Kid Ink has etched a formidable lane for himself as a premier hip-hop artist. Adept at crafting sugary hooks anchored to cause tremors on the radio, Kid Ink watched his singles “Show Me,” “Be Real,” “Promise” and “Main Chick” thrive on the Billboard Hot 100. Though Kid revels in the thought of whipping up addictive earworms to whet his fans’ hearty appetite, he also loves tackling projects that are dear to his heart.
After teaming up with Tekken 7 last year for the soundtrack’s standout “Now It’s Personal,” Kid partnered with upcoming documentary, Unbanned: The Legend of AJ 1, to craft the new song “One Time.” Unbanned, written and directed by Dexton Deboree, highlights the reverence of NBA legend Michael Jordan and his iconic Air Jordan I sneaker. Before Jordan entered the league in 1984, the baby-face assassin trounced the competition with his athletic prowess and bulletproof swagger. His skill-set enabled him to be drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls and a lucrative deal with Nike.
Through Nike, MJ was awarded his first signature sneaker, Air Jordan. The black and red footwear crushed the NBA’s traditional model of sneakers, as the league originally wanted players to don either white or black kicks. Though the sneaker was banned temporarily by the NBA, Air Jordan 1, bloomed into an iconic sneaker in not only sports, but music and fashion as well. “Even to this day, Jordan shoes are a staple in the hip-hop community and culture, over like Gucci and Louis Vuitton,” Kid tells Billboard. “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.”
Kid Ink sat down with Billboard last week before the premiere of Unbanned: The Legend of AJ 1 at New York’s Beacon Theater to speak on his new track “One Time,” the documentary, Michael Jordan’s impact on hip-hop culture and his decision to reinvent himself as an artist.
You’re in New York City at the Beacon Theatre. Why are we here today? What’s going on?
We are here at the Tribeca Film Festival for the Air Jordan 1 Unbanned documentary that I was blessed to be a part of. Being one of my favorite shoes, it was just a really dope thing I was able to be a part of.
Who called who? How did everything get set up?
It was one of those things where my publisher hit me with the opportunity. I try to always let my publisher and my team know the things that I like so when they come across certain opportunities, they’ll hit me first for it. If it’s something I feel passionate about, it’s easier for me to work with that. This is one of those things where, when it was presented to me, it definitely wasn’t overlooked and it didn’t take long to get to where I felt like I understood what the documentary was going to be about. I know the story but just understanding what they were going for and the vibe.
Sometimes they let you know they want it along these lines, this type of song and mention a couple different words or the themes. Once they gave me the theme of it all, I was able to go through a bunch of different beats and see what I liked and start from scratch writing. I got to work for this one from home and I really just zoned in. I would watch different documentaries and trailers to get that vibe and energy — same thing I did for Tekken.
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.
You premiered a record with us at the top of the year called “Tell Somebody.” One of the things you said was that this is a time where you were going to reinvent yourself. It’s about to be May, so tell me about the whole reinventing process. How has that been going for you?
It’s been going great. I definitely started the process before “Tell Somebody.” I had the mindset to the different opportunities I could have and the different type of music I could do that I’ve already been doing but I felt like I was boxed in by the successful singles being what the people wanted to hear from me. People were saying, “You took a break.” I didn’t really take a break from making any music. I think that it was just a time where I was doing something completely different from maybe where the label or the team was ready to put out.
They had to adjust themselves to get on my page and I wasn’t going to go for just what everyone else wanted me to do. Going into it and making the music that I wanted to make and the music that I feel like my day one fans and mixtape fans wanted to hear, and really force-feeding that to my team and the people around me.
“Tell Somebody” was the best song because I have a struggle of “hip-hop artist or pop artist?” “Tell Somebody” was just a good record that was just in the middle of everything and it didn’t have any labels to it. You