Mutant Academy Get Ready To 'TALK SOON'

Fly Anakin, Big Kahuna OG, and Henny L.O. reintroduce their Richmond crew. +reviews of Marcus Pinn & S!LENCE

Mutant Academy Get Ready To 'TALK SOON'
Mutant Academy (photo credit: Jack McKain)

Somewhere in Texas, Fly Anakin sits in the front seat of a car, working through his first smoke of the day. "I'm almost done with my Luigi," he says, his crisp Miami Marlins cap's logo bobbing in and out of the phone's vertical frame amid thick weedy clouds. Such is life on the road right now for the indie rapper, at the tail end of supporting and performing alongside bbymutha on her national headlining tour. "We had the smoking room yesterday and we were smoking in the venue the whole show," he adds, eliciting supportive grins from Big Kahuna OG and Henny L.O. from their respective Zoom windows.

Digressions, asides, and deflections are bound to occur when attempting to interview three separate artists simultaneously in this manner. Yet these three men who comprise the rapping core of Richmond, Virginia's plenteous hip-hop collective Mutant Academy somehow come across as if they're always on the same page. Though speaking on this call from different locations, their undeniable, battle-worn insularity subverts the limitations of this virtual setting, at times speaking more to one another than to the lowly interviewer.

When asked about how their regional rap scene brought them all together, Anakin is first with the quips. "It was like having a slumber party in the middle of the street," he says. "It's like one of them beat 'em up games, just you and all your friends running up down the streets."

"It was like Streets Of Rage 2," says Kahuna. "But we're like the boss characters, though." This quickly descends into a brief debate between the two about what level of bad guy they actually are, with Anakin making a considered case for being the penultimate ones instead. His relatively humble stance seems to run counter to the DJ Khaled-esque We The Best caricature that hip-hop's long history of whole-chest braggadocio birthed, but he contends that the hard-won fight for Mutant Academy to get to this point is already a version of victory.

"It's because of where we from," Anakin asserts. "Richmond put niggas in a place where we had to figure out how to either get better at what we do or don't get caught doing bullshit you doing." If their just-released Talk Soon EP is any indication, the former is clearly what occurred.

Featuring vibrant production by Mutant Academy's cabal of in-house beatmakers like Foisey, Graymatter (a go-to for Conway The Machine and his Drumwork roster), and Unlucky Bastards, the four-track set serves as a reintroduction of sorts to a revitalized group ready to demonstrate its synergistic might. "We really working on the album, so this is just an appetizer," Kahuna says. "This is like the fried gyoza before you get to the whole bowl."

"This the blondie from Applebee's," Anakin cracks, prompting a visibly chuffed Henny to repeat his line with a chuckle. "Y'all ain't get the fajitas yet." Kahuna jumps back on with, "it's just the wings! That's all it is!"

Risking a potential roasting, I interject by commenting that Talk Soon is akin to the first round of drinks, hence naming the lead single "Soda." This remark–thank God–goes over well, their approving pointer fingers wagging in front of the phone camera lenses. "Boom, you put it together," Anakin replies. "It was planned," Kahuna adds with a smirk.

With its breezy instrumental by NY-based member Ewonee, the deceptively laidback "Soda" showcases the thick-as-thieves trio of Anakin, Henny, and Kahuna in command of the mic with their respective verses. Unlike some posse cuts that spiral into selfish oneupmanship, theirs is demonstrably more in sync.

"When people try to do that competitive thing, bro, that's how you get a bunch of head ass raps," Henny says. "I ain't about to come in there and rap, skip, and jump, spiritual-lyrical-miracle your ass to death. Because for all that, we could have just kept doing that shit on the corner."

"That shit ain't making niggas no bread," Anakin adds. "We trying to turn the fuck up."

Though some of the relationships that constitute Mutant Academy date back to middle school, the collective started getting notice outside of their city in the latter half of the 2010s, often in a variety of smaller configurations. Anakin and Kahuna have nearly a dozen projects together as a two-piece, while Henny spun off into rapper-meets-producer joint efforts like Sages with Ohbliv and Viberayshuns with Sycho Sid. This adaptability comes from their creative desires as well as the myriad outcomes inherent to a musical group of this size.

