Bay Area MC Frak entered a battle rap competition streamed over Twitch and was paired in the first round with the top guy in the game, Dizaster.
Dizaster is this insane conspiracy theorist, aggressive battle rapper. I knew I could use my style of humor and sarcasm to kind of break him down – Frak for CentralSauce (2020)
Frak was intimidated, but he’d found his angle. He knew not only that his opponent thought COVID was a “Bill Gates liberal hoax,” but also that if he brought out a graph of the real numbers the elite battle MC would tear them out of his hand. So mid-battle while spitting “Your Instagram lately been gettin’ me mad, you think Covid is this liberal plan conspiracy fad, but I think it’s time to give em some stats, I printed a graph,” Frak pulled a piece of paper out of his hoodie pocket. Like he predicted, Dizaster went directly from flipping him off to knocking the graph out of his hand. Ironically, while knocking something out of Frak’s hand Dizaster also played right into it. Frak in rhythm pulled out a second paper graph while spitting, “I brought an extra cuz I knew this fool would rip it in half.” Needless to say, the crowd went absolutely bonkers.
When I first heard Frak’s song “Rick Moranis” ft. OFLO and saw the accompanying visual, what hit me immediately was the attention to detail. In the same way as he crafts his rap battle finessery, the composition of his songs is delivered with a clearly elite level of thought. Due to his MC pride he takes a “no bars off” approach to his songs, but also doesn’t ever make one without a clear theme. In addition, the production, vocal layering, and emotional and story arcs of his tracks are concocted with obsessive specificity. While his new project B-List Celebrities (released on fellow Bay Area Icon Zion I’s Empire Records imprint, Keep It Movin) is only 7 tracks, the depth of the arrangements makes it feel like at least 10 to 12.
The album is a sheer triumph from top to bottom in standing out from the pack. There’s very little else out there that blends such brightly complex instrumentals with smoothly executed harmonies and hooks, while still delivering top tier skillful rapping. On the opening track “Macaulay Culkin” Frak goes from intricate bars like, “I ain’t sleepin’ ‘til I season my dreams. I ain’t sleepin’ ‘til my demons release. I ain’t sleepin’ ‘til the fire deepen and the choir speakin’ to stop sleepin’ on me,” directly to a multi vocal layered hook about insomnia, into a Roger Troutman-styled vocoder bridge section seamlessly. On the closing track “Fergie” he fuses his own hook with Fergie’s “Glamorous” over a horn filled instrumental, then glides into an 808s and Heartbreaks-esque autotune/rap verse about balancing success and perspective. The variance and specificity with which Frak executes his ideas while also staying authentic is just so dope to listen to.
Frak doesn’t fall into the trap that ensnares a lot of other white-passing rappers of taking himself far too seriously. He stays honest and true to who he is and where he comes from, while combining cheeky punchlines with moments of poignant human depth. You don’t get any sense of a need for performative wokeness or “well look at me, I’m hurting too” energy as he leads with analysis rather than a need for acceptance. In the course of our conversation, Frak felt impeccably self-aware, which unquestionably translates into all of his art.
We spoke over the phone for an in-depth look at his vast plethora of musical avenues and spoke on everything from lyrical miracles to the power of anger to Fergie’s national anthem performance.
Read our full conversation below, edited slightly for content and clarity.
Firstly, congrats on everything! Can you break down this deal with Zion I and Empire and how it all came to be?
It’s actually kind of a cute, heartwarming story. The way I started rapping in real life, not on the internet, was when I was 14 I was in this thing called the Youth Speaks MC Olympics. Youth Speaks is a really dope organization in the Bay Area that does poetry and hip-hop workshops and competitions for youth. This was their first year doing one for rappers because they were more spoken word centric. I actually won the one for the San Francisco chapter and the judge was Zion I, who at that point in my one year rap career was a heavy influence. He was a Bay Area Icon from Oakland who was able to have mainstream success and maintain a conscious and independent vibe. So I connected with him then and I got to open for him once in Oakland at The New Parish.
Then a few years ago, I actually took the position at Youth Speaks running the MC Olympics. So I was planning and organizing hip-hop competitions for youth and teaching hip-hop workshops to underprivileged youth around The Bay. I asked Zion to headline the MC Olympics and he did. Then from that moment on we stayed in touch. He saw that I was planning a bunch of shows and took notice of my brand. And I told him “if there was ever a chance to build let’s build.” In the corniest rapper sense of linking and building. He stayed in touch and he’d been trying to do this deal with Empire which is a bigger label and conglomerate. He was one of their first artists and one of the first people they believed in to distribute their music. So he’s been trying to start his own shit there for a while with the homie Eugene who’s a mutual manager between the both of us. I sent them my project B-List Celebrities and they ended up saying, “yeah, let’s do it for this album.”
