Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin
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Pink Siifu & Fly Anakin

Words by Ricardo Miguel Vieira

Photography by Rasaan Wyzard

Pink Siifu and Fly Anakin are snaking through Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood in a rental car when they greet me over the phone. “Cold!” replies Fly, when I ask how they’ve both been. “It’s snowing on this side of the U.S.” It’s early February and a Winter storm just blanketed New York as both artists convened in the city to promote FlySiifu’s, their first joint album. Since it dropped in late 2020, Siifu and Anakin have been relentless in their efforts to celebrate the project. The pandemic may have messed up their plans to throw some parties, but didn’t stop them from producing plenty of vibrant visuals and curating a deluxe edition of the record. It’s only fair to say the pair are intent on making the most out of their momentum – even if it means braving the elements, and the virus. “I can’t believe we ain’t got Covid,” says Siifu. “But the show must go on. We’re doing hella shit, we’ve been pretty busy.”

Chatting with both artists as they put in the work in NYC after flying in from Los Angeles (Siifu) and Chattannoga, Tennessee (Anakin) is a reminder of FlySiifu’s on-the-move creation process. The recording sessions took place in studios in LA, New York and Richmond, VA, after it became apparent that the project would only progress whenever they were actually together in the same room. “Being in the studio puts us in a place where neither is trying to show up to the next person,” says Anakin. “So we’d find a beat we like and spend the next thirty minutes writing. Whoever goes first, sets it up, then the next person comes through and boom. We never set a topic. We write and whatever happens, just happens. If I fuck with it, Imma follow. In my mind, it’s just a song. I try not to put too much thought into it.”

It’s the sort of dynamic that feeds off the strength of genuine brotherhood. In FlySiifu’s, there’s a ride-or-die spirit oozing from two friends simply having a ball trading bars about smoking, grinding their way to the top and living the black American experience. There’s a sense of utter honesty in the way they describe their own connection, making it seem like they came up on the same block as childhood friends. But their fellowship was brokered only a handful of years ago, ironically, during a gig in New York following the usual shoutouts on social media.
“Certain relationships don’t really translate from phones to real life,” says Anakin. “Sometimes people are not who they say they are. But he was exactly the same dude. It’s a weird kind of chemistry. I don’t know where it comes from, but this shit is happening.” “Yeah, we’re real friends. We know each other like a motherfucker,” adds Siifu. “I love this nigga. There’s real love, connection and friendship in this album.”

The fact that they share “very similar upbringings and life stories,” as Anakin points out, was also important in forging such a tight friendship. Anakin was brought up in Richmond, where his father was a lifelong drug dealer while his mother carried the burden of raising three children on her own. Siifu’s childhood was marred by the loss of family members to illness and violence in Birmingham, Alabama. By middle school, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he dealt with good friends getting locked up, or perishing on the streets.

Such traumatic events bolstered Siifu’s and Anakin’s brotherly bond as they shared a commitment to overcoming the traumas and seeking relief. “Siifu’s pops was a straying nigga type of situation; and my pops would sell drugs and shit. I wasn’t forced into it, but I’ve seen it first-hand. We both made a choice not to be like our parents and I think that’s where [our bond] comes from. On top of that, we smoked a lot of weed together.”

When it came to experimenting with music, though, Siifu and Anakin had distinct experiences. Siifu’s upbringing was rooted in a musical family. His grandfather was a respected figure in Nigeria’s ’70s and ’80s jazz movement, while his father played the saxophone. By his early teens, he joined the school’s marching band on the trumpet before switching to drums. When he was 17, he started dedicating his energy to poetry thanks to a girlfriend who was a diehard 2Pac fan.

By contrast, Anakin’s inspirations spawned from his older brother’s tape collection. “He was my lifeline in hip-hop,” he says. “He was the reason I was listening to Wu-Tang, DMX, Nas or Jay-Z, Big Pun or Big L.” There was also an uncle who fueled Anakin’s determination into becoming a rapper. “I was in third grade listening to Bow Wow, I was a big fan! My uncle told me, ‘this is some pussy shit, you’re not supposed to be listening to this,’ then he takes my CD and gives me Ready to Die. That was the making of me. I said I wanted to be a rapper, and from then on I focused on it”. Drawing his own path with a do-it-yourself grit, Anakin developed a community-minded sensibility in the rap game. He co-founded the collective Mutant Academy with a crew of rappers and producers from Virginia with whom he’s been tirelessly collaborating to this day.

