New York, N.Y. -- While heavily-tattooed emcees are nothing new to the game,
takes rap's fascination with body art to a whole 'nother level; sporting a tiger on his neck, a Space Invader on his right arm and portraits of his mother and grandfather on his chest (to name just a few of his many tats), the Los Angeles rapper/producer is a walking art gallery. Of course, the immense buzz surrounding the Golden State repper is about more than his striking appearance. Since inking a deal with
DJ Ill Will
Alumni Music Group
back in 2010, he's garnered increasing critical acclaim and listener attention on the strength of a string of dope mixtape releases. And last month, the 24-year-old rhymesayer got ink in
, scoring a coveted spot in the publication's
. Having cemented his status as an artist to watch, Ink is preparing to officially kick his career into high gear with next month's arrival of his debut studio album. Packing reader-approved singles "
Up & Away
is scheduled for independent release June 12.
, Kid Ink steps into the Booth to discuss his XXL classmates, the impressive lineup of producers contributing to his freshman set (including
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and the artist himself), and which fellow West Coast buzzmakers he's had his eye on lately.
You started off the year being named to XXL’s infamous Freshman Class. What does that co-sign mean in today’s hip hop game?
It was right around Christmas time when I found out I was gonna’ be on the cover so it felt like Christmas came early for me. The voting list had gone up and I received the word a few weeks later. I obviously wanted to make it happen. In terms of what the co-sign means, if you look at some of their past covers, a lot of the artists have gone on to do big things like Wale, Kid CuDi, Meek Mill, Big Sean etc. It really depends on how the artist takes it to the next level though.
How were you able to bond with other freshmen on the cover? Was it your first time meeting many of them?
I didn’t have anything against anyone there. There was definitely a couple of artists there I was meeting for the first time. Everybody was mad cool. MGK and Future were two of my boys before the shoot; I went in already knowing those guys really well. It was just a cool vibe; I don’t feel like anyone had any egos.
How did your relationship with Ill Will & DJ Rockstar lead to you becoming the first artist on their Alumni Music Group?
Rockstar & Ill Will were hosting so many of my tapes and we were building the buzz together. One of the underground mixtapes kept buzzing in my ear and in Ill Will’s ear as well. And then from there, we finally met at a video shoot; we talked and shared some ideas. We just built the same relationship and felt like we were on level ground. We came up with Alumni and it’s been a great look for me. It’s crazy because things have been moving quickly.
Your current single, “Time of Your Life,” is enjoying some success on the charts. Congrats. Tell us about the record and what you think the best time of your life has been thus far?
First off, thanks so much for the congratulations. The overall record itself was just me reaching out to let people know that when you’re out at the club or wherever, don’t worry about anyone really judging you, just have the time of your life. The night shouldn’t be about what everyone else is talking about, just have a good time. The time of my life right now is hitting the stage to perform this record.
Speaking of the stage, lets discuss the road. You’ve been performing across the country and overseas since the start of the New Year; have there been any favorite cities you’ve got to rock?
The Midwest shows a lot of love. Lately, I’ve been on the east coast and New York showed me major love. Arizona, Minnesota, Denver – every time I come through to those cities, it’s a packed house and we have a great time. I hit Canada as well, Toronto & Vancouver.
Your debut, “Up & Away,” is scheduled for release in June. How much of the album has already been completed?
I think I’m about 65% done. I’ve been going through records but I still have some concepts in my head that I need to record. I’m actually in the studio right now; I’ve been working every day to get it done as soon as possible.
You produce some of your own records, but who have you worked with on the album?
I have a little bit of production on there. I’m working with a lot of the same producers on my past projects like Jahlil Beats, Cardiak, Young Jerz, etc. These are people that I consider part of the team. I’ve also been reaching out to other producers that I met on the road or through Twitter even. We’re getting all kinds of dope production to work with. I’m trying to get down to 15 records and then worry about mixing and mastering.
Let’s talk about people you’re not working with, but would like to work it. Who’s a dream collaboration of yours?
Man, if I could reach out to anybody for some production, I’d definitely reach out to some of the legends such as Timbaland, Pharrell and Swizz Beatz. These are guys that inspired me to make beats when I was younger.
So with the album about 65% done and “Time of your Life” doing well on the charts, is there a next single that you have ready to go?
I recently released “Lost in the Sauce” which was like an “underground” single. Right now, I’m just working on the order of the tracks and what’s gonna’ make the album. I’ve been writing everything down, trying to eliminate records and what not. And then we’ll have a listening party and figure out what that next single is [going to be].
You’re based in L.A. What are your thoughts on the current West Coast hip-hop scene? Casey Veggies, YG, Kendrick Lamar, Tyga – it’s safe to say that the LA scene is back on the rise, no?
Schoolboy Q is another dude; Nipsey Hussle as well. All of those dudes you named are guys I mess with. Mann is another extraordinary talent out there. These are all cats I’ve been in the studio with. We’re all hungry and grinding; we’re all helping each other out and that’s bringing our music to another level.
In closing, how many tattoos do you have and is there a favorite?
The count is at 27 and my favorite one is the X-Ray of the skull and bones that I have on my hand. That one was the most painful so I have to appreciate that (laughs).