Wow! So how does it feel to not only be on his label, but to have him on the album?
It’s dope, man. It was kind of a natural thing, and I kind of took it for granted. He took me on tour to Seattle and Vancouver and we’d been in talks so when he said he’d do it I was like, “oh nice.” Then I heard it and I was like, “oh shit this is Zion I on my own song on my album, I’ve been taking this for granted.” He killed his verse on “Gilbert Gottfried.”
Def man. This is sort of off topic but have you seen the video where Gilbert Gottfried reads “50 Shades of Grey?”
Oh yeah it’s hilarious. You know what dude I was actually looking into it, cuz I was thinking of TikTok. He has Cameo, which is a service where you can buy a clip, so I was thinking of sending him the song on Cameo and then paying him to react to it and see what he thinks.
That would be dope. Maybe he’d like it ya never know, but it would be funnier if he hated it.
Frak: Yeah yeah like (in Gilbert Gottfried voice) “WHAT IS THIS? USING MY LIKENESS FOR YOUR PROMOTION?!”
Well who knows, maybe he’s a big rap fan and he’ll big it up.
Yeah, it’s a win-win. However he reacts will be hilarious.
For sure! Let’s go back to Zion I for a second: when you think of his influence on you, what’s your favorite song of his?
I think it was this song “Bird’s Eye View,” which is not one of his more popular songs. It’s one of those songs that personifies hip-hop as a woman. I remember hearing that as a kid and my mind being blown like, “woah he’s using this poetic form to describe hip-hop and it’s so deep and so soulful.” But then he also has all these bangers too. So it was cool to see he can feed the spirit and he can feed the ass shaking shit. He had a good balance of both which I’ve always wanted to do. Be thoughtful, but also make shit people wanna party and chill to.
Right. He also dove into electronic music, which I hear some of in your sound. Did you get any of that influence from him?
Yeah! That’s really new for me on this album. That sort of chill-wave electronic, whatever you fucking call it, has been really inspiring to me. From artists like KAYTRANADA, I wanted to experiment with it. But yeah Zion I’s been really doing that recently too working with producers like Bassnectar. I’m sure one way or another that inspired me.
So what’s your perception of the overall music culture and subculture in The Bay and how has it specifically influenced you and how you move?
It’s really one of the most underrated hip-hop scenes in the world. We started so many trends and movements and sounds. Like YG and DJ Mustard’s LA sound that’s been popularized, that’s what Too Short was doing in ‘02. People like Mac Dre. People are still making music now in that more fun loving freestyle based way. I don’t have the classic hyphy sound that much in my music. But it’s that fun loving positivity and easygoing-ness with life that exudes from The Bay. I try to encapsulate that in my music at all times.
You also have a distinct and consistent chopped and screwed H-town sound throughout your music, especially on a song like “Rick Moranis.” Where’d that influence come from?
Dude, I didn’t even know that until you just told me, but hip-hop is so global now so I’m inspired by everything I hear. But I would honestly credit that a lot to my homie Will Randolph V who executive produced the project. He’s the most talented musician I know. He’s a singer. He’s a drummer. He’s an amazing sampler. He didn’t produce every song, but he’s able to take what the producer did and make it come to life musically. I think his family has roots in the south. His dad was one of the first hip-hop b-boys in Oakland. We produce everything together. Like I’ll find a sample and start chopping it and he’ll start making it musical and beautiful. So I think our minds coming together and all of our cultural influences is what creates that.
You definitely have as much specificity in your composition as you do in your bars, even as someone coming from battle rap.
My music hasn’t always been like that. When I started, my music was very lyrical, like 62-bar verses. I think being able to find battle rap and using that subculture to get that chip off my shoulder of, “I’m a really good rapper,” has been great. Every rapper wants to be known as a fucking amazing MC. Battle rap is a space where I can prove that and be as much of a lyrical miracle as I want to be. Then when I approach music rather than seeing it as a way to prove myself as an MC, I can see it as a way to channel me as a musician. Then to make the best most vibey music possible. I think that framing really helped me see this album as a cohesive musical project.
That really comes across. But since you mentioned it let’s talk about your battle rapping and your viral battle video against Dizaster.
Battle rap has always been a promotional tool for me. It’s a really awesome subculture, but I really have done it to promote my music or my skits. It’s so fucking nerve wracking and insane, but the adrenaline you feel when you’re doing good is great. I usually do only one or two a year cuz I can’t really stomach doing any more. If you have irritable bowel syndrome don’t ever become a battle rapper. I’ll tell that to all my fans. But this particular battle was insane cuz it was a tournament for 50,000 dollars live on Twitch.
