Brian Todd Collins, better known by his stage name ‘Kid Ink’ (formerly ‘Rockstar’), is an American singer-songwriter, rapper, and record producer. Inspired by the music and work ethic of Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, and Timbaland, Collins attended after-school music programs, and started to make beats when he was 16 years old. He produced tracks for Sean Kingston, Nipsey Hu$$le, Sean “Diddy” Combs and others. He started rapping professionally at 22. He released his first official mixtape titled ‘World Tour’ on February 1, 2010. His first ever non-album single, ‘Hero’, was released in 2011. He launched his debut studio album, ‘Up & Away’, on June 12, 2012. It reached #2 spot on the ‘US Rap Albums’ chart. On May 28, 2013, he brought out his first EP ‘Almost Home’, which peaked at #4 spot on the same chart. He has collaborated with the likes of Chris Brown, Meek Mill (‘Bad Ass’, 2013), Tyga (‘Iz U Down’, 2013), Jeremih (‘Me Too’, 2014), and Jamie Foxx (‘Baby’s in Love’, 2015). He was one of the featured artists in the 2012 ‘XXL’ magazine’s ‘Freshman Class’. His song ‘Ride Out’ was included in the soundtrack of the 2015 film ‘Furious 7’. Since the beginning of his career, Kid Ink has produced music that crosses boundaries and refuses to adhere to any restrictive definitions. He took up the stage name ‘Rockstar’ in 2009, and released the mixtape ‘World Tour’ independently and exclusively to digital media outlets the following year. After the mixtape became a success, he signed to ‘Tha Alumni Group label’. He adopted the moniker ‘Kid Ink’ in 2010, releasing his second mixtape ‘Crash Landing’ to mark the occasion. In June of the same year he launched his third mixtape ‘Daydreamer’, with original productions from various artists including Lex Luger, Tha Bizness, and Jahlil Beats, and then in October, the fourth one, ‘Wheels Up’, featuring the likes of Nipsey Hussle, Tyga, 2 Chainz, and Travis Porter.
So what was that moment for you when you knew that this was what you needed to be doing with your life?
I think the moment that I found out this is what I wanted to do was when it seemed easy. Not the making it part; more so the process of making music and making beats or writing music, just seemed fun. I was always working to be better but it didn’t seem like something I was forcing myself to do or doing it for a check or anything. Any money I made, I was spending it on music equipment, or studio time, or figuring out how I can do this and that just to do music. I think once other people around me saw that, like my mom and everybody, they knew I was taking it seriously. That’s when all my gifts turned into music gifts and I started getting things like keyboards. It still didn’t make a real difference until I was probably in my mid-20s. So, it was still always a dream for a long time. I still had to go to school. I still had to get regular jobs. I had to figure out life but still get jobs that weren’t going to hurt me in the future. Because I knew I wanted to do music, so I wasn’t working somewhere where they’d be like, ‘Yo, we saw Kid Ink back in 2004 when he graduated, working at some crazy place.’ (Laughs) You won’t find any of that.
Tell me more about the other instruments you play. How did that happen?
My mom always played the piano. She always liked to have one in the household so she put me and all my brothers and sisters in piano early. We were at the spot that had it for like no money, like it was damn near free with the child care. But then, when I got older I took it seriously and I was making beats. Sampling music wasn’t always the way to go if you wanted to make more money. So, I had to learn how to make original music. When I was learning how to play “Für Elise” and all these other songs, that, I think, helped me later on know just how to use the keys; just to master it. I felt like I could always go back in and make beats and just have fun with it. It’s something that’s easy for me.
Do you ever see yourself crossing genres more? Which direction would you go if you did?
Yeah, I think I see myself crossing genres more. You know, I still always like to make fun music. It’ll never be down or emo music or anything. I think if I went somewhere it would probably be electronic music. I understand electronic music, just coming from L.A. and just that party scene. I would probably be the person making the beats and stuff. Or, I’d be like Calvin Harris, where I could throw a little bit of vocals on there but it’s still more focused on the production and the music making you feel good.
Your mind-set for the song “Now It’s Personal” for the Tekken 7 soundtrack — was your mind-set creatively different as far as making that track as opposed to making the track for this Jordan documentary?
I feel like at the same time, maybe when I was doing the Tekken music, it was a bit of a different place for me musically. Mindset-wise, I was making different music and thinking about different types of things. With making this record for the Jordan documentary, when they gave me the subject matter, it hit home more. I felt like I was able to now have an opportunity not just to do this for the documentary and fit their vibe but actually get across some things that I may have needed to get off my chest or fulfill a type of vibe that my fans haven’t gotten from me in a while. This was the perfect opportunity with the beat selection and the content. What I’m talking about is something that was a little missed from my mixtape days. I was able to revisit that and it’s falling right along with the timing of other stuff that I plan on releasing next. I definitely approached it more as it being my song aside from sometimes how you’ll make a song just for the movie. This one felt a little more personal.
