Kid Ink Talks New Projects, Tha Alumni Movement, and His Love for Tattoos

Kid Ink is not one for limitations.

The 23-year-old Los Angeles native achieved serious acclaim as an independent artist under DJ Ill Will’s Tha Alumni team, and has now catapulted his career by inking a deal with RCA Records. Transitioning from producer to rapper, Kid Ink has taken the Internet by storm and garnered a cult following that spans from California to Europe. With his independent effort Up and Away climbing to No. 2 on the Billboard’s rap charts, as well as tens of millions of views of his videos on YouTube, Kid is seeking to intertwine mainstream hip-hop with hardcore lyricism. His new major label single, “Bad Ass” features long-time collaborator Meek Mill and his MMG labelmate Wale. VIBE chopped it up with Kid Ink about his rise to fame and his plans moving forward to bigger and better.

VIBE: How does it feel? How does where you are right now feel, in general?
Kid Ink: It feels good, and it feels like there’s a lot of work to be done. Let be be real, it’s pressure. I’m not even gonna lie.

Pressure to perform now that people are expecting so much from you?
Yeah, it’s definitely a pressure to try to exceed what people expect from you — and then also exceed what I expect from myself. The bar is set higher now that we aren’t independent and you can’t do those same independent numbers and those same independent things. And I feel like my biggest pressure is getting it done and proving to my fans that nothing will change.

Let’s talk about that. You had quite a bit of success independently, before you even signed to RCA. So what are you expecting the label to do now as far as propelling your career forward? How do you plan to keep the same creative control?
I feel like the music is the number one thing that won’t change at all. All I’m looking for as far as changes with the label is just steroids. We’ve been definitely lifting our own weight thus far, and it’s just time we get that extra push to reach a bigger market. This is a business decision.

Tell me a little bit about Tha Alumni movement.
Tha Alumni is a music lifestyle first and foremost. It’s crazy, all the artists and producers on Alumni are artists and producers and writers. We’re trying to come up with a team of people who can do everything, it’s no limits to everything we’re doing. It’s a new sound we’re trying to accomplish with that mainstream music and hip-hop lyricism at the same time and bringing them both together.

The name Kid Ink is an obvious reference to your tats. How many tattoos do you have?
I lost count on my tattoos after about 22. It really got to a point that I was getting tattoos that I was forgetting about. So you’re getting tattoos on your head, in your ears, on your back, and you don’t remember that you even got that tattoo because you don’t see it everyday, so I completely lost count.

Which one of your tattoos is the most meaningful?
The most meaningful I have would have to be two. I have two portraits on my chest: one which is my mom and one is my grandfather, which is her dad. Those are really the only two family members that I had growing up that were older than me that set my life up and made me who I am today. So those are the most meaningful tattoos.

You’ve had Up and Away hit No. 2 on the charts, you have tens of millions of views on YouTube. Was there a moment when you realized you were getting big?
Honestly, I try not to think about any of that stuff. It was really getting overwhelming and I didn’t want to let that response from the fans stop my hunger. I wanted to still feel like that regular guy who just changed his name to Kid Ink and is just getting started. And I think it’s good with the label signing, because I feel like that now. It’s a whole new market that I feel like I have to prove myself to, so it’s a good thing.

Let’s jump into “Badass.” You’ve had a working relationship with Meek Mill for a while now. How important was it to team back up with him? Did you guys get to work in the studio together?
When I recorded the “Badass” record, it was a no-brainer for me. The first person that came to mind was Meek Mill. It wasn’t any question of any other person, it was like “This sounds perfect for Meek.” On top of that, fans had been hitting me up, because we’ve had collaborations before and fans knew that new music was coming. All the records we did back in the day were really before the peak that we’re at now, so it’s bigger for the fans now because they watched us grow individually. And he did actually come to the studio. After I recorded all my stuff solo, he came to the studio and knocked out his verse in less than an hour and was excited about the record. He actually almost missed a flight to do it, which was pretty dope.

Did you and Meek ever have the conversation about where you were a few years ago and where you are now? Did you guys ever talk about that?
Honestly, we haven’t had that conversation. But the good part about is it’s because no one’s every really had that time to sit down. Everyone’s been working so hard. We reach out; I’ll congratulate him, he’ll congratulate me here and there when we get a chance. But we really haven’t had a chance to sit down and really look back at the “360” video we did a long time ago, before anyone had deals and everybody was independent. We haven’t sat down and reminisced on it.

Your fan base spans all the way to the South of France. You’ve gone on international tours and things like that. What do you think is the key to having that global success?
Honestly, I wish I had a factual answer where I can really tell you what it is, but it’s one of those things where the overseas market that we’ve been hitting is really phenomenal. I don’t understand sometimes how we have such a big following in Germany. I go to France and they’re bootlegging Alumni hats. I really want to give more credit to the videos than anything, but I really can’t specifically what it is. It was out of nowhere and such a shock to us.

There seems to be this Cali resurgence a la the early 90s, with artists like you, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar. How does this new West movement compare to the earlier one?
The difference between the earlier West Coast movement is just the stereotypes. Every artist from the West Coast who’s ever had something pop off in mainstream, they always still had that West Coast gangster, crip or blood look, or the vibe of the music was the same where you weren’t talking about as many punchlines as you were talking about the actual streets. And I feel like now there’s been a balance of the West Coast having more fun than they used to and coming together a little bit more. People are getting more to the money and more to the bigger picture, and it’s really working for us right now.

Do you have a collaboration wishlist? You’ve worked with quite a few people already, but are there others that you would like to work with?
It’s definitely the greats and the big names, but even for me, if they don’t have records on the radio. There’s the artists and producers that I grew up on like Pharrell, Timbaland and Kanye West, those are artists that made me want to produce, do music and write hooks. Since they inspire me to do what I do, it would be amazing to work with them and make that bigger record and just do things bigger. And more female artists with bigger hooks than rappers, like I’m looking forward to the Alicia Keys, Rihanna’s, Rita Ora’s, Jordin Sparks’s and Jasmin Sullivan’s.

What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
One of my biggest goals besides finishing my projects is writing and getting some hooks out there and some placements and getting back into the behind-the-scenes production side. I wanna play that role a little more and be able to say “Yo, I wrote and produced that, and y’all didn’t even know.” I think that would be pretty cool.