Battle rap has done this partnership with Twitch outta nowhere which has put a lotta new eyes on it. So not only was I live on Twitch in a tournament for 50,000 dollars, but I got paired in the first round with the biggest fucking battle rapper in the world, Dizaster. He’s played a movie villain battle rapper, battled Canibus & Cassidy, he talks to Eminem, stuff like that. So I knew with this opportunity… as Eminem would say, “you only got one shot.” (Both laugh) My palms were super sweaty mom’s spaghetti for this battle. But Dizaster is this insane conspiracy theorist, aggressive battle rapper. I knew I could use my style of humor and sarcasm to kind of break him down. So I tried a bunch of things I knew would pick at his scabs, and be sarcastic in ways I knew would hurt him. By doing that I built up to pulling out this graph of covid statistics cuz he thinks covid is a Bill Gates liberal hoax. So I pulled out this graph and as soon as I pulled it out I knew he would rip it out of my hand, which he did, and then I pulled out an extra graph cuz I had an extra in my pocket and the crowd went crazy. It got like a million views on Twitter. I was tryna psychologically analyze his human behavior and be ready to pounce.
Thats dope! But you did eventually lose yeah? Did you feel slighted?
Yeah, it’s like a huge scandal. The judges all picked Dizaster even though the popular vote had me winning by 76 percent. Which is also crazy because Dizaster has so many fans. Then afterwards the splash in the culture was crazy. All the bloggers and battle rappers were saying, “Frak got robbed, it’s a conspiracy, this is bullshit!” Obviously I felt slighted cuz I’m missing out on a chance for 50k. But, it’s the most innovative album rollout ever. The culture having my back and being this mad almost has worked in my favor and has gotten me so many new fans and followers who are now interested in the music. So personally, I’m not mad now cuz it’s worked for this album drop. But the culture is still very mad cuz they feel like fair is fair, and when controversy happens they wanna be on the right side of history.
It’s funny sometimes, fear and anger are more powerful than joy and celebration.
Yeah! If I would’ve beat Dizaster there would’ve obviously been this uproar of, “wow the underdog story! Frak took down the GOAT!” But would the energy have been as much as the collective frustration from this robbery? I think Trump has exposed that sometimes fear and hatred is more of a motivating factor, which is a sad truth about humans.
It’s a conundrum. Since you mentioned Trump can you talk about your political rap cartoons?
Yeah! I have a homie named Bo who’s writing a rap musical called “Rhyme Combinator” kind of like Hamilton. I’ve been helping him with it for years, and we have also now been hired to write political rap cartoons. They’re designed to motivate the center-right and center-left people to vote against Trump. It’s been a hell of an experience. All of them have gone super viral. We just approved for like 20 more before the election. So from now til then I’m going to be writing a bunch of viral TikToks about Trump and Biden debates, Trump versus the Post Office, and stuff like that.
What about this first debate that just happened? Any writing started from that?
Yeah, it’s funny because the rap battle community and everyone was tweeting, “this is a fucking rap battle.” Especially the way Trump went about it. He was really Dizastering through Biden’s rounds, interrupting and just being hella rude. Biden was telling him to stop yappin and shut the hell up. It really felt like a rap battle, which is terrible. That’s not what we want our fucking presidents to be doing. But as a result it’s totally giving us a runway to create this content that people really want to see, like what if this really was a rap battle? I think we’re gonna do it so like you can battle Trump or you can battle Biden and record your own thing against them. So that might be fun.
That’s funny man, and a dope idea. Before I get too far away from it let’s talk about this album! Talk to me about the title B-List Celebrities. Where’d that idea come from?
So my last album was called Limewire ‘03. I was proud of the body of work but I think the number one thing I failed at was cohesiveness. I dropped this song “Draymond” which ended up getting to play in the NBA finals at the Warriors Arena. I dropped a song “Small Talk” about gentrification and they all had their moments, but there was nothing tying them together. So it felt like this scattered body of work. So my thought behind B-list celebrities was I’d made this song called “Aubrey Plaza” and it was the first one I did. So I was like “cool so I want to make it cohesive. Should I just name every song after a celebrity?” Then I thought of B-List Celebrities as a title and I just started framing the project like that before I even started making songs. Then I noticed what was happening was I’d started making songs that were more abstract, that weren’t related to anyone but could kind of work, and were connecting in an abstract way to b-list celebrities. Then I thought of it through the aesthetic point of view of covers and music videos and being able to tie everything together through this concept and it ended up working.
It’s funny you say abstract because there’s very specific themes throughout.
Yeah I mean I’m not doing like, “this song’s name is “Fergie,” and this is a song about Fergie.” Like “Rick Moranis” is a song about ghosting that abstractly relates to Rick Moranis being in Ghostbusters. So a secondary connection.
