Exclusive: Kid Ink reveals how early production work with Diddy and Nipsey Hussle prepared him for success as a solo artist and why late Twitter replies can be a very good thing.
Over the last two years, Kid Ink has seen his stock rise by landing two albums on Billboard magazine’s Top 200 Albums chart and establishing himself on Top 40 radio. As someone who has dealt with the stigma that comes with making a more accessible brand of Hip Hop, he has also found a bit of a kindred spirit.
“I just did a remix with a great young artist named Kid Ink,” offered LL Cool J during a February appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. “It was me, Kid Ink, Chris Brown and Tyga. They remind me of me when I first started, so I was happy to get on the record and do something… That was a lot of fun.”
That’s high praise coming from someone whose self-proclaimed title of Rap’s “Greatest of All Time” has both statistical and critical merit. While only time will tell if the moves Ink has made with DJ Ill Will can produce a level of results anywhere near comparable to those of LL, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, it’s hard to knock the foundation laid by the two representatives of Tha Alumni Music group. That foundation was only solidified earlier this year, when Ink’s album, My Own Lane (his first under the comfy confines of the RCA umbrella) enjoyed an eight-week run on the charts after debuting at the #3 spot. Prior to heading over to Dubai to presumably further promote his album, Kid Ink reflected on his journey and shared his initial reaction when LL Cool J hopped on the remix to his single, “Main Chick.”
Kid Ink On His Songwriting Process & L.A. Tattoo Culture
HipHopDX: You’ve been pretty adamant about getting into different markets. How do you balance that with still maintaining your original audience?
Kid Ink: It’s all about making sure the content is key. I just do music and have fun, and then you can kind of separate the records that are for you and aren’t for you just by being real with yourself. It’s about knowing the type of music and the type of audience that you’re speaking to as far as how left it’s going to be when they hear it. You don’t want them saying, “Yo, that’s not really what he’s about.” If you separate yourself from the music sometimes, you get a feel for what’s good and what’s for other people, or mixtape stuff versus album stuff. It’s just the ear that I feel like I have.
DX: Does having to make singles interfere with that ear in any kind of way?
Kid Ink: It’s about not having the pressure and letting the records just kind of fall into place. When I focus too much and go, “Oh, I’m trying to make a single,” you kind of force your thought process. It forces the kind of beat you’re picking. At the end of the day, singles aren’t even supposed to sound the same. I think when you get a hit record, you know the next one has to sound completely different or you’re just riding the wave of that same record. And then it’s not gonna last that long either.
DX: Let’s take it back to “All The Way Tatted Up,” since people talk about your ink a lot. You start out by saying, “I’m addicted to the pain,” which is not really the typical reason people state for getting a lot of ink work.
Kid Ink: [Laughs] Yeah, I feel like when I was younger I definitely used to get more ink addicted. I think it’s not being addicted to the pain when it’s happening, but more so when you’re not getting tatted you kind of itch for that initial feeling. It’s weird. It’s kind of like a thrill to certain people where you’re itching to have something new—not just in your mind but actually on your body. You’re kind of feeling deprived.
DX: How much does visual art inspire that or how you craft your music?
Kid Ink: I started getting tatted before the music, so it’s kind of two separate cultures, but at the same time it’s an art form. The art of me getting tatted is about showing and proving things and having a different image. But I’m still acting a different way than people expect when they’re looking at the image and expect a certain thing based on the tattoos. That happens here and especially overseas—when people aren’t used to seeing a bunch of tattoos from head to toe. They kind of feel a different way about your persona.
I think it gives me the hunger to want to show and prove and do as much as I can with no limitations or setbacks. It’s the same way with music; I try not to have any setbacks or limitations with the music I do just because I’m a Hip Hop artist.
DX: How much has the perception of Los Angeles tattoo culture changed—especially with your generation?
Kid Ink: You definitely see it more and more now, where even a model may have a bunch of tattoos. People aren’t really afraid to show it more, but I think it’s still a growing thing. People are still getting used to it, and it’s still a shocker to some people. That happens more with the older market. A small network of people are getting into offices, fully tatted and fighting that perception. They understand the culture, but then there’s still those old heads in the bigger businesses who still don’t get it completely. I don’t feel like you can still walk into a record label and really present yourself with a bunch of tattoos on your face… Maybe after you’ve proven yourself as an artist, but I don’t think you can automatically walk into an office full of tattoos. You have to have already established yourself in some type of entertainment world first.
