Remember that catchy Chris Brown song? The song when CB showed off some impressive rap skill and etched another neo-harmonic chorus into the bowls of your brain? The song that prompted every miniskirt in the trendy nightclub you somehow managed your way into, to breakout in ass-shaking furor? The song that erupted vodka-laced chants of, "showww meee?" Well, that display of impressive rap skill wasn’t Chris Brown at all. It was Kid Ink (coincidentally, racially ambiguous and heavily tattooed). The title credit? Score another for Kid Ink.
Albeit his sophomore album, this isn’t the rapper’s first (nor second) time at the rodeo, either. In fact, the 28-year-old, Los Angeles native has been recording smash, club-hits for four years, releasing his first mix-tape, Crash Landing, in 2011. His latest album, Full Speed, dropped earlier this month and has already reached number one on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
We caught up with Kid Ink in between sound check for Late Night with Seth Meyers, to talk collabs with R. Kelly, dirty secrets about Chris Brown’s girlfriend, and tattoo choices gone wrong. We also learned, that for a guy who finds a healthy amount of musical inspiration from “stealing your girlfriend,” Kid Ink is surprisingly likable.
My Own Lane was your stamp on the club scene. Oh yea man, I think it was just that time. I was really in that scene and that inspired some of those moments. Being in the club and feeling like, “I don’t ever hear my music,” I tried to make a couple records that I felt like would be strong and would connect with that scene.
Was there any pressure to change the formula for Full Speed? I don’t think so, as far as the music is concerned. I think all of the pressure definitely comes from wanting the album to do better than the last one. There wasn’t as much pressure because I had more fun with this album. With My Own Lane, there was the pressure of coming out of an independent success and going into a major commercial success, so I had to worry about losing old fans and having new fans understand me based on one record. There was more pressure with that to where, now, after the success of the first album, I went in the studio and just had more fun and that’s kind of where Full Speed came from. Just thinking about the confidence, in the lane that I chose, to really go forward and show-and-prove.
Much of that success seems to be at the hands of some lofty features. How’ve you been able to land so many cosigns? Man, you know what I think it is, most of my features are people that I’m not going to from the business side of things. These are people I’m running into on thestreet; I’m from L.A. A lot of people move to L.A.—some have been around—but I run into people at shows, run into people at the same studio and, from there, just having that communication about these records. It’s not “Oh, I’m tryna get this feature just ‘cause they’re hot,” it’s more so, “Yo I got this song and your feature would fit crazy as fuck on here!” So I just see if they’re rockin’ with it. I think that [approach] just makes it easier for people.
So then, why sign with a record label? I tried so hard to really earn the labels respect with the first independent album, that they don’t really do too much, as far as the music goes, unless there’s something I needor want or ask for, or there’s a producer I really want to get in contact with and I don’t have that line. I’m learning that a lot of new artists don’t want to play that label game, and they’re not used to this game, and they didn’t come in here to be a part of labels. So, when they get signed, especially of lot of the street dudes, it’s still one on one; they gotta rock with you. I know people that I’ve reached out to for features through the label and they were like, “Nah, I wanna hang out with him first.” I’m like, “They wanna hang out first?” “I though we were just doing a song?” It’s kind of different. Some people really do take a lot of stuff more personal.
Talk about this track with R. Kelly. How'd that happen? We tried to get a record together on the first project, “In My Own Lane,” and the record didn’t turn out the way it needed to. Not really on his part, but more so the production—we were trying to work with Nic Nac. We were actually able to revisit again with Nic Nac and get the record down for the new album. And, I think, part of it was me being on tour so I wasn’t able to be in the studio with Kels. It was all just me giving them information, and then telling him what I need, and then him sending it back, and then me saying again, alright could you add this and then switch it up here. It was cool to actually get that response back and take that to the studio. He definitely works on his own accord. It’s harder to get a lot of these older guys. They don’t just fly out and go to your studio. They like to work in their own home studios. It’s hard to get in the studio with a lot of legends.
You make a lot of hyper-sexualized, “I just took your girl,” music. Ever catch flack from your girl or the other dude in the hypothetical triangle? Na, I never catch any flack, man. Sometimes I'm writing from personal experience and sometimes it’s experiences of people around me. And sometimes I'm just having a creative idea and coming up with stories. Like with the “Hotel” record, I was writing from one aspect and people said, that makes me think of this and that, and I’m like, "Oh, I can actually incorporate that in here." I use that, of course, as my excuse not to catch too much flack. So that everything I’m saying isn’t something that happened yesterday. Sometimes I even write on past experiences that happened in high school and stuff that's just relatable to people at that time.
