With the emergence of newcomers coming out of the west coast, the lane is wide open for new talent to make their mark. Cue ... Kid Ink. While he's not exactly a household name, his rise over the past 12 months is undeniable.
The Los Angeles native began his career on the other side of the fence though, tasting success as a producer while working alongside the likes of Diddy, Sean Kingston, and Yung Berg, among others. However, while holed up in the studio working tirelessly on the boards, Kid Ink managed to amass a solid collection of beats ... enough that he freed up enough time to step out from behind the curtain and chase his dream of being a solo artist.
His debut came in late 2010, with his first mixtape Crash Landing ... and from there, it's been sprint upward. With the help of popular L.A.-based mixtape DJ Ill Will, Ink released two more mixtapes in 2011, each doing better than the last -- his latest being Wheels Up. So far, things are falling into place for the young rapper. With his official single "Time Of Your Life" (cop it over at iTunes) garnering radio play and his name in the running for this year's XXL Freshman list, Kid Ink is poised to make a real impact in 2012.
With all that said, we caught up with Kid Ink recently in Downtown Los Angeles, where famed photographer Estevan Oriol shot him amongst the gritty Skid Row landscape. During our chat, the rapper/producer told us about his start and transition into becoming a solo artist, his sudden popularity online and on radio, and his plans for New Year.
The humble 24-year-old is proud of his journey thus far, but knows there's a long road ahead of him. Meet Kid Ink.
BallerStatus.com: Tell us where you're from, and what you were into as a kid before the whole music thing?
Kid Ink: I grew up West Los Angeles area, just between Mid-City, West L.A. -- that's where I was born and raised. As a child, I've always been a fan of music, surrounding myself around it, but I was into art. Then, within the art, I got into tattoos. When I was younger, I was into extreme sports, I always wanted to BMX ride. I picked up production down the line and that's what started my whole music faze.
BallerStatus.com: Who were the artists who really influenced you growing up?
Kid Ink: As far producers, I was influenced by Pharrell and Timbaland. Those were probably the two biggest influences. As far as being an artist, Jay-Z was my favorite. But, when I was younger, I used to listen to a lot of Mase and DMX ... just a lot of east coast was my rap influence.
BallerStatus.com: Was there a point as a teen where you decided that music was it? If so, what was the turning point that made you make the decision to focus fully on music?
Kid Ink: It was always a hobby as a teen, and like I said, I was real into tattoos, so I was hanging around the shop a lot and working there ... and ended up getting a lot of tattoos. It got to a point where I knew, like with so many tattoos, it was like I wasn't gonna be able to do too much in the corporate world. From then, there was always music around me, so I made the decision more so when --- the last job, I was working security, and I made the decision then to just move forward with it and go full force.
BallerStatus.com: Obviously, you're covered in tattoos. Is that the main reason you picked the moniker?
Kid Ink: Yea, that's really what it's all about.
BallerStatus.com: You were a producer before switching your focus to being the artist. What did you see in being an artist that made you wanna transition to the other side?
Kid Ink: It was just fun. It got to the point where I was in the studio a lot and I was around different producers ... there was a lot of production and a lot of free studio time, where I would use the time when I wasn't making beats. I felt like I had such a big catalog in production that I could sit back and focus on a couple other things. From there, it just took off. I still have my production catalog to the side, I just took a pause in that.
BallerStatus.com: As you started recording, has there been an evolution in your style as you've perfected your delivery and process?
Kid Ink: Definitely. I feel like every time I do new music and projects, every one I stepped up and learned things. I pay attention, a lot, to what the fans say. Just the feedback ... I'm not one that's tough with criticism, so it's like I listen and pay attention. I've never completely satisfied anyway, so like that's helps so much with creativity and making yourself better.
BallerStatus.com: Being that you have skills as a producer and rapper, how would you say that helps you, specifically, compared to others?
Kid Ink: I feel like it definitely gives me a better ear in the production I use. I'm a fan of so many other producers, but I feel like some rappers are real dope, but don't know how to choose the right production. That's definitely an upside that I get, coming from a producer standpoint. I feel like, too, as a producer, you try to write hooks and be real melodic. That's something I picked up from producing -- the hook writing aspect -- aside from just writing verses.
BallerStatus.com: You're break came last year, with the direction of DJ Ill Will, you dropped your mixtape debut. Tell me a little about how you were feeling going into the mixtape, and if you expected the response you received from it?
Kid Ink: The first mixtape, Crash Landing, we had a really good response that we weren't expecting, as far as the whole Alumni team. Being a new artist on the west coast, I feel like it just helped me seeing that. Really, it's been moving real fast, from the first project to the second to Wheels Up. Everything has been going in a progressive state and moving up and it's crazy.
BallerStatus.com: How did you and Ill Will come together, and how instrumental has he been in helping push you thus far?
Kid Ink: We hooked up initially through a friend and I reached out to him to help me with my first project as an independent artist. He helped me out and when everything did well, he appreciated the response and I ended up meeting him (in person) at a friend's video shoot and just talked and chopped it up and found out we were on the same page. From there, we developed Alumni and have just been going. He's definitely been a big part, opinion-wise and business-wise.
BallerStatus.com: You've dropped two mixtapes since Crash Landing and it seems both have received even more attention than the first. What's your reaction to the attention they've gotten so far?
Kid Ink: It's crazy. It's been moving real fast. I feel like I make plans and set out different goals and we seem to exceed every goal, every time. I just appreciate the fans. It just shows me I've been paying attention and been giving them what they want. That's what the aim is too.
BallerStatus.com: For a listener who hasn't heard you yet, how would you describe your sound? Why should they check you out?
Kid Ink: Right now, my sound is quality. I feel like I'm still developing Kid Ink's initial style, but I feel like right now, it's quality music. It's definitely something you can check out ... a new sound from the West Coast, which is on the rise right now.
BallerStatus.com: What has been your biggest moment you're most proud of, so far as a solo artist?
Kid Ink: One of the biggest things this year I can look at is the XXL Freshman voting, and just getting in that running for the cover. It's just been looking real good with the feedback and that's one of our biggest goals for things getting off for the coming year.
BallerStatus.com: They've also been spinning your new record on Power 106 (Los Angeles)...
Kid Ink: Yea, that's another big thing for me. I've tasted that with production, having it touch the radio, but it definitely does feel good to have your music hit the radio and being spun during the daytime.
BallerStatus.com: How important is it for an indie artist to drop free music, mixtapes, consistent videos, etc?
Kid Ink: I feel like it's real important for an independent artist and the mainstream radio artist, because there's so many artists on the radio who fans may know their songs but not their face. You gotta get the video footage out there, whether its "Day in the Life" stuff or music video, get some type of video to let the fans see you and familiarize with you.
BallerStatus.com: With 2011 in the history books, what's your goals for 2012? What's in the works?
Kid Ink: We looking forward to the XXL Freshman, like I said. Right now, I'm working on an EP with my man Tydolla$ign that we're planning for spring; and I'm still working on an independent album that I'm planning for after that.
For more on Kid Ink, visit his official website at KidInkMusic.com, or follow him on Twitter @Kid_Ink. All photos in this article were shot by Estevan Oriol, visit his official website at EstevanOriol.com and follow him @JokerBrand.