“If you notice how I’m the only person here, it’s because my dad’s locked up right now.”
This article was featured in RVAMag #25: Summer 2016. You can read all of issue #25 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.
He takes another puff off of his Black & Mild and exhales it into the smoke-filled room off Belmont Road. He pauses, then continues on… but what’s said after is a story best kept within the confines of the home.
Fly Anakin has one of those stories that defines the “Hip-Hop American Dream.” The 21-year-old Richmond native was born and raised in the Hillside Court projects, where it was common to have “bullet holes in your doors from drive-by’s.” His mother passed a few years ago and briefly battled with substance abuse problems, while his brother and dad have taken the hustler’s road at one point or another for as long as he can remember. It’s the type of tale most rappers nowadays exaggerate to claim as their own, but for Anakin, it’s not exactly something he talks about much. In fact, he’s mostly kept it a secret — even in his music — only using it as fuel to spark his career.
Around the time of his father’s arrest, Anakin started to take rapping a little more seriously. After already having established the collective Mutant Academy with childhood friend and fellow rapper Henny L.O, the two started grinding harder to perfect their craft a little over a year ago. It was more than just a creative outlet — it was a foundation for a new path.
First, it was the local gigs around town that were just barely getting their names out. Then, they found a home with the Satellite Syndicate, growing alongside the grassroots movement through their monthly residencies and house shows. Eventually, Mutant Academy grew to having producers BSTFRND, Foisey, Ewonee, Sycho Sid, and Unlucky Bastards, as well as rapper and heavy-collaborator Koncept Jackson. It came to the point that the local mainstays of Michael Millions, Radio B, and Nickelus F took the young MC under their wing, something he views as a pretty big honor.
In less than a year, Anakin’s material has been picked up by the likes of Pigeons and Planes, All Def Digital, and The Source. He was also featured on Ohbliv’s mix for The Fader for his collaborations with Koncept Jackson. It’s been an incredibly busy few months for the Southside rapper, but you wouldn’t know it by his cool, collective demeanor.
After hearing his most recent work with Ohbliv, we decided to sit down with the MC to learn a little bit about him. Sure, most people say he’s a ’90s rapper and nostalgic now, but Anakin looks to erase those titles. He doesn’t want to be pigeonholed by the perception of his raw, aggressive approach, but rather looked on as someone dutifully paying dues towards what’s to come, which is bound to electrify.
Quite simply, Fly Anakin is going to be soaring beyond the city limits soon.
I first heard about you from Ohbliv’s latest mix for The Fader. Could you talk a little bit about how that happened?
Yeah, honestly, I think that may have slightly changed my life. Like, the fact that I know Ohbliv has changed a bunch of motherfuckers’ outlook on me.
How’d you guys first meet?
The [Satellite] Syndicate had a residency show at The Camel and he was performing. Basically, he was following me on SoundCloud so I knew he was aware of me, but he never said anything. He was playing joints and knew I wanted to work, so I recorded a video of the “Machinegunfunk” beat while he was playing it and was like “Yo, let me get this joint.” He sent the shit the next day and five more beats, and then we did “Lavender Coupe.”
A lot of the mainstays like Nickelus F and Michael Millions have been showing you some love too.
Yeah, that shit is bugged out. At one point when we first started Mutant Academy, nobody gave a fuck, really. We were the outcasts that were coming out of nowhere.
In terms of the new talent, it took a while for the city to even catch on to Divine Council, and now those dudes are blowing up.
That’s a bugged out story. Those dudes have been working for a long fuckin’ time, and I watched it happen. Honestly, I’m the happiest nigga in the world for them. I’m proud as hell.
Well, there definitely seems to be a whole youth movement going on with the Hip-Hop scene right now, especially with a lot of the grassroots stuff you’re involved in with The Syndicate.
Dawg, the young people are the ones taking this shit over. Look at shit like the house shows we [The Syndicate] have going on. Do you know how many people come out to them shits? The young motherfuckers are the one’s taking it to the next level right now — that’s why the scene is popping. And the OG’s are flourishing off of it because we’re giving them the praise and the glory for what they’ve brought to the table.
For me, Radio B is one of my favorites. I love that guy; I always want him to hear my shit because his opinion matters. Same with Nick, same with Mike. That’s why I did that song with Mike, because I look up to that guy. All these people did something that makes me want to do more, so I’m sort of a product of it.
