In 2011, Frank Anthony’s star was rising fast.
Having worked with Tyga, Scott Storch and Kendrick Lamar, Ernie Singleton billed him as one of the hottest new talents from Toronto. Some of his songs even rose through the Billboard charts, with his most notable hit single "I Don't Deserve You" reaching number 26, above Adele. If things kept up, he might have been in competition with Drake and The Weeknd among Canada’s biggest exports.
But not everything went as planned, and instead he’s sitting here in a crowded Toronto mall, talking to me. But cancer doesn't care about your chart position. It doesn't follow your career path.
You know how sometimes you look up and think "what are you trying to tell me?" 'cause nothing’s going right?
Somewhere along the way Anthony found his sound. He may not be known for the rambunctious bangers that Drizzy and his Toronto stans crank out, but Anthony’s energetic pop gained steam on the charts and caught the ear of a number of influential producers. It started in Las Vegas at a recording session with Al B. Sure! The new jack swing singer's sound engineer knew close friends of the notorious Mally Mall, who turned out to be The Audibles and Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd (today best known as Justin Bieber's go-to songwriter).
He got his first glimpse of the lavish life at Mally Mall’s Vegas mansion. “We get in, and there are four wolves running around in a field," says Anthony. "Wolves.”
There, he recorded a handful of solo tracks, before landing a big-name feature from Tyga.
“[The first time I met him] Tyga was sitting in his studio with a girl beside him, and he’s petting her head the whole time we’re talking," Anthony recalls. "You remember Inspector Gadget, how Dr. Claw used to pet that cat? That’s what he was doing.”
[Scott Storch] is sitting in the kitchen eating an apple, and there’s like 50 grand on the table. He comes up to me, gives me a laptop and tells me to look through his iTunes. There are 1500 beats he made. He tells me to pick whatever I want.
Reliving his time in L.A. is the only time cracks appear in Frank Anthony's cool facade. He speaks at a languid, unpracticed pace.
“Poo Bear landed in L.A., and asked me to come meet his friend at Westlake studios. We go inside and I see this man sitting at a piano with sunglasses on. I realize holy shit, it’s Scott Storch.”
A few days after meeting, Anthony was invited to the infamous producer's home to record. “He was sitting in the kitchen eating an apple, and there’s like 50 grand on the table. He comes up to me, gives me a laptop and tells me to look through his iTunes. There are 1500 beats he made. He tells me to pick whatever I want.”
Frank says working with Storch was the best moment of his career to date.
Kendrick Lamar was quiet and unassuming when they met to work on Anthony’s single “Live in My Bed” released shortly before Kendrick's breakout good kid, m.A.A.d city.
“We pulled up to a court in Compton. Top Dawg, Kendrick, Jay Rock were all there. We walk into the studio in the living room [and there's] one light bulb in the middle of the room and a dude to my left getting his hair braided. Kendrick walked into the room and said he’d have the verse ready in a couple days, and that was it. It was like a 15 minute interaction. I had his verse two days later."
Anthony moved back to Toronto after finishing his mixtape Sixty8 Comeback, and then he got sick. Exactly how sick, he didn’t know. He woke up one morning with a badly swollen chest, and decided to go to a walk-in clinic. They said the lumps in his throat were a shaving infection.
Unsatisfied, Anthony decided to go to a hospital if things didn’t change in two weeks. Anthony palmed the clinic’s generic antibiotics, opting to see a specialist. Trusting his gut instead of that walk-in probably saved his life. He spent several days in and out of hospital doing tests, and on the fifth day he got his diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 3b.
Anthony was initially unmoved: “I sat there thinking 'what the hell is lymphoma?'"
But the scans revealed four tumours; one mango-sized in his chest cavity, and three golf balls in his throat. His treatment was gruelling — nine months of biweekly chemotherapy almost broke him. “I felt like shit. When I was doing radiation I couldn’t swallow for a month, and when I could swallow saliva it was like having 80 knives down my throat.”
Over three years, Anthony made a full recovery. But then his father had a heart attack. He had to take over the family business — a cartage company — while his dad spent months recovering from open heart surgery. It meant spending another five months away from music.
"You know how sometimes you look up and think 'what are you trying to tell me?' 'cause nothing’s going right?" That was Anthony’s moment. He struggled with depression during recovery. "I had anxiety. I was couch-ridden for six months. I didn’t move, staring into space. I felt like a dead man walking."
Frank Anthony playing with his father
But what if he never got sick? With a wistful chuckle, Anthony says he would’ve been “somewhere.”
It's definitely conceivable. His early success proved he could tap into the pop and hip-hop world both in Canada and the notoriously fickle, fast-paced U.S. market. Drake was working on Take Care during Anthony’s time in L.A., and now he’s arguably the biggest rapper in the world. Similar accolades can be awarded to fellow Ontarians The Weeknd and Justin Bieber.
But despite the success of others, Anthony's struggles with health, wealth, and happiness have him counting his blessings. He’s happy to be alive. With his new perspective, his new idea of success as a musician has changed. So has his creative vision.
Now working to get his career back on track, Anthony' newest album FA-Round 2 is set to release in May. He scrapped most of his pre-diagnosis material when he returned to the studio. His new songs are more heartfelt; they prioritize genuine emotion. “90% of my first album was not where I wanted to be musically,” he admits.
But Anthony says he has more creative freedom for Round 2. He wants to stray from the overly “poppy” sound of his earlier work. “I don’t care if someone thinks my new stuff is corny. I’m trying to make the world real again.”
Anthony has also found time to give back to the people that saved his life three years ago. He's working on a picture book to raise money for cancer research. The money will go directly to institutions rather than have a foundation take a large cut.
Now that he’s seen what’s possible in the music industry, it’s fair to say Anthony is wiser than his first brush with success. What he has over some of today’s chart toppers is the perspective of someone who almost didn’t have a tomorrow, and it shows in his graciousness.
Frank Anthony knows better than anyone how easily it can all slip away.