Got it. So let’s talk about some themes. I noticed on the album you talk a few times about your sense of reality. Can you expand on that?
“Chamillionaire” is a song specifically about being a social chameleon and code switching. I made it with my boy Pass who’s kind of a battle rap legend. He’s from Oakland. From living in The Bay you’re kind of forced to switch your personality and bend who you are. The song’s about the struggle of maintaining a common self.
Do you feel you are a different version of yourself with different groups?
Definitely. I feel like every year I’m getting better at maintaining a self that’s consistent. But as a rapper and entertainer you have to bend yourself for different groups or situations. Your sense of reality can get warped when trying to do that. A song like “Fergie” is about being on a kind of dopamine high and feeling like you’re at your peak, then the only way you can go is down. The song is kind of based on the video where she sang the national anthem at the NBA All Star Game and they’re all kind of laughing at her. Instead of being embarrassed she just doubles down. It’s kind of this idea of when you’re at the top but making a fool of yourself instead of being hesitant you go for it. That can warp your sense of reality too. Not having the self awareness to pad your fall.
The second theme I heard a lot was dealing with your past.
Yeah, I mean “Gilbert Gottfried” deals with my family history being half-Hungarian, half-Peruvian. A son of immigrants and maintaining this Jewish-Peruvian-Hungarian smörgåsbord of an identity. “Rick Moranis” talks about a romantic past and ghosting. The first verse is about being on the receiving end and the second verse is about being the ghoster and dealing with what leads to that. “Macaulay Culkin” deals with it, but also warped reality too. It deals with dreams and insomnia. Then envisioning insomnia itself as a metaphor for living your dreams. Then quitting the 9-to-5 grind. “They told me don’t quit your day job, I told them don’t quit your daydreams.” Living that dream and pursuing it with reckless abandon. I think that’s reflected in my past and life being a teacher and other things. Then living this past year making the album and just going for the passion.
My read on “Macaulay Culkin” and your past is, it seems to explore the anxiety that was instilled in you which caused the insomnia or am I off?
No, that’s a good read. Being anxious about your own ambitions and trying to channel that in a positive way, but not facing the consequences of not sleeping. Then being terrorized by your own daydreams.
Word. So I wanted to talk to you about the specific process of vocal layering in your music. Is there any 90’s R&B influence in that?
Honestly, I’d say more early 2000’s R&B. You always go back to the music that awakened your puberty and stuck with you and hit deep. That to me is like early Usher, early Omarion and Lloyd and that type of shit. Even Aaliyah and Timbaland, ya know, Justin Timberlake. That’s what turned me from a boy to a man! (Both laugh) Those bar mitzvah years, ya feel me? Tryna take those early influences and apply them to this new sound we were tryna curate on this new project. It was something I always wanted to do, but I never felt confident enough in my own singing voice to try. I really felt I owed it to myself on this album to experiment with layering, harmonies, bridges, and being able to not only get my message across with the lyrics but with the way the lyrics were being delivered. So that the mood of the song is delivered emotionally.
The album only has 7 songs, but it’s so filled out it feels like 10-12. Were there songs that didn’t make the cut because the ones you had already had so much within them?
Not finished songs, but there were a lot of ideas that never made it out the writers room. I wanted to keep it chewable. I wanted to make it something you come back to. I didn’t want to take the Big Sean or Drake route and make 20 songs like a playlist. I wanted a cohesive thing that had an emotional arc, but not to overwhelm people.
I feel you. To finish, I want to say a lyric of yours to you then ask a question. “They say “Keep your enemies close.” Why would I be keepin’ an enemy? Reapin’ the benefits, peepin’ the negatives. Seekin’ revenge, tryna V for Vendetta me. Bitch, I pulled up in a Prius. You know that I keep the same energy.” Did a specific circumstance influence this? And are cutoffs in life necessary for progression?
So that song “Judge Judy” specifically is about judgmental people, which I’ve faced in all facets of life. Whether it was growing up Jewish, with Jewish moms being the most judgmental. Not my mom actually but more other people’s. Then also in battle rap, fans are super judgmental because they see it as a sport. So there’s people in the sport they hate and people they like. There was a time when I was writing that song where people were being toxic for no reason. Tryna make up an enemy because they were so bored in their day to day job, they almost romanticized it. That toxicity, they thrive on it. That’s never been me and that’s always turned me off from the battle rap world. I’m here to build and create not destroy. There have been mentors I’ve had to cut off because they thrive on it. I think cutting off people is necessary. You know I’m a big fan of forgiveness and rehabilitation. The same way I feel about the private prison complex I feel about personal relationships. I think you should always give people a second chance. But I think when something is having a detrimental outcome on your life you definitely need to cut it off at least for the time being.
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