SF Rapper, Frak, Talks Gentrification, Education, and His New Album Limewire ‘03
Guest post by Jordan Ranft
Alex Fraknoi, aka Frak, started his foray into hip-hop at thirteen on Kanyetalk.com, an online forum dedicated to Mr. West’s music and celebrity. It was the same forum, in fact, on which the members of BROCKHAMPTON met. Frak, was friends with Kevin Abstract, front-man for the collective, years before the group even formed. “When we started we were both the joke of the forum,” he explains, “we had these high-pitched voices and people would troll us and ask for our nudes and weird stuff like that.” Both he and Abstract refused to be dissuaded, however, and communicated via AIM, exchanging lyrics and loops made on GarageBand. “Fast forward a couple years later and we got kind of good, had a couple songs together, but I was a senior in high school and felt like I needed to get off this Kanye west forum,” there is a note of remorse in his voice. “Couple years later he [Abstract] forms BROCKHAMPTON and it becomes one of the most popular rap groups out there right now,” he laughs, “so, massive mistake on my part.”
Missed chances aside, Frak, now 23, has been busy forging his own path in the Bay Area music scene and at large. He has opened for the likes of Earth Wind & Fire, Anderson Paak, and Travis Scott. He has won an innumerable amount of freestyle competitions, many of which at the monthly bacchanalian variety show, Tourettes Without Regrets in Oakland. He has travelled internationally as a battle rapper for events like Spin the Mic in England, and King of The Dot’s World Domination in Toronto. Most recently, he dropped a full-length album, LimeWire ’03, packed with a mix of cerebral, socially driven songs and anthems of heartbreak, joy, and location.
A majority of the beats on LimeWire ‘03 are repurposed chops and samples from R&B songs that Frak downloaded off of LimeWire, a progenitor for music sharing in the 21st century, in his youth. “It’s all R&B influenced, but louder and in slow motion.” This production motif aims to link the music he grew up listening to with the memory of the early days of the internet, and the unforeseen zeitgeist shifting ramifications that it would soon harken. In the album, personal nostalgia rubs shoulders with the global implications of technological advancement in both production and lyrics. These thematics, though, take a back seat to what Frak describes as the main goal of the album, “establishing a cohesive musical sound,” and to that extent the album is quite successful.
Frak was born and raised in San Francisco’s inner Sunset district and has seen first-hand how the city has changed as a result of the Silicon Valley boom over the past two decades, another overlap between his personal experiences and the impact of technology. It comes as no surprise then, that he is quite outspoken about the effects of gentrification and tech-culture on the Bay Area in both his music and the work he does with community organizations like Youth Speaks. “My mom worked at this Mission cultural senior housing center where we grew up,” he explains, “I used to come every day after school to eat with her, it was like a second home for me.” After returning to the Bay from college in Southern California a couple years back he noticed many drastic changes. “The facades of buildings shifted, condos had started popping up, and, I think the biggest, and most disappointing, change I’ve seen is in the youth culture in the city.”
“It used to focus so much on creativity and art and culture,” he reminisces, “and it’s just been replaced by this bro-tech culture of getting fucked up, making money, and waiting in line for expensive tapas.” Frak laments the disappearance of the vibrant, rich, culture in the city that had fostered his own creativity as a kid. Since returning from college he has planted his own flag of resistance against this shift by working with Youth Speaks, the renowned Bay Area non-profit that brings art and performance education into schools, youth centers, and communities in order to empower the next generation of voices. For the past year Frak has taught writing and hip-hop classes at continuation high-schools in Oakland and San Francisco, and recently began another workshop, open to the public, at the SF public library. “My work with Youth Speaks has revitalized my optimism for the culture of youth here,” he professes, “These kids have so much raw talent and their stories are so necessary. I can’t say I’ve changed their lives, but providing a platform for them to find their own voices has been a personally powerful experience.”
Following in the footsteps of so many Bay Area rappers before him, Frak loves to rap about the Bay Area itself. In the song “Small Talk” off the album Frak is joined by beloved rapper and San Francisco native, Watsky. The pair trade versus about exactly what these preceding paragraphs have spoken of: the effect of technology and wealth on San Francisco. Watsky raps with a mechanical cynicism at the start of his verse, “Member Member when we used to spark?/ The tender embers, late night in Dolores park?/ But now the Technorati sharks come feed up on the carcass of the city which was once the titty that we fed upon, they’re gone before its dark.” It’s a rather scathing indictment from the two, but not without heart. The lyrics and deliver both bespeak a sense of loss the rappers feel when observing the changes brought to their home city.
The album, and Frak himself, is mourning what has happened to the Bay as a result of the influx of tech-culture. I’d argue, though, that it is at the same time a celebrating what remains. “A lot of the themes of this album are pro-Bay Area and anthemic of the region,” Frak explains, “but it’s also about the difficulty I have reconciling with all these changes that have taken place.” Reconciliation aside, the album slaps. There is no deficiency of celebration amidst the social contemplation. The best example of this is the song, “Draymond Green,” which, as the title suggests, is all about the beloved Golden State Warriors player, Draymond Green. It’s loud, it is joyful, it is what you want in a Bay anthem. Check it out below.
Like what you hear? Listen to all of LimeWire ’03 right here.