Kid Ink might not be known to fans for his decision-making skills, but they’re a big part of what found him the success he’s gotten today. Known best for his radio and club friendly hits that have brought his name to the international stage, the rapper has developed a career in music that began with a piano at a very young age. Sitting down with Billboard Radio China at Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap’s 10th anniversary weekend, Kid Ink discussed everything from his roots playing music and staying behind the scenes in the early days to his philosophy on his fans and returning to his roots with his latest album, 7 Series.
The LA born rapper started things off by explaining his early days, coming up as a young producer in a collective that included rapper Nipsey Hussle, and the choice he made in producing for the group instead of being yet another rapper. In a group of 8 people, he explained, it made more sense to be producing beats for the collective than trying to stand out against so many others. At the time, he produced one of Nipsey Hussle’s first singles, giving him an opportunity to fly to New York City and work on studio sessions with the rapper and others.
For those not familiar with Kid Ink’s journey, the next part may come as a bit of a surprise. The rapper explained that he started releasing his own mixtapes following a lack of success as a producer. Eventually he got to a point where he was releasing music on iTunes as soon as he was able and eventually found himself signing with RCA Records, going from independent to a 360 deal. In a time where independence is seen as a virtue and signing with major labels a mistake, the decision seems unusual. He explained that not only was signing to a major label a dream for him, but that they were able to help get him the exposure he needed at a time when social media played a much different role for artists. In his view, he signed at a time when finding great music was a harder process for fans, whereas now new rappers “are popping faster”. He went on to explain, “I made a different type of music at that time that fit that sound or that mold that people wanted to hear so I think signing with the label and getting on the radio was something I needed to do.”
As a producer and a rapper both, Kid Ink thinks he looks at music in a different way from most rappers. He explained that as a producer, the goal was to create something that an industry leader like Pharrell or Timbaland might have wanted to use because those were his idols at the time. Moving into rap, he said, “I think maybe I was still conscious of that [more] than the average rapper who has more time to focus on the lyrics and isn’t thinking about making the beat or being on beat all the time, none of that is as important as the lyrics. I had to find the middle ground, and I think it’s a good thing and a bad thing because I’m in the middle of it all and some people might not respect the lyricism and some people might not respect the production but then people that really get it and understand respect all of it as a whole and I think it just gives me two sides of fans instead of one.”
Talking about the growth of hip hop and the changes the genre has gone through in the decades since it’s inception, Kid Ink has much to say about the newest generation of rappers and their place in the industry. He explained that he often sees rappers being banded together in strange ways, combining the artists with real potential in groupings with artists who had a single hit song or found success through Instagram fame, but that young artists need to take what they can take and start however they can start. He goes on to say that “there’s a lot of kids out here who don’t appreciate the culture as much as they appreciate the social media aspect of it and I think it takes away from their real core fan base and people really appreciating them as an artist and not just a gimmick. I never really wanted to be a gimmick, so even though I have a lot of tattoos and my name is Kid Ink, not every song is about tattoos. I just never wanted to be that type of artist.”
It’s been a few months since his latest project, 7 Series, was released in early May of this year. The EP, his second, is an attempt at a new start for the rapper, a way to slowly introduce the ways in which his music might have grown over the years and an attempt to show people that his style isn’t as boxed into certain hit singles as people might expect. In many ways, 7 Series is a passion project for Kid Ink, a return to his roots of mixtape production where the commercial effect of songs took a backseat to projecting a rawer energy and emotion that brought him up from the early days. He may be signed to a record label, but 7 Series is Kid Ink’s way of showing that his heart is still as independent as ever.
You can listen to the full interview at Billboard Radio China!