It’s hard not to take note of Kid Ink’s movement. As his album title proclaims, he’s definitely perfecting My Own Lane. So far his hits from that effort alone include “Show Me,” “Iz U Down,” “Main Chick,” and his latest single, “Rollin’.” Not bad for a major label debut. Of course it doesn’t hurt that “Show Me” and “Main Chick” feature Chris Brown and are produced by DJ Mustard, the music industry’s current go-to hitmaker.
But the tattooed mic master is far from new to this. His grind as an independent artist is well-respected. So much so that his 2012 solo release Up & Away landed him on XXL’s coveted “Freshman Class” cover, along with Future and Macklemore. Not long after, he linked up with RCA through Tha Alumni Group and 88 Classic. He is signed to a publishing deal through Sony/ATV.
Ask the L.A. native how he got in the game and he has no easy answers. “I don’t think there’s one single process,” he insists. For him, music was just what he did with friends who somehow found a guy who had a spot “with a bunch of equipment.” Even as he dabbled with the possibilities, at 16, he admits that a career in music was the furthest thing from his mind.
“It was just something that was fun at the time,” he says. “I was still going to high school. I was still trying to graduate school, so it wasn’t like I was putting [a lot] into it. I don’t think that was a realistic goal when I was coming up.”
Although Ink, now 28, won’t flat out cop to it, a music career became a whole lot more realistic when a beat he produced for Nipsey Hussle gained industry traction. “It was something that we did a long time ago when we were young and it ended up landing him a deal,” he says matter-of-factly. “When he landed a deal with Sony, I was invited to go along for the trip. So from there I met different people that were inside the industry. I don’t know. I can’t say that led to the career I have now.”
During that time, his work on the boards, not on stage, commanded the most attention. So making the transition to artist was very self-directed. “I didn’t really have a mentor. It was me engineering my own stuff, mixing my own stuff and writing my own stuff.” After receiving “a lot more positive feedback than negative” from his efforts, the tattooed wunderkind went full throttle into artist mode.
While “producing is just something that comes natural,” he admits, being an artist is “something that I feel I should put more work and effort into, which keeps me busier mentally, whereas making beats is something that’s very simple to me.”
Being behind a song, however, has definitely fed his current success. “When I came up in Hip-Hop, I wasn’t trying to be an artist so I was able to accept Hip-Hop for what it is and be a fan of it. Then as a producer, I was learning to be a fan of all kinds of music and then listening to producers like Pharrell and Timbaland, people who don’t really have limitations to the kind of music they produce. That and also sampling records and listening to old music and stuff gives me different thought processes of what I can do on a song, or what certain beats can make people feel even without lyrics… I think most artists are more focused on the lyrical side of things in their verses and not really necessarily the structure of the song, how to put together a song that people can listen to and just enjoy.”
Kid Ink’s success isn’t confined to the U.S. His international following defies that of even more veteran artists. In late August, he did tour dates in Australia and is currently in the thick of a European tour. “This is our third consistent year of going overseas. I started out doing 20 cities and then 30 cities and 40 cities. And now we’re going over there for two months this year,” he shares.
“My number one market after my own city was Germany and people just don’t understand how I’m selling out shows in Germany.” But, of course, Kid Ink, as much a student of the music industry as he is a tattoo addict, thinks he knows why. “It’s just being consistent and making a lot of videos (which have millions of views by the way)… so, that they could understand a little bit without knowing the language,” he explains.
“I always try to make videos that explain my music a certain way that I think people can miss in the lyrics,” he continues. “Also, I think I’m just easy listening. I don’t rap super-duper fast, so you can really understand what I’m saying. I think over there the fans are repeating everything I’m saying because it’s easier for them to understand musically instead of it being a more difficult rhyme pattern and super lyrical stuff.”
With a demonstrated track record for industry success, it’s almost assured that Kid Ink will be a player for many more years to come.
Check out the video to Kid Ink’s new single, “Rollin'”
by Ronda Racha Penrice