"When it's more than two or three niggas, then you got to agree on the beat," Anakin says. "I get irritated with shit like that; I just want to rap on what I want to rap on."

"If you sitting in that room with another producer, you're going to make a whole different song just because of the energy they're giving off or based off your relationship with them," Kahuna says. "We don't want to just have one thing that we can do with ten niggas in the group. We're trying to be as versatile as possible."

"Having so many producers within the family makes it even better because our producers are just as agile as us," Henny says. "Our producers really can do anything to the point to where motherfuckers won't really know who it is until they look at the credits. That's how nasty I'm saying they is with the beats." 

Breaking out via a 2020 duo album with the likeminded Pink Siifu for Lex Records, Anakin soon became a solo artist for the UK-based label with multiple projects including 2022's Frank. To him, it was common sense to ensure his Mutant Academy brethren were represented on these efforts, as features and as producers. "No disrespect, but duh," he says. "I got to make everybody involved because I'm doing the shit that I'm doing to further the agenda."

The pandemic presented further visibility opportunities to all of the Mutant Academy members. Fueled by the ease of the Bandcamp model, Kahuna dropped multiple digital projects like FLAMEBOY ADVANCE with Unlucky Bastards and FLEE TAPE with Foisey that garnered attention from underground hip-hop heads stuck at home in need of new tunes. Henny's output during those few years was noticeably quieter than the other two rappers, though he insists he's hardly been idle during this time.

"I developed a new style that I feel like motherfuckers is going to really be excited about," he says. "I realize it may look like I'm not active, but I pride myself on taking the initiative to where, if motherfuckers say we're going to the studio, I want to be the first one there and I don't mind being the last one out.

"When the brothers come out though, as far as this new [Mutant Academy] shit we're working on, niggas is really going to see it ain't no missteps. It was really worth it."

Mutant Academy (photo credit: Jack McKain)

Marcus Pinn, Night Music (buy it / stream it)

A fixture of Backwoodz Studioz and Wrecking Crew releases, turntablist Marcus Pinn is often credited for his skillful scratches. Those artisanal contributions to other artists' records don't reveal much about his own individual tastes and interests, something this instrumental set seeks to rectify. A rather zealous cinephile, he frames Night Music not unlike the films he reveres, setting scenes and establishing moods while frequently referencing past masters. Save for a few choice flips, each track takes a metaphorical glance at his Blu-Ray collection, with titles like "L'Intrus" and "Putney Swope" among the most obviously referential. Yet unlike the scores of beat makers who plunder carelessly and clumsily from big screen fare, Pinn's devotion sets him apart, making his cavernous, soundstage-sized productions like "Donnie" and "The Element Of Crime" all the more compelling. Showing more restraint than most who wield the wheels of steels, there's relatively little in the way of overt Technics sweat here, sharing scratch duties with DJ Trife on "Gritty" and the title track.

S!LENCE, AGUADURA (buy it / stream it)

While not the most prolific member of the Grip collective, Brooklyn rapper S!LENCE makes the most out of each and every concise drop. After 2021's widely unheard Wavy Bagels collab mutatis mutandis and last year's Lonesword-helmed Catch&Release tape, his Break All Records debut lets listeners get another quick hit of his idiosyncratic style. His poetic verbosity somehow lacks a need for breath control acrobatics, keeping a cool head and near monotone delivery for "A Very Emotional Stone Wall" and the otherwise slow moving "patient." The warped production here speaks to the stoned soul, with iblss' backmasked melodic bop "Dark & Stormy (flying low)" and ctyzn's Dipset-on-opiods banger "WHATSGOINGON!?" perfectly matching the artist's truly trippy mystique. And just when you thought the chance had passed, he went and saved the best for last. (Seriously, bonus cut "TIRING // BOBBY HUTTON" is one of the best songs I've heard all year.)

Three new tracks for you to snack on...

OT The Real, "Multiply (feat. BoriRock & Shaykh Hanif)"

Cavalier, "Doodoo Damien"

Lexa Gates, "Stacy's Chips"

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