Will Hagle’s hanging on the Death Star.
“This the gritty shit you’ve been waiting for,” Fly Anikan says, the first words spoken on Chapel Drive, his collaborative full-length LP with fellow Mutant Academy member Koncept Jack$on.
If your first thought is, “What do you mean I’ve been waiting on gritty shit? I only listen to real hip-hop,” then Chapel Drive might not be for you.
If your thought is, instead, “Yes! I have been waiting on gritty shit that’s not old man rap or cheap ‘90s nostalgia but also doesn’t let the beat breathe long enough to fit 21 ‘21’ adlibs in between each line,” then Chapel Drive, and Mutant Academy in general, are exactly what you need.
After Fly Anakin delivers those opening lines of “lxclvsxnly 2,” he raps for another gritty minute and a half straight. Then he, along with Koncept Jack$on and the other two Mutant Academy rappers, trade verses for 15 more tracks over beats provided by the crew’s team of producers.
As you may have guessed, Mutant Academy is a hip-hop group. The aforementioned Fly Anakin founded the group along with Henny L.O., and the duo has since expanded their roster. Mutant Academy’s core four rappers—Fly Anakin, Henny L.O., Koncept Jack$on, and Big Kahuna OG—hail from Richmond, VA, a city known more for its depressing history of slavery, tobacco, and urban decay than for the vibrant underground hip-hop scene that currently exists there. Virginia may be somewhat of a low-key historic musical state, but its capital city is known mostly just for D’Angelo, who was born there, and GWAR, who was born on various intergalactic barbarian planets but ultimately banished to the 804 area code of earth.
Like GWAR, and other more apt comparisons, Mutant Academy is more of a collective than a traditional band. In addition to the main four rappers, the Mutant Academy umbrella also encompasses several producers and other artists. A few even contribute from outside the immediate Richmond area
Chapel Drive, released in March 2017, is the first Mutant Academy album to feature every member on one project. Though the LP is billed as Fly Anakin and Koncept Jack$on’s, the other members play as prominent a role, and every in-house producer sneaks in a beat or two. The album also features Mutant Academy outsider/Richmond native Nickelus F, who I mention mostly to remind you that he’s probably ghostwritten for Drake, who probably uses ghostwriters.
Mutant Academy as a whole is difficult to describe, because there are so many moving parts that form the finished product. The group has a distinct aesthetic, but it’s difficult to pinpoint. There’s no angle. They don’t splice in X-Men clips like Wu-Tang did with samurai flicks. They’re not outlandish or offensive like Odd Future was at the beginning. They don’t rely on hooks, or even really use them at all, like A$AP Mob does. Most of their music lacks emotional variation; there aren’t many highs or lows, and the delivery is even-keeled. They don’t rap about anything specific, but it’s cool. In that sense, they’re more like Oslo-based label Mutual Intentions, a group of artists from an underrepresented musical city whose Twitter description matches their name: “Unified by their work in music and visual arts.”
In an attempt to make sense of this all, below is a list of every member of Mutant Academy, along with a short description of what each member brings to the collective’s overall vision:
Fly Anakin is one half of Mutant Academy’s founding duo, and likely the group’s best member. His squawky voice carries Chapel Drice, and his new solo album People Like Us, is out now. He just put out a video for “Brainwash’d/ East Broad St.” off that project, and it’s good. Fly Anakin can rap for days over dusty beats without pausing for hooks, and therefore has been forced to duck inaccurate accusations of being a ‘90s nostalgia rapper. He’s more akin to Vic Spencer and Chris Crack, modern, forward-looking rappers who are unfairly pigeonholed for excelling at the lost art of stringing strong and often funny bars together. Oh, and he’s gritty.
Henny L.O. started Mutant Academy with Fly Anakin. His raps are a little easier to understand on the surface level, his voice the smooth counterpart to his co-founder. He put out a couple of solo albums last year and I hope he puts out more this year.
Koncept Jack$on is much more than just the resident crew member with a dollar sign in his name. His 2016 Hawaii project, which features Fly Anakin on “King Shit / Red Light in Rio” and formed the genesis of the Chapel Drive LP, is the best display of his abilities as a solo artist. He has a penchant for painting clear visuals in a slightly huskier voice than his fellow crew members, providing some slight comic relief without losing the more serious vibe that Mutant Academy puts out.
Big Kahuna OG
On “Kissing on the Jewelry,” a single produced by Foisey, Big Kahuna OG says, “They always put a microscope on your flaws,” so I’ll refrain from doing that here. He doesn’t have many. His flow tends to be more accessible than the other Mutant Academy members, but he still manages to pack a lot in while remaining under control. As he says at the end of the song, “All I want to do is go against the grain / All I want to do is style on lames.” He does.
BSTFRND is one of the Mutant Academy producers, as well as a DJ and producer. He takes the entirely instrumental “interlood” on Chapel Drive. He also designed the album’s artwork.
Ewonee is one of the Mutant Academy producers. He’s from New York.
Foisey is another Mutant Academy producer. He’s from Connecticut.
Sycho Sid is another producer, as well as an audio engineer. Based in D.C.
Graymatter is one of the Mutant Academy producers who’s from Richmond, like the rappers.
Unlucky Bastards is(are?) a producer(s) from Richmond as well. Their(?) beat for “room temp agua” might be Chapel Hill’s best, with its live-sounding drums.
In fear of another X-Men comparison, I’m going to reference another movie, the best of 2017 so far and maybe the best ever: Baby Driver. One of Kevin Spacey’s credos in that movie is that he never puts the same team together twice. He works with the same criminals for the various heists that he masterminds, but he always mixes up the order. To a certain extent, that’s what Mutant Academy does as well. There are enough members of the group and enough individual voices among them that any combination of rappers, featured artists, and producers results in a uniquely dope concoction. And it always ends up feeling like it’s part of a cohesive sound. Mutant Academy make the kind of music that would have Angel Elsfort tappin’ his toes on the gas pedal, if you know what I’m saying.
Mutant Academy is not, like Baby from Baby Driver, from Atlanta. They’re removed from that scene. They’re from Richmond and that makes them, for some reason, even more exciting. They have an extensive discography on Bandcamp and Soundcloud and sorting through their music feels like peering into the earliest stages of an exciting movement burgeoning up from an underrepresented musical region. This article isn’t the most definitive explanation of what Mutant Academy is capable of, but the evidence is out there if you’re willing to listen for yourself. There’s a good chance you’ll find what you’ve been waiting for.