by the Hot Boys and Jay-Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’. “I would play music out the window, like ‘they probably wanna hear this’. That was the origin of me tryna use music as a way to heal.” 

Anakin speaks to DJ Mag on his 29th birthday. He’s spent the entirety of his twenties releasing a multiverse of underground mixtapes, EPs and joint projects with his Mutant Academy collective — a group of like-minded artists and producers, which he formed with fellow rapper Henny L.O. back in 2011. What began as a bunch of friends from Richmond chilling, getting stoned and trading verses transformed, by way of SoundCloud, into a cross-country, self-sufficient creative community. “It’s to know how to be a good friend naturally. Not someone having to tell you how to be a good friend,” Anakin says, when thinking about the core principle that guides them. “And understanding music without forcing that shit. None of us force music on each other, but we just know when we feel it.” 

In 2019, between working shifts at a care home, Anakin recorded the majority of his official debut album ‘Frank’, which finally landed last year to widespread critical acclaim. Sonically rich and soul-laden, the album represents an evolution in Anakin’s songcraft, pairing his trademark breathless verses and razor-sharp lyricism with choruses and hooks. On opener ‘Love Song (Come Back)’ he even playfully croons the song’s outro like Max B. “I know for a fact that I can make a great project,” he says, reflecting on the praise ‘Frank’ received. “All I have to do is fucking make the songs, put that shit together, and not think too hard about it. The reason why it took so long to come out was because I was thinking too hard. I’ve learnt I don’t have to overcomplicate shit, or try to appeal to anything or anyone. I can just be me.” 

The sensual, smutty ‘Skinemaxxx’ is Anakin’s excellent latest offering, produced in its entirety by LA-based Mutant Academy brethren Foisey. The concept project is split in half; ‘Side A’ arrived in April, while ‘Side B’ was released at the end of July. “It’s inspired by the curiosity you feel as a kid, when you see porn for the first time. Like feeling horny for the first time and not really understanding what that feeling meant,” he explains. “The reason I took it there was because of the way Foisey’s production makes me feel. It sounds like a bunch of softcore porn music to me,” he adds, laughing. The opening line of ‘Blicky Bop’ sets the tone perfectly: “Bitch know I’m toxic but I’m still the better option, yeah,'' Anakin boasts over dreamy synths that might’ve soundtracked a poolside sex scene on Television X in another life. 

Fly Anakin wearing a pale green tracksuit and blue/black trainers, sat on the corner of a red and white brick wall.
Fly Anakin is wearing a red patterned jacket and looks side ways at the camera. Much of his face and upper body are covered by shadow.

“I’ve learned that I don’t have to over-complicate shit, or try to appeal to anything or anyone. I can just be me.”

The project is an exercise in meticulous worldbuilding, something Anakin is keen to stress. “I want motherfuckers to understand there’s a thought-out process behind it,” he says. “I had a real plan with this shit. I created something and I want people to try and absorb themselves in it and get immersed.”

From the artwork to the sonics and hilarious skits, ‘Skinemaxxx’ transports you to young GoQuan’s world, where a dose of peer pressure on pizza day in the school cafeteria is enough to convince him to watch ‘Channel 69’ when he gets home. ‘Side A’ ends with GoQuan tuning in, while the cheek-clapping midnight bounce of ‘Side B’ opener ‘Taxicab Confessions’ continues that theme. Mid-project track ‘Blockstory’ then delivers a sudden vibe switch to something heavier and more meditative. “Certain songs on the project don’t sound sexy, because when you were a kid, you weren’t supposed to be watching that shit,” he explains. “If you were watching something like that and your parents come through the door, you push the Back button and go back to watching Animal Planet or some shit. GoQuan had to switch channels back and forth because motherfuckers was checking in on him!” 

Anakin is often framed as a hip-hop classicist, retreading the golden-age boom bap of acts like Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang. But this categorisation oversimplifies things, missing the nuance in his music. “I ain’t gonna act like that idea don’t make sense. I was definitely at that place for a while in my life,” he admits. “And then I grew up and was like, ‘I don’t care about tryna make better ’90s-sounding stuff’. Once that happened, shit like ‘Frank’ happened. Like, I love hip-hop, I love rap music, and I love singing too. I’m multifaceted for sure.” 

For this writer, the aforementioned ‘Taxicab Confessions’ channels the cool swagger of Tennessee rap, from Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat to Isaiah Rashad, while ‘Side B’ closer ‘Crash Out’ builds into a combustible trap anthem that could be filed alongside mixtape-era Gucci Mane, and features a fearsome verse from Anakin’s girlfriend, the artist BbyMutha. She’s present in the background during our conversation and cackles when I ask if trading verses with your significant other can get competitive. “If she goes crazy on the beat, I done my job. If she wasn’t able to write to the song, then I’ve fucked up,” Anakin says. “So I don’t look at it like competing.” 

On ‘Skinemaxxx’, Anakin wears his Southern influences on his sleeve. Alongside the golden-age imprint from his formative years, and his growing confidence in shaping songs around expansive choruses and hooks, his music now feels even fuller and richer. “I love Outkast, I love UGK and Cash Money. I fucking love Curren$y. I’ve got big love for Southern rap. And I live in Atlanta too, so I’m fully engulfed in this shit. All I listen to is trap music currently, for real. So I’ve got to make songs like that to be honest, to show who I am in this current time,” he explains. “I’m trying to get more comfortable doing whatever I want to do. That’s what ‘Skinemaxxx’ is. I’ve got like 45 projects out in the world. And all of them sound like I was fucking growing the fuck up in the midst of them.”