Fly Anakin leveled up with Frank, a lowkey early album of the year candidate in 2022 that still held up when the year closed out. The Richmond rapper’s debut LP came after a breathless period of prolificacy, combining the bubbling psychedelia he and Big Kahuna OG explored on Holly Water with the heavy-lidded haze of his work with Pink Siifu. It was a triumph, a coming-out party that signaled Anakin’s arrival as an essential new voice to the broader rap landscape. A year later, he’s back with Skinemaxxx (Side A), the first of a two-part collaboration with foisey, a Connecticut-based producer and fellow Mutant Academy member. Unfortunately, Skinemaxxx doesn’t capitalize on the momentum Anakin built with Frank, feeling more like a lateral move than a charge forward.

It’s a little confusing because there’s nothing about Skinemaxxx that’s inherently bad. Taken individually, the songs are mostly excellent. Anakin still approaches the mic like speed bag drills, displaying the tight rhythmic control that’s made him compelling from the jump. On quiet storm drill jam “Blickey Bop,” the EP’s first single, he moves with a Project Pat staccato, adding a sly, graceful swing on the phrase “get to know me.” Other tracks, like the organ strut of “Suppression” or cocaine funk of “Outsidigan’s Anthem” showcase Anakin’s precision; he raps with such an exacting meter that it’s easy to become fully hypnotized by his songs.

Foisey’s backdrops are integral to the equation. Like most of his fellow Mutant Academy maestros, foisey tends towards stuttering loops and muted drums. His work on Anakin’s criminally overlooked At the End of the Day is some of the album’s best; the two clearly have excellent chemistry. On Skinemaxx, foisey shifts from dusty soul and psych samples to the glossy digital synths and gated snares of the late 80s and early 90s, creating delightfully sleazy beats that live up to the album’s title.

Even though the songs themselves work well, there’s something missing from the execution of the album. A charitable read says that Skinemaxx (Side B) will provide greater context and tie things together well, but it could mean that neither holds up without the other. Side A suffers mostly from its odd sequencing. Anakin and foisey isolate “Blickey Bop,” the first (and best) song on the collection, between two skits, dulling its impact. Anakin has a habit of intoning a song’s hook the same as he raps a verse, and though it can create the aforementioned hypnotic effect, too many songs of that sort in quick succession can make the album blur together a little. Side A’s highs are undeniably high, but they’re sort of lost in the mix.

These days, we’re under constant bombardment by the tyranny of choice. It’s an interesting double-edged sword: The streaming era has effectively flattened the landscape, making it easier for artists and fans to access one another. But, on the other hand, the Spotify effect on attention spans is outright brutal, making it a necessity to drop project after project in order to maintain relevancy.

It’s never been easier for someone like Fly Anakin, armed with a bullet train work ethic, to stack a ton of songs and release them when he feels like it. But one does have to wonder if projects like Side A would be better off with a little more time and consideration. What if “Blickey Bop” had been an indicator of an exciting new direction rather than a momentary aberration? Perhaps Side B will answer these questions, but taken by itself, Side Ais a slightly disappointing follow-up to one of last year’s greatest rap moments.