What moment did it hit home for you about attacking the track differently and more personally?
The whole theme of the movie is about Jordan 1’s being banned from the league and it was about not settling with a “no” type of situation and not letting people shut you down from your vision. This is your vision and no matter how many people are trying to stop your vision, you have to keep rocking with your vision as much as possible. That’s how I was feeling at the time personally with my career. I was having different visions of where I wanted to take myself musically and a lot of other people around whether it be the label or any other producer, writer or anybody that I’m working with was stuck on what Kid Ink should be or what I should be doing.
That hit home to where I’m not going to take my vision away and conform to someone’s situation or how they want me to do it. In the bigger business scheme of things, whether it be the league or the label, I’m not going for it when I’m the star or putting in the work and putting it together. That was what was speaking to me when I was writing the record. I wasn’t going for “no.” Y’all might want me to do this and that’s not what I’m doing right now. I’m doing this and this is what I’m going for and this is where I want my brand to go.
You said you were familiar with the story of how the Jordan 1’s got banned, but have you watched the documentary yet?
No, I haven’t. They sent me a clip. Sometimes I like to be ahead of certain things but sometimes I want to be surprise and watch it as a fan sees it. I wanted to go and see it tonight and seeing my scenes and my song in the documentary for the first time. Even with certain stuff I’ve gotten put in movies and stuff, I don’t even want to look at the email that notifies. I’ve sat and watched the movie with my daughter before — I think it was Smurfs — and one of my songs came on and I was just as excited as she was to watch the movie.
It reminds me of the first time an artist hears their song on the radio. You don’t know. No one calls you up like, “Yo, your song is about to play at 3 o’clock. You kind of just have to sit and listen and vibe out when you hear it. I’ve had a song that was playing on the radio for two weeks before I heard it, and when I heard it, it felt special.
Do you remember the first time you copped your first pair of Jordan 1’s?
I was definitely the kid that didn’t grow up having a lot of Jordans because my mom wasn’t really going for that. I was definitely in budget when it came to shoes growing up. Once I started getting my own checks, the first Jordan I went after were Space Jam’s. After that, I started buying 1’s but they were just white. I remember a lot of people were wearing white Air Force’s, but I didn’t really like them and I didn’t like how Dunks looked on my feet.
Once I found the Jordan 1’s in white, even today I have like six pairs of them. I always just buy ‘em when I see ‘em. Fresh 1’s. It just became an addiction after that once I found out how comfortable the shoe was. Even when I perform with the shoe on, it’s still the most comfortable shoe I perform in on stage. My feet don’t hurt afterwards and my feet aren’t blistered up. I remember I did one tour where all I wore were Jordan 1’s.
It became my everyday shoe. The Banned 1’s really became my everyday shoe because I feel like they match with every outfit. I’ve never put those on with any color and it didn’t rock. One time I took like 20 pairs of 1’s on tour. They’re definitely my favorite Jordan. It goes 1’s, then 11’s, then the 6’s, then 3’s, and then 5’s.
We both know what Jordan himself has done for the league, but what has his impact — especially the shoes — done for hip-hop as a culture?
Even to this day, Jordan shoes are a staple in hip-hop community and culture, over like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. It’s just as important as those and the price point, you get some nice ones for like $175 and they’re just as fly as the guy with the Gucci shoes on next to you. Sometimes I have to think about it myself like “Why?”, but growing up, it was the opportunity. It was a lot of things growing up at that time that you just saw ‘em and they reminded you opportunities to get out of your situation.
When you looked at Jordan and the Jordan shoe, it gave you bigger opportunities in your head like, “I could do this.” He never took it away from it feeling like it was still a part of the culture. You could have somebody like Oprah Winfrey. She’s still out of the culture. She’s still a part of the African American culture but she’s outside of the hip-hop culture. It still kind of disconnects with people who look at her and think maybe I can be her. It doesn’t necessarily speak or relate to feeling like an opportunity that I can actually have.
Jordan still laid out opportunities that kids felt like they could have. Even having the Jordans on, when you’re on the court you feel like you can play better. There’s a mental thing. At the end of the day, Jordan’s brand just made kids in the hood feel better about their situations. Another thing now, too, is that Jordan shoes as a whole, they’re like icebreakers. I could be in the airport and a 60-year-old white man got his 1’s on and I got my 1’s on and we having a regular conversation. Or if he has something crazy I’ve never seen before, I’ll be like, “Yo, where you get them 7’s from?!” It could spark a whole different thing.