Kid Ink Revisits Early Production Work With Diddy & Nipsey Hussle
DX: True. Well speaking of expectations, listeners expect something pretty specific when they hear the name “Sade.” When you produced the “Sade” record for Diddy Dirty Money, how did you approach that while still showcasing your vision?
Kid Ink: Well that was kind of me working under another producer who was working under Diddy at that time. That was a beat I made top to bottom, and he added something to the bridge near the end. So I remember making it, and they told me Diddy was vibing to it and having fun with that record. It got passed around through the label and to different artists, and it landed on the Dirty Money situation. They kind of picked it up more with the titling and putting the record together.
DX: And you also worked with Nipsey pretty early?
Kid Ink: Yeah, [“Bullets Ain’t Got no Name”] was kind of the record that got him buzzing in the streets, which led to the Sony deal. After he got his deal, they invited both of us out there to work on his album. I think I just took a separation from really wanting to handle a lot of paperwork and the things they wanted me to sign. As far as working on the album and signing to Sony and everything, I felt it was a little early for me to sign. So I just kind of separated and continued to do my thing independently.
DX: Even though you didn’t sign, what did you pick up as far as seeing what went on behind the scenes with labels at that time?
Kid Ink: It was dope, because before making that decision, I was able to go to a bunch of different studio sessions and meet different producers. From that situation, I ended up having a session with Nipsey [Hussle], which landed me into the session with the producer who was working for Diddy. That’s how I got that placement, and that’s what started the whole thing with me being an artist too. So it’s always an opportunity to open doors based or earlier situations. And that was the first record I got to hear on the radio too, so it was dope.
How Social Media Keeps Kid Ink In Touch With His Core Fans
DX: Do you remember where you were the first time the song got played?
Kid Ink: I think I was actually outside of my house, and somebody drove by playing it [laughs]. So that was a crazy situation.
DX: Nice. You recently reached 500,000 followers on Twitter and gave away a song. How integral has the Internet has been to your success?
Kid Ink: It’s been super important for different reasons. When there are down times, and I feel like I need to get some music out, I can get some music out to the fans to keep the momentum going without having to worry about putting together a big promo package. I can just hit my core fans, because I know what kind of music they want. At the same time, I can test new songs too. I can get feedback and see what kind of direction I want to go in. That way we can really put some money behind something and take it to the next level. It’s a great way to test your craft.
DX: Just out of curiosity, how do you pick who you want to interact with when you have half a million people following you?
Kid Ink: It’s really like a random thing, man. You just have those moments where there’s downtime on the road. I may be looking at [direct messages] or mentions from weeks and weeks ago. I’ll reply to stuff weeks later, when they thought it was probably never gonna get a reply because it was a month ago. But you c8an just hashtag them on Instagram or go back and like a bunch of stuff. I’ll comment and answer some questions when I have some free time, and the fans really feel it.
DX: Even with your core group of fans, you mentioned how sometimes people overlook your verses because they’re expecting the big hook. What are you learning as you progress as a songwriter?
Kid Ink: I feel like I’ve been learning a lot of different things because people pay so much attention to a hook or how radio-friendly a record is. Sometimes people will go, “Oh, that’s why it’s hot.” So I’m learning how to make the verses as catchy as the hooks, because sometimes there are songs where you don’t know the hook, but you’ll remember a line from one of the verses. Recently, I’ve learned a little bit more about how that can make the whole song. So I’m finding those moments that can be bigger in the verses than just the hooks.
DX: What’s been your biggest challenge in that regard?
Kid Ink: Besides that, just separating myself and still having that lyrical content there and making records that will catch your ear and be radio friendly. I’ve really been finding that lyrical side, even if it comes at the cost of making records without hooks. I’m working with beats that don’t necessarily have a bouncy melody. I’m getting used to going in on things where, even if it doesn’t have a beat that you can vibe and dance to, it’s not a downer moment. I have to do more opening up to get on those records and be a little more relatable aside from things that are just up. Sometimes you gotta show some of the down moments.
DX: Kind of like “No Miracles?”
Kid Ink: Right, exactly. Those are the struggle records where I really have to focus, work and understand how to produce those a little better.
Kid Ink Says He Called His Mom After LL Cool J Remixed “Main Chick”
DX: Well, this isn’t a struggle record, but what was your reaction when DJ Whoo Kid got LL Cool J to remix “Main Chick?”
