For some, their introduction to Kid Ink was hearing his Chris Brown-featured, DJ Mustard-produced singles, “Show Me” and “Main Chick” from last year’s My Own Lane, but as day-one fans know, the rapper has been putting in work. He spent years building a buzz on the underground circuit by grinding independently and dropping a series of notable projects, including 2012′s Up & Away and 2013′s Almost Home EP. Those years of grinding were well worth it, and not only because it helped him land a record deal with RCA Records and garner platinum and gold plaques. “My initial goal was to be able to wait until I could be in a position where I’d be able to have a lot of creative control, not only musically, but with everything,” he says. “And that’s what I was able to accomplish.”
It’s been a little over a year after the release of My Own Lane, and Kid Ink is already ready to drop his latest album. Titled Full Speed, the project finds the Los Angeles native collaborating with the likes of Usher, Tinashe, R. Kelly, Chris Brown, Young Thug, and DeJ Loaf, and features production from Stargate, DJ Mustard, Metro Boomin‘ and DJ Spinz. During a recent stop in New York, Kid Ink sat down with Life + Times to discuss Full Speed, working with Usher, R. Kelly and Ma$e and writing and producing for other artists.
Life + Times: Stargate and Cashmere Cat produced “Body Language”, the first single from your latest album, Full Speed. How did you link up with them?
Kid Ink: It was a situation where I was out in New York and they had the studio booked for a couple of days. I was just coming in and crashing the sessions. I was showing up kind of late and taking over the rest of the session when they would dip out. Out of that, we ended up coming up with three or four records. One was “Body Language” and another was a dope record I wrote that Fifth Harmony ended up cutting. That was my first time getting in the studio with both Stargate and Cashmere. I think we still have one or two joints in the works that could be pretty big.
L+T: I didn’t know you were writing for other artists also. How did you get into songwriting?
KI: I think the writing thing came from me feeling like it was needed on the production side of things. Back when making beats was the focus in my career, I was looking at producers like Pharrell Williams and Timbaland and I was paying attention to the fact that those guys were writing and adding vocals on these records they were producing. I saw how important that was when producing for other artists. Some artists want to have the whole song completely referenced, so that they’d only have to re-sing it. I use to think that I was going to send a bunch of instrumentals and people were going to grab them, but I learned that sometimes you have to add some type of element so people could understand and gravitate towards the record. That way, even if they don’t like the hook or something, they still can have an idea of how they can approach the record.
L+T: Being an artist is the focal point for you right now. Do you see there being a point where you’re focusing more so on writing and producing records for other artists?
KI: I think so. When the albums are out is when I’m more on the production and writing side of things for other people. But when I’m working on my albums I’m very involved with the production for every song. I’m not physically sitting back and making all of the beats, but I do things like add drum elements of my own, which I did with “Body Language.” I felt like that record just needed something. I’ll get a beat, but the version of that beat that the world hears is normally not the version that was actually sent to me. 99% of the time I switched this around, I threw this here, I moved this outro that the producer had around to make it the intro, I put this drop in the beat, I took these drums out and stuff like that. I feel that’s real production as oppose to just beatmaking.
L+T: Is it easier for you to be in Kid Ink the artist mode or Kid Ink the writer and producer mode?
KI: I think the producer and writer, because it’s just a little bit easier for me to express other people’s ideas than it is being Kid Ink the artist and trying to give off who I am as a person. As an artist I have to write about and speak on my life and really have a voice, whereas when I’m producing and writing for other people, nothing falls back on me. I can write, produce and do whatever kind of music you want and it won’t really affect me negatively in my personal life. People also want to know who you are as a person when you’re an artist, but when you’re a writer or producer no one really cares who you are as long as the beat and lyrics are hot [laughs]. So I do feel as if the production and writing side is a little bit easier and that the artist side can be a challenge. I do think that having that challenge makes it more exciting though, because with the production side I may get a little bored and lazy with it, because it is less of a challenge.
L+T: How did you get Usher and Tinashe on “Body Language”?
KI: I always have the records first and then think about the features after. With that record, I wasn’t even writing it for myself. I was vibing with those other records from Stargate and Cashmere. Honestly, “Body Language” was a leftover. I was in the studio and there was this extra beat, so I was like why not just cut something else. I went in and cut this idea for a female and male to go back and forth on. I sat on the record for about three or four months. Then the label hit me up saying that Usher was back in the studio working on his album and asked if I had anything that I wanted to send for him. At the time, I didn’t think I did. I wasn’t sure what to send for him. I was thinking I could go in the studio and work on some new stuff for him, but then they let me know that it was crunch time. I thought of “Body Language.” It was kind of hot, but I didn’t know if Usher would really vibe with it. I only had that one track to send him and it ended up working. The thing is when I sent the record I didn’t explain it, which is why I hate emailing tracks, because you don’t get the chance to explain the records to the artists and sometimes they aren’t sure what to do. So Usher cut the entire hook, but I wrote this certain section for a female. I was told that if I could find a female to re-sing it, then we could add her to the record. I was trying to think of someone who I could see on the record, but also someone I vibed with. Tinashe came to mind, because when I was sitting there waiting for “Main Chick” to go number one, “2 On” was just beating my record, which is something I was paying lots of attention to too. Tinashe was killing me out here with her record. She took my number one spot [laughs]. We’ve been on the road together also. So the momentum was there and I knew it would be a good look for both of us if she jumped on “Body Language.” We both had shows in Vegas and I just booked a session and made her stay an extra day out there. She cut a lot of vocals, so at some point there may be a Tinashe version or something [laughs].
