Ever since Kid Ink signed with RCA Records, the Los Angeles rapper hasn’t stopped thinking of new ways to climb to the top. It’s evident in his recent single “Bad Ass” featuring MMG cohorts Meek Mill and Wale, which has garnered over two million views on YouTube. To keep his hot streak going, the 27-year-old is focused on his follow-up to Up & Away, where he’s been experimenting with different records for his core fans and his new ones. So far, he’s worked with notable names like Pharrell and is looking to go bigger for his major label debut. Ink and his manager, DJ Ill Will, swung by the XXL offices to discuss his first ever Summer Jam appearance, the progress of his next album, and why fans aren’t attracted to a manufactured artist.—Eric Diep (@E_Diep)

XXL: You're going to be on the Summer Jam stage this year. What’s that going to be like?
Kid Ink: Summer Jam, for me, it's crazy just being on the festival stage, it’s still equally as big as the main stage. It’s dope because I'm the only West Coast artist on that stage out of all these New York guys and I get to really be out there on stage, really showing off and having fun. It's the first time for something I've just always heard about, I've never even attended one before.

So you've got a deal with RCA. What have you seen so far with them as a major label that shows you they can take you to the next level.
I've definitely seen the acknowledgement. People give me more of a chance to prove something to them. It's just more opportunity. It's a good place to be in because that's where I wanted to be before I signed the deal. When I did the independent album, the whole goal was to just prove everything that we could do so that the label would only want to put steroids on it and just help in the areas where we really were missing something. Everything is kind of the same, just a little bit more work. But it's all work I was looking forward to.

You've said that your next project is about 45-percent done. How's it coming along?
I think that the problem with me is [that] I like to give records away. If I'm ever just sitting on records— where it's just hooks or just ideas and I feel like they could fit for someone else—I always give those records out and never sit on something for too long. With that, I've lost songs, gained records and just recreated and recreated. But it’s definitely still looking good. I just want to make sure the album is perfect. I feel like right now, it's a brand new group of fans that I'm opening up to after I signed the deal, and that kind of put me back in that process from when I first started independently, where I feel like I have to show myself and prove myself to a lot of new fans as well as my core fans. I have the records that I know my core fans are gonna love. Right now, I'm just focusing on the records that will represent me to new ears.

You have a big social media presence. How have you managed to build your staying power?
Really just working. Really feeling like you have to outwork your competition. If it's somebody you see doing something that you look up to, you have to feel like you're doing just as much or even more. In this day and age, you definitely have to keep the momentum going because there are a lot of people out there that are not very consistent. The consistency and the quality are keys for me. I just have fun doing stuff like shooting videos and new songs. I never really get sold on old records, so it's a good problem for me to always want to keep doing new things.

What was the biggest change you felt after your appearance on the XXL 2012 Freshman Cover?
The first thing was just a bigger backing from the city. I was the only person on the cover from the city, so just a lot more backing from the radio and the club scene out there and everything. From there, it definitely just opened everyone else's eyes to me, including the label situations. The offers got bigger after that. And it was just great to be on a cover, and it's still the only cover I've ever been on.

What can you say about the class right now?
For me, honestly, the class right now, the biggest difference is just...I feel like the last issue—the biggest thing I am excited about—it was a slept-on issue. Because people were so questionable about it. There were so many artists on there that have never had a top 10 Billboard record. We were a little more mainstream than people probably saw. And some of them still running the streets. I feel like with this cover, it’s a little bit less about that and more about hip-hop and the hipster movement. It's a little bit more underground and about the core fans. That's where I started; I think that's pretty dope.

You were always repping LA. Have you connected with any of the younger guys out there?
It’s definitely respect with all of the artists. I don't have any artists out in L.A. that I haven't really connected with, that haven't shown any love or respect. Mostly, I've been in the studio with YG and DJ Mustard. They've been killing the streets, Mustard has been going hard. He's someone that's always easy to get into the studio and work with and always has new material. Mustard is crazy. Besides that, I've really just been focusing on the album, and it's crazy because L.A. is such a good place right now. The West Coast is really busy and everyone is just out and doing shows and on the road. It's just dope to see everybody doing everything and it's cool that everybody acknowledges it.

You and Mustard have done a lot of work in the past. He recently got signed to Roc Nation. How do you feel about that?
I thought that was dope. He had mentioned it prior to the situation and I didn't know what was going to happen. Then I saw it and it hit him up to congratulate him and everything. His response was, "Yep, I've got a new project, a new record, let's work." And that's always what I like to hear. Straight to work.

You said something about how when you're making an album you don't want to ride the coattails of others by having a lot of features. On this upcoming album, are you staying on that course?
I'm in the middle on that. Like I said, when I have the new fans that I have to prove myself to, I still feel like on this first project I have to give them more Kid Ink just because it's a bunch of brand new eyes. At the same time, with the major label situation and just my core fans knowing that I can make some features happen and wanting different features to happen, I'm looking more into what's being asked for and what's brand new. I'm definitely going to have some new, different features. Not just the regular, expected. I'm not gonna have a record with the same features that someone else has on a record for the radio at the same time. As long as I can keep it different and out of the norm, I'll definitely have a couple just to make it exciting for my core fans.

Ill Will, you’ve worked with Kid Ink since 2010. What's your relationship like?
DJ Ill Will: Technically, I am his manager. It’s a different relationship. It’s almost like a Batman and Robin situation, where without him I wouldn’t be as successful as I am and without me, he wouldn’t be as successful as he is. Like he’s through and through an artist. He lives and breathes music, doesn’t answer his phone, doesn’t handle any business, doesn’t have any fucking idea what’s going on behind the scenes.

So it’s almost like a perfect relationship where I am his advisor to help him make the right decisions and put him in the right situations. He’s just going to be himself and be the artist his fans want to see. It’s almost like a perfect relationship for us because I don’t have to creatively involve myself to be Kid Ink. Kids want that in itself. They want Kid Ink. They don’t want a manufactured Kid Ink. It’s kind of a beautiful relationship.

Ink: It’s crazy too because, like he said, they don’t want a manufactured Kid Ink. In the beginning, a lot of people tried to push it like Ill Will is doing this. Forcing this and making this happen. He didn’t make that. It was like I still had to go in and make the music and still write those songs. Of course, there are different relationships that he had and different features he can pull, but at the same time I still had to write and create those records. You know, still get into the studio with those people and just keep myself in a humbling point. But I don’t trip on anybody’s opinion. You got to be creative.