Kid Ink: Oh man, that was crazy. I felt like that was one of those moments where it was dope just coming from a legend, but I also had to hit up my mom and excite her and all the LL Cool J fans that know the movement. I thought it was dope, especially because he was just on the The Arsenio Hall Show, and he shouted out the remix and how he was grateful to be a part of it. I thought it was a dope look.
DX: He’s definitely mentioned you as someone he’s looking out for. Have you guys had a chance to talk?
Kid Ink: Nah, I haven’t got a chance to reach out because I’ve been moving around so much. I don’t even know what area he stays in, but I’m pretty sure he stays out here. I gotta figure out where he’s located and try to link up with him soon. If I’m touring, I’d love to bring him out and do something big.
DX: Speaking of legends, you’ve quoted Notorious B.I.G. on songs like “Never Change” and “Crazy (Loco).” What was the first B.I.G. song you heard?
Kid Ink: Yeah, the first one I ever heard was “Big Poppa,” when I saw that video. But the first Biggie song I really loved was “Juicy,” because it was more of a relatable record. It’s still something I relate to now. It’s a timeless record.
DX: You did three songs with Chris Brown, two with Pharrell and you mentioned how “Sade” was a collaboration of sorts. For those that don’t know, how does the collaborative process work?
Kid Ink: It takes a lot, man—especially with the Pharrell situation. We got into the studio, finished a record together and then he sent me another record that I finished. I was also sent another record through e-mail that I ended up finishing. But to get the records completely finished, we need to get back in the studio. He’s a producer who really wants it to be 100%. It’s hard sometimes to get back in the studio with somebody like Pharrell, and so much happened last year with my touring schedule. I had three tours last year. Getting people in the same city at the same time is hard, and then last minute stuff like booking gets in the way because you don’t want to mess up people’s money. Sometimes it will take a longer process when you don’t want to deal with each other through e-mails; you really want to get something across or have the artist do something specific that doesn’t work long distance. Sometimes you can’t really feel the vibe.
But then there are people like 2 Chainz, and I feel like whenever I send 2 Chainz an idea, he’ll send it right back in 24 hours. With someone like that, I feel a little confident in him being hungry and wanting to give me his best—especially with the time frame. But with some artists, when you send them a record that they don’t understand—they don’t know how to give you their best. They don’t understand the record. So I always try to worry about the feature after I have the record done. Then I can go, “Okay, this person will fit perfectly here. I know they’ll understand it,” and that comes from understanding their music. That works out better than just sending something that they’re gonna write their worst 12 [bars] to, because it just wasn’t a beat they were vibing with.
DX: From a business perspective, you initiated contact with DJ Ill Will, then enjoyed success independently prior to signing with RCA. What’s been the biggest business lesson you’ve learned?
Kid Ink: There are a lot of new things happening right now. We ended up releasing an independent album before we could sign the deal, and we kind of signed that out of our deal. So they had nothing to do with that album, and we still generate our own income and buzz off that album. We eat off that 100%, and that’s something lovely. I’m glad we got that done before the deal.
But I’m learning this new process with the “Show Me” single. It’s been out for 15 weeks and is still growing higher than it’s been for the first five weeks. I’m used to coming from the game where independently, you only get about six weeks tops for any record. You get that first three weeks to get the record hype, and then you get another three weeks for it to last until you feel like you need something new out. It’s just a different process to learn and figure out how it’s going, but I’m still trying to be the creative guy and leave that bigger business up to them.
DX: Got it. Last question: you had a lot of people you looked up to and emulated before you broke through. What’s it like to have the opportunity to work next to them now?
Kid Ink: Man, it’s crazy at first. You have to separate being a fan, get to work and show and prove. When I got in the studio with Pharrell, I was watching him make beats, and everyone was so in awe. Then it was a silent moment, and he was like, “Yo, what’s going on? Y’all not vibing with this? Why’s everybody so quiet? I need some talk…have some conversation.” We were just in the moment though, because a lot of people don’t get to see these things. You don’t just normally get to see Pharrell making beats with Timbaland there vibing out. I was just in the studio, and somebody told me Timbaland was upstairs. I had a moment like, “Oh, Timbaland’s upstairs. I’ma just go stand in the corner and watch.” But I had to jump out of that and say, “I’m not just gonna stand and just watch. I need to get to work and show why I’m just as much of an artist and producer as they are.” You have to just shake up out of that.