L+T: Chris Brown is featured on the “Hotel” record. Why do you think you and Chris gel so well with one another creatively?
KI: I think it’s funny when we get the jokes about looking alike [laughs]. But I don’t know what it is, man. As soon as we first got in the studio people really just were in love with the combination and just fed off of that. It got to the point where I didn’t want for fans to only wait on the one record with Chris Brown and DJ Mustard and for that to be the vibe of my career that. I felt like that for a quick minute, but I ended up playing Chris some records after he got back in the studio and he cut something to two of them. “Hotel” is the one I really felt strongly about.
L+T: What is the R. Kelly-assisted “Dolo” about?
KI: “Dolo” is a term I grew up saying in LA. It means solo or by yourself. The record is for the clubs. It’s about seeing a girl and asking her if she came there dolo and letting her know that she doesn’t have to leave by herself. I felt like the word hasn’t been overexposed, which is surprising, because coming from where I come from I feel like the word is actually kind of old. It should’ve been a hit record for somebody already.
L+T: How does it feel knowing that legends like Usher and R. Kelly are rocking with you and your music enough to want to work with you?
KI: It’s dope, man. Of course I look forward to the new generation rocking with me and being a part of what’s happening with me, but having the people that I grew up watching and listening to supporting me is different. It’s unexpected, especially when they are legends that not only I listened to, but the world still listens to. You know what I’m saying? Being able to give R. Kelly feedback and then have him change up the record based on the stuff I was telling him to do is dope, because R. Kelly doesn’t have to listen to me. Initially, I was feeling like maybe if I told him to re-sing it he would get mad or something [laughs]. I just got in the studio with Ma$e, which was big for me. We have two records that we did. I recently had a long conversation on the phone with Timbaland. He was telling me that he likes what I’m doing. I was like “I don’t even care. You’re Timbaland. I don’t even want to hear about me right now.” [laughs]. It’s just crazy having these people paying attention to what I’m doing.
L+T: There are a bunch of references to Cash Money Records on your song, “Like A Hott Boyy.” Were you a big fan of the Cash Money movement growing up?
KI: I was. I had this phase where I was buying a lot of Cash Money records. I bought Big Tymers albums, Lil Wayne albums and Hot Boyz albums. I think that was a time that gave me a different outlook on music. Coming from the West Coast, that was my introduction to a lot of what was happening Down South. It opened up the Southern vibe for me. At the time, I wasn’t even into a lot of other Southern acts. Cash Money was as far as I went. What’s crazy is that after the record dropped I got a tweet from Weezy saying, “1 time 4 da homie Kid Ink 4 da luv!” I was like, “Whoa”, because that was my first Lil Wayne acknowledgement ever. That was pretty dope. I didn’t know he was listening, especially not to a record that’s that new. I just thought that was crazy.
L+T: So we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a Lil Wayne remix in the future?
KI: Umm… Well, we’re talking about some stuff. Hopefully, we get some work, man.
L+T: How has your independent hustle and grind been taken to the next level since you’re signing with a major label?
KI: It has elevated, just because I have more of an understanding of this business and how to approach things better. Aside from that, nothing has really changed now that I’m with major. I still have the same mindset and grind.
L+T: What’s the biggest challenge that comes with having to follow up the success of My Own Lane?
KI: When you get with a major label the first thing you think about is having to give them a single. What happens with me is that when I focus on that I go in the studio and try to make ten singles and I probably end up with five. When I present them to the label they don’t just pick one. They try to pick all five and I’ll push for two. Sometimes I can have actual arguments, because it’s hard, especially when I’m making singles and the label just starts throwing big features and stuff on them. I be like, “Ah man, you put that person on it? I can’t really say no now with this crazy feature on it” [laughs]. So for me, I have to focus on making records that are better than those singles. That really becomes pressure when it’s album crunch time. The pressure and everything just comes from wanting to make sure that I’m going to enjoy the entire body of work and enjoy performing it and that it’s just not that the records are hot. I don’t want to feel like when I perform these songs that I’ll be like, “Man, I have to perform another on of these?”