Siifu and Anakin found common ground in the sonic tastes they cultivated during their formative years. For one thing, both yield a deep appreciation for past and present heroes able to create entire worlds within their songs. That became the catalyst for FlySiifu’s concept: creating their own fictional record store: FlySiifu’s Records & Tapes. Revealed in their video for “Mind Right,” the shop revives Ras G’s historic Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena, California, with Siifu and Anakin as employees. Donning custom grey employee garb, the pair buzz around the shop floor, puffing joints, shelving records of icons like SZA, Ras G or Little Richard, and keeping the register ringing.

“The record shop is just a bit of a home for all the concepts and skits on the album,” says Siifu. “I feel like all the greats did that shit, they created worlds and we wanted to do the same. Outkast always took me somewhere else. Badu the same. George Clinton’s Mothership Connection didn’t exist when he made it, but when he put it out to the universe, maybe it became real. I was raised on shit like that. So instead of just making songs about a time, we wanted to take you somewhere else.”

“The idea of a record store came from Pinky’s “Next Friday” skit on Outkast’s Aquemini,” explains Anakin. “We came up with something tangible that we could actually take to somewhere, you know. We can just bring a bunch of items and do a pop-up in the city and call it ‘FlySiifu’s Record Shop.’”

FlySiifu’s skits feature the voicemail rants of wacked-out customers cussing at Siifu’s and Anakin’s no-fucks-given approach to customer service, hilariously weaving together the album’s narrative. “It’s about the old shit we grew up on,” says Anakin. “The album will live longer by having personalities built into it. I feel we can create a TV show out of the album, because we put so much personality into it. That’s also how you create the environment, which for me is the cool part of making music.” Siifu chimes in in agreement, “and you know how niggas are always complaining about customer service, we definitely had to run that shit,” adds Siifu.

There’s an undeniable degree of nostalgia running through FlySiifu’s heart – from the artwork, to the record store concept, to the soulful samples wielded by producers such as Graymatter, Jay Versace and Madlib. Despite the diverse roster of beatmakers on the album, FlySiifu’s sound is impressively cohesive, with a broad range of fellow rappers featuring in tracks and cropping up in skits (we see you, bbymutha) without ever making the record feel overcrowded.
“Having those artists in the skits was a way of having them on the album, but without featuring on a song,” says Siifu. “We just gotta shine the lights on our peers. We just like to show love to those who inspire us and the culture.”

It’s no surprise to hear the pair acknowledge their place within a burgeoning community of independent rappers in the U.S. that have been reaching out and pushing each other forward in recent times. Artists like Slauson Malone, Mavi, AKAI SOLO, Ankhlejohn or loji, and collectives such as Mutant Academy and sLums, to name a few, all recognisable by their sense of unity and powerful reflections on grief, mental health, black struggle, and black excellence. “They push me,” says Anakin. “That’s the sole reason I appreciate the community. There are so many good motherfuckers. I feel we’ve got to take care of each other. We want everyone to be great, to link up and not feel like we’ve got to compete with each other because we’re part of something bigger than we are. Instead of beefing, I rather this be positive, especially because there’s no reason to be mad at another person. We can just make something. I want this generation to last forever. And with this album we can show people we can come together and do some shit.”

When Siifu and Anakin finally pull up at their Bed-Stuy AirBnB, our connection starts crackling. In the final minutes of our conversation, I remind them that FlySiifu’s has been out for nearly six months. How are they feeling about it at this point, then? “When I return to it, I be like, ‘Oh damn, we snapped on this,’” says Siifu. Despite the pandemic leaving little room for any potential gigs or tours this year, Siifu does leave a promise: “Fly has never done a release party, so as soon as this Covid shit is gone, Imma plan one for my boy.”

What is certain is that their plates are as full as they can be for the remainder of 2021, no matter the limitations. Among other plans, Siifu has “a full jazz album, an EP with B Cool Aid and some beat tapes” coming round the way. As for Anakin, it’s impossible not to dig for more details on the album he’s cooking with Madlib - “I won’t say when it will be out, but it’s getting worked on. I would like for it to be out this year, and that's what I'm aiming towards, but if it's not, then it's not.” Other than the FlyLib joint, there’s a solo record on Lex Records in the pipeline.
“The next five years are goin’ to be wonderful,” says Fly Anakin as we wrap up. “It’s written already, we’re in it. We’ve never stopped working on it.” Siifu firmly agrees, then chuckles. “Just pray that we survive.”

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