Kid Ink has some new ink to his name—his freshly signed John Hancock on a recording contract. On January 3, the Los Angeles MC announced that he’d signed a deal with RCA Records, also home to ASAP Rocky, and since last Friday, ASAP Ferg. Ink has a habit for starting years off with a bang. The big news comes 11 months after Ink made XXL’s revered Freshmen cover alongside French Montana, Macklemore and others last February, after a string of acclaimed mixtapes. He proved himself worthy of the honor later that year when he dropped Up & Away, his debut album, via DJ Ill Will’s Alumni Music Group, debuting at No. 2 on Billboard‘s Rap Albums charts and yielding the hit single “Time of Your Life,” which had amassed more than 12.3 million YouTube views at press time. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise Kid Ink had to fend off multiple deal offers before finally choosing RCA—and releasing his first single with the label, “Bad Ass,” featuring Meek Mill and Wale. Here, Ink sits down with XXL to wax about his deal and his forthcoming major-label debut. —Alex Gale (@apexdujeous)
Congrats on your new deal. How did it feel to sign the dotted line?
It takes some time to get a deal set in stone and the paperwork and everything, so I’ve definitely had this on the agenda the past couple months, but to actually come out and announce it, and have the label now actually behind me is an eye-opener to the new level that we’re gonna take it, the Alumni as a whole. I’m just excited to get to work.
Tell us about the day you signed.
It was really a hard week ’cause it wasn’t like I just went after one label or only one label came after me. It was a whole bunch of different offers, and I had to really sit down and focus on where we wanted to go musically first and then focus on where I wanted go business-wise as an artist. It really got to a stressful point where I had to make a decision, I really had to look at my career and figure out where I wanted to go for the next five, 10 years. I sat down with my people and DJ Ill Will and made the decision to run with RCA.
Why did you go with RCA?
They understood what we were doing independently as a whole and I felt like they had a good background of people in there, like J. Grand, who come from an independent background and understand us and understand the creativity and the music and the control we wanted to have. That’s why we waited so long to sign the deal, because we wanted to get that trust that we could release our own music, and let the fans speak for us, build a movement, and make [the label's] job easier.
RCA doesn’t have much of a rap roster. Before you, and now ASAP Ferg, it was just ASAP Rocky and, uh, Yung Joc, who hasn’t exactly been tearing it up recently. Was that a negative for you?
It’s more of a plus for me ’cause there’s other labels that have more hip-hop artists, but that could also put me in a line, where there’s people that come first, vets that I’d have to sit behind. In RCA I’m more part of the process and they can just run with me. I feel like—how can I say this?—me and ASAP, our audiences, our music, don’t really cross, they more complement each other. There’s no artists I really have to battle against at the label.
What are some of the other labels you talked to?
When we were going through everything with RCA, I had Atlantic, they were on my head hard. Bad Boy. MMG—Ross hit me up personally. There were definitely a lot of options and there were a lot of places people wanted me to be or thought I was signed to.
Why not just stay indie? You showed you could already do pretty well on your own.
I felt like there was a ceiling hit after doing the independent album [Up & Away] and selling 20,000 the first week and debuting at No. 2 hip hop album, it was like, What can we do in the Alumni next? But what can we do as an independent and what can the majors help us do and take it to the next level? That’s why we waited so long to sign, so when we get there everything’s real right, so nothing’s going to change with the Alumni. It’s the same work ethic, the same production quality; we’re still going to do mixtapes and videos. Everything’s still going to keep rolling, but times 10.
Will your music change at all now that you’re on a major, considering the major expectations that come with that?
I don’t think musically my projects will change much at all. I mean, of course you get around other artists and new people and you try different things as a musician—you can’t really help creativity—but I wouldn’t really steer from my fans too far. I mean of course sometimes you just want to hop on that No. 1 single featuring blahzay-blah, but it all has to make sense.
Do you think the Freshmen cover helped you get your deal at all?
It definitely helped because that cover has a lot of respect on stamping those next artists that have been getting a lot of buzz and that people should be paying attention to early if they haven’t been. It definitely helped out a lot ’cause it made a lot of peers respect me more and helped me out with getting some of those features.
Have you started recording the album?
I been recording. I started recording two months before the Rocketshipshawty mixtape dropped, and I did about 60 records just for that, so there’s a lot of leftovers. Well, not really leftovers, but I put a lot aside for the album, and there are still a lot of leftovers for another mixtape and more leaks. The album’s is 45 percent done, I would say. I got like six or seven tracks that I feel confident with that I really want to push toward the album.
Are there any guest features already lined up?
Not really any guest features lined up, except the single featuring Meek Mill and Wale. I’m working with all kinds of producers the label’s been hooking me up with, but I’ve also been working with the same producers from my earlier projects every time, which I always do. It’s a formula. The fans love the producers I work and look forward to hearing those records with the same lineups.
How was it working with Wale and Meek Mill?
I felt like Meek Mill was perfect for the record. As soon as my man Devin Cruze from the team gave me the record and I recorded the idea, the first thoughr was we could get Meek Mill on it, and we reached out. He’s like family. We’ve done like three or four records and been in the studio many times together. So it really wasn’t too much of an issue. So from there, we wanted to get Wale. It was magic. And I already had a relationship with Maybach from Ross reaching out. I’ve also known O for minute. A video is coming, definitely. We already got the treatment and everything, it’s gonna be dope. I’m on the road doing radio promo [for it] right now.
Is there a release date?
There’s no set release date, we’re just working the single and seeing where it’s gonna go. We really want a direction on the album, not just put together a mixtape. I want it to be a major label album and sound different from an independent album. I want it to be big. There’s no rush.
Your name’s Kid Ink—so did you get any new ink to celebrate the deal?
I didn’t get any new ink toward the deal, but I’ve been getting new ink for the past two months. I’ve been going in like almost every other day. [Laughs]