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From when he started producing his first beats after school to his latest work mixing alongside the likes of Puff Daddy and Yung Berg, Kid Ink’s life and career have always been about making music.
As a talented producer, his work behind the boards offered both exposure to other styles and ample free studio time, allowing him to put together a portfolio of his own in the process. Eventually at the age of 22, he took the jump and transitioned to full-time career as a rap artist and channeled his studio background into two mixtapes, launching Crash Landing and Day Dreamer back in 2011. In his relatively short career as a performer, he’s already racked up a tremendous amount of recognition with a Gold Plaque from the RIAA being his most recent milestone.
In this edition of our #Equipped series, the Los Angeles-based artist shares his thoughts on his work, his style and his impact on the industry.
What is your definition of success?
I’d have to say success is being happy with what you’re doing, so it’s different for everyone. I used to compare others success to mine or to other independent artists, but it’s really about what you’re comfortable with. I think there’s always more to do and more to grow.
What is the recipe for a hit record (in terms of airplay and sales)?
When people try to force it and make a record without being natural, it just doesn’t work. So, the best records come when I can get out an idea for a record in 15-20 minutes. From there, of course there’s a process of actually working on it and creating it, but hits don’t come from sitting on an idea for too long.
What helps you to create?
I find inspiration in situations and ideas that are relatable; things that either I’m going through or that people around me are going through.
I also like to have people around me and get that energy from them. I like to see how people react to a record on first instinct when they’re not in their own head. If I see people falling asleep and not vibing with it, then I know maybe I should move on.
How do you equip yourself for a day of work?
I don’t do a lot of planning, but I do make sure that there’s not a lot on my mind. I definitely have to clear all the worries out of my mind before I get to work and really get creative.
With so much genre-crossing material out these days, how important are music genres for you?
I think genres are still really important for me because of where I come from and what I represent. Being a hip-hop artist, I’m always going to be labeled that, but at the same time, I don’t want that to box me in. I still want to try creative ideas that maybe wouldn’t be labeled as hip hop or work with certain artists that aren’t in the same genre.
Hip hop is unique because it doesn’t have sub-genres. With rock for example, you have pop rock, hard-core, soft rock etc. Hip hop isn’t really like that, so you have all of these artists being labeled the same thing and competing with each other, but we don’t have the same sound or make the same music.
Your most recent project, ‘My Own Lane,’ has been described as the future sound of hip-hop. Do you look to past artists or trends when creating this “sound of the future?”
I definitely think that sounds can have their moment, but then come back around later. I try to re-live moments that were important to me in hip hop. I’d like to say something that the new generation might not otherwise get such as pulling a couple of lines or sampling a beat so they can understand where you’re coming from.
Do you ever find yourself looking outside of the world of music for inspiration (Art, Fashion, Cinema etc…)?
Definitely film and other visuals. I like to have TVs around me. Sometimes if the sound is on you can catch a line or a conversation and flip it around and make it meaningful to you. Or if the sound is off, even just watching things happen on-screen can spark different ideas too.
Tattoos are an important part of your persona, what was your first tattoo and what did it mean?
I got my first tattoo when I was 16 or 17 and it didn’t really have a deeper meaning other than me getting some cool art. After that, I started filling up my arm and forearm. Tattoos represent so many things. Personal art can mean something special to you that you can explain, and sometimes it’s just having fun and getting something to express a moment.
Has the perception of fame changed your personality? How do you stay grounded?
I try to stay humble and regular. It’s harder to do with so many people around, meet and greets, and photo shoots. I can’t just walk out and go to a store now. So, I’m learning to live with it and accept it. It hasn’t changed me as a person and it’s something that comes with my career, so it’s all good.
Who are some artists to watch out for in 2014?
I think the West Coast in general is really something to watch this year. Kendrick came out and did his thing, as did Macklemore and Schoolboy Q. There’s still so many more people from the West coast ready to shine. Casey Veggies is coming up right now, and Chance the Rapper’s another one I’ve noticed.
Could you describe your style and how it has evolved from your formative years until now?
I’ve learned what records I’m most comfortable with and what works for me. I’ve also done more personal and vulnerable records. Not just about partying necessarily, but also drama and things that people can relate to, so I’ve learned to expand my writing that way.
I also think people have become a little more accepting that I don’t have just one style. Coming from a production background, I don’t just make hip hop beats. Although I started with that and I take that into consideration when I write now, I feel like I’ve created this lane, this sound that people can now understand and accept.
For more on Kid Ink, check out his website here. For more from #Equipped, be sure to have a look at our previous coverage of Chicago photographer trashhand and stay tuned for more from Levi’s® x HYPEBEAST when we welcome Visual Supply Company Co-Founder Greg Lutze in our next edition coming soon.
Get Equipped at levi.com.