I had a couple conversations with Nick. After we shot the “Laced Weed” video, we went to Christian’s to get slices and he was basically telling me little stories about what he had to go through to keep shit going and get his name out. One thing that really stuck was, “Don’t rap for free. You don’t owe these motherfuckers nothing.” And that shit right there — that was my jewel. I took that shit and ran with it. I’ve got to know my worth because motherfuckers are only going to give you what you give off. So the sky’s the limit at this point.
Sounds like you think highly about the guys in The Syndicate.
Those motherfuckers changed the game, I don’t think they get enough credit. They have shit packed. The last show we had, The Pink Couch joint… that shit was ridiculous. You couldn’t even move in that bitch. It was just some dudes rapping on a pink couch. Me seeing that shit for myself, I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe this shit happened.” Honestly, I’m just happy to be involved with all of it. I’m a fan of them niggas. Just how they do things.
I feel like we’re opening doors for young people to just create and feel free with this shit. Anybody can make the music, but putting it in front of people and playing it through those loud ass speakers is a whole different ball game. At one point, you had to kiss ass to get a show anywhere in Richmond, but when it comes to the Syndicate shit… those motherfuckers accept anybody. If you’re dope and you’re making a name for yourself, you can easily get on one of those shows. You don’t have to kiss nobody’s ass.
Most critics label you as “nostalgic” to the “Golden Era” of rap, much like Joey Bada$$ when he first blew up with “Survivor Tactics.”
Dawg, that shit is never going to die, I swear. Motherfuckers really think I’m trying to bring the ’90s back. Honestly, when we were growing up, I listened to all sorts of shit from my brother — DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, all the Nas shit you can think of, all the Jay-Z, D-Block, fuckin’ Wu-Tang. It was just me soaking up the game. So as I grew up, I just wanted to make the shit that I liked the most. At the time, Soulja Boy and Lil Wayne and all that, it just wasn’t sticking… the only shit that was tight to me was the old shit. So honestly, I think the only reason motherfuckers get that nostalgic shit is because of the beat choices. I’m not talking about no ’90s shit. I’m talking about shit that I’m going through.
But that’s the bullshit in rap. Look, on a typical day, I listen to Young Thug, Future, Curren$y, Kendrick… some shit like that. It’s a mix, I’ve never really been that guy to try to dig deep and touch people, but I’ve made people cry off my raps.
So how did your style develop if that’s not what you listen to on a day-to-day?
It’s just natural. Sometimes if you turn on the right beat, I’ll give you something that’s the complete opposite of what I’ve been doing all day. I can literally sit around here and laugh and smoke, but as soon as night comes around, I could write some completely depressed shit. Like, I can never pinpoint where it’s going to go. I do what I want, man. I feel free in terms of my artistry — I just do whatever comes to my mind and what’s to the best of my abilities. But I think that’s what keeps my shit organic as well. I’m not trying to do trap shit, I’m not trying to do ’90s shit. I’m just in between trying to do whatever.
Talk to me a little bit about growing up here.
I grew up in the Southside, in Hillside Court. It was real fucked up back when I was young. I’m talking bullet holes in your doors from drive-by’s and shit. Humble beginnings like a motherfucker, for real. I grew up in the projects. Eventually moved in with my pop’s in 7th grade, so I moved to the county out here. A little bit after that, my mom’s passed, so fast forward to how we’re here. If you notice how I’m the only person here, it’s because my dad’s locked up right now.
Damn, that sounds like a crazy story. Would you mind sharing?
I was in here. They kicked the door on me. I was in this bitch by myself, watching something on YouTube with my headphones on. I heard something like “Chesterfield Police!” or something like that, and I was like, “Who the fuck playing at my door?”
I’m a couple inches from the door and I’m looking between the glass like, “What the fuck is going on out there?” and within a split-second, there’s like 30-something cops with guns on me. All I could do was fall down like “Look, I ain’t got shit on me.” Motherfuckers ransacked the crib; everything was upside down. They fucked the whole house up.
A lot of rappers exaggerate about stuff like that, but this was really you.
I don’t rap about this shit because it’s cool — this is really the shit I went through. As far as the depth in my music, I don’t give motherfuckers enough. There’s so much shit I need to say. I’ve never even spoke about that shit in my music.
During that time, my music had started bubbling, but my life was on the decline. Mind you, I was fat, like way chubby, but I got mad skinny from stress being at an all-time high. But my music was getting so much better though. So it’s like the gift and the curse. Shit just happened the way it did, but I’m not mad at it. I’m blessed. It’s almost scary how shit went down, but I took that shit and made it into something.
You can peep Fly Anakin’s latest album The Grand Scheme of Things on SoundCloud, Apple, Music, and Spotify.