Well, you went to High School with Chris Brown's girlfriend, Karrueche. As often as you two record together, has there ever been a, “I know shit about your girl that you don’t want to know,” standoff? Nah, man! I think it’s all love. Everybody’s friendly, especially Asiiah, who is my girl. And everybody knows each other. It’s more of a friendly thing. We’re just coolin’. But definitely no extra info about the past, ha!
Random question, but what’s the shittiest tattoo you’ve ever had inked? The thing is, it’s not even the actual tattoo. It’s more so, the artist won't do the tattoo the way I wanted them to do it. It’ll look good on paper and then when they tattoo it on your skin it’s like, “Nah, you’re better with a pencil than you are with a tattoo gun.” I have my logo, which is the alumni logo, it looked nice when the guy fist did it, but when it started healing it was all bad and scarred up and it looks terrible right now.
Damn, that sucks. I can pull it off, camo style, though, but that was supposed to be a little bit better. And I have a tattoo on the side of my head I had to get done twice because the first guy who tattooed it did a terrible job…and he should read about it. He did a terrible job; he’ll never tattoo me again. [laughs] And I got both of these tattoos at the same tattoo shop by two different people too, that’s the problem. That shop probably needs to be closed down. He did a terrible job on a tattoo that was supposed to be a chick, floating in space on my head, and he completely forgot her torso.
Did you cover them up? Yea we fixed that. I think those are the only two that I had to get retouched. Everything else was pretty good. But I deal with it, all tattoos aren’t supposed to look the same. I like stuff to look a little more like it was doodled on. It doesn’t have to be straight, perfect lines sometimes.
Rapper-producers seem to have a better handle on the industry. Does your production background give you an advantage in your rap career? They have, to an extent. Certain songs I’m able to do, but there are other songs people won’t want me to do or respect me doing because of that talent of writing radio records. When you’re thinking of the producer it’s more about the entire song to where, when you’re somebody who grew up and all you were thinking about was getting off on that verse and killing everybody’s verse, that’s all you’d focus on. But then, there’re people like J. Cole, who can pull off both. And then there’s Kanye and Pharrell who really tapped into it to where people just respect them regardless. But you’ll never still see that producer-rapper where they’ll really be like, “Yo that person’s doing all of it!” Somebody has to step down from something. Even Kanye stepped down from producing. He’s not sitting there making all of the beats anymore. His ear is still producing, though. He’s still in the studio, taking other people’s beats, and helping them; moving them around to make them sound better. It’s kind of a battle to be the top lyricist and focus on writing, and then focus on making the best beats ever. That’s a lot of work, man.
You ever have to check Nic Nac or Mustard like, “Nah, that's actually wack, I need to fix that beat.” Man! I don’t do it like that, ha. But, the thing is, people like Mustard don’t like you to mess with his beats at all. He’s like the number one guy I know that will go crazy if you touch his beats. Nic Nac is more like the producer who is just ready to get the music to sound right and won't mind if I go in and touch the actual beat, itself. I tell him, “Send me the track-out for everything.” And, at that point, if you send me the whole beat, you wouldn’t mind if I ‘mute this clap’ or ‘took that drum out.’ Some people give me that respect. Other people, I’ll just have to tell ‘em, “Yo, can you switch this up; I think it’ll sound amazing.” You have to come to an agreement somehow. I’ve had producers get mad at me, before. But you gotta get over it once the record is done and you hear it. Especially when you hear the feature on it, it’s like, “Alright, whatever, I’m not gonna pass up that publishing check.”
What can we expect on the Full Speed tour? I’m on there with Dej Loaf and Rae Sremmurd right now. There’s gonna be a couple more acts on there. I’ll have less time; it won’t be the, usual, hour and twenty minute set. I’ll be cuttin’ in more hits instead of a full session. I’ll usually take a couple breaks, do a couple album tracks, stuff that just the die-hard fans know. This tour is going to be all back-to-back hit records. I’ve been stepping up the production with screens and visuals, cryo smoke, and trying to add more of a light show. And just incorporating the audience to have them be a part of the show instead of having them sit and watch me the whole time. Also, I’m trying to have a Mascot on tour. Somebody who can jump in the crowd instead of me; I’m not trying to jump in the crowd.
Send someone out in a giant, foam ink gun and toss him into the crowd. Man, and it’s bad, especially with my crowd. But I’m trying to think of a cool mascot that wont be too scary. I want to get a bat because of Bat Gang, but I think a big bat might look too scary for people so I gotta find something fun looking.