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Q&A: Kid Ink on Redefining the West Coast Sound One Beat at a Time

To truly appreciate today’s vibrant, groundbreaking Los Angeles hip-hop scene you have to go back nearly 20 years. In the mid-'90s, the West Coast rap contingent was at the height of its aural powers. And nowhere else in the hotbed state of California was the surging music scene more omnipresent than the decadent city of L.A. While it may be tempting to give all the glory to such larger-than-life rhyme giants as Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur and Cypress Hill or the genre-flipping pursuits of the Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, and Ras Kass, it’s the producers that captured the spirit of Cali rap.

From the Moog synthesizer-fueled gangsta funk of celebrated studio giant Dr. Dre and Cypress Hill's relentless crate-digging conductor DJ Muggs to the rock-influenced pursuits of the Dust Brothers and the criminally underrated smooth ‘hood orchestrations of DJ Quik—the sounds coming out of L.A. were as diverse as they were groundbreaking.

Flash forward to 2016. Los Angeles is once again the artistic production hub of hip-hop. Leading the pack is the frenzied jazz-influenced electronica declarations of Flying Lotus and bassist Thundercat who have helped take hip-hop’s current pound-for-pound best emcee Kendrick Lamar to uncharted artistic heights.  And the omnipresent DJ Mustard continues to dominate dance clubs and the radio worldwide with his hyphy-inspired throwdowns.

Indeed, standout talent like Sounwave, Knxwledge, Boi-1da, and Drewbyrd are redefining the West Coast sound one beat at a time. To get a deeper read on the LA hip-hop revival, we sat down with frequent Mustard collaborator and 1800 Tequila ambassador Kid Ink. The hybrid rhymer/vocalist, who in late 2015 dropped his fourth major label work Summer In The Winter, has a lot to say. Peep game.

The sounds coming out of the current Los Angeles rap scene have been strikingly diverse. How would you describe the current L.A. hip-hop production scene?
Kid Ink: You said it. It’s very diverse. Everybody definitely has different ways that they approach sound in LA. Los Angeles people have open minds. We are not all stuck on one certain thing.

The songs you recorded with DJ Mustard like “Show Me,” “Body Language” and “Be Real” have a hybrid style that is at once hip-hop, R&B, and pop. How did your signature sound come about?
I think it comes from listening to Los Angeles radio. In other cities, especially in places like Atlanta, they tend to play one style of music all day. But when you come to L.A., they are not only playing L.A. type ‘hood stuff. They are playing what’s hot from all different kinds of genres from pop to R&B. So our ears are hearing all kinds of different music aside from just hip-hop. You hit the studio and you find yourself mixing all of those different elements together.

And yet there is still a reverence for that classic ‘90s West Coast sound, right?
Yeah, you definitely hear it. But we are not just trying to re-create those great moments of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Tupac. We still incorporate those West Coast influences, but there are a lot of other musical styles going on.

It could be argued that L.A. hip-hop has never been as musically rich as it is today. You take at an album like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. There are jazz, funk, and old school soul elements throughout that album. And then Kendrick follows that up with the Untitled project which has more of an 808 trap feel. What does it mean to see an artist as popular as Kendrick take such artistic risks?
It means everything. Kendrick has opened up that freedom even more. When you see him making music that’s so different it helps everybody out because now you are able to say, “Okay, I can go out of the box and try something new just like Kendrick.”

You and DJ Mustard have developed quite the chemistry. Did you instantly know you would mesh so well together?
No…honestly, I tried like 40 Mustard records before we recorded “Show Me.” We had a lot of different beats I was going through everyday and nothing came out the way I wanted it. I felt like I didn’t know how to rap over a Mustard beat [laughs]. It just so happens I ran across the “Show Me” track.

Did you instantly know it was going to be a hit?
I just knew it was different. It was something I had never heard from Mustard. I ended up bringing in Chris [Brown]. He was just in the right place at the right time. From there we developed that sound to the point where it influenced Mustard to say, “Alright, I’m going to try to make some other beats like this.”

Your sound allows you to walk that line between rapper and melodic R&B-informed vocalist. Would you say that you intentionally straddle that fence? People would tell me when I first started making records, “Yo, it’s weird…you sound like a rapper, but it’s a bit more melodic.” But early on I didn’t want to sound like I was trying to play both sides. I had to learn to accept my sound. It’s about having fun. But as far as the content and the lyrics I’m going to always keep it grounded and have that flow. I don’t want to dumb it down and get too gimmicky. There’s definitely more to come.

To hear more about what Kid Ink has to say about the L.A. hip-hop scene, watch his ‘Enough Said’ episode brought to you by 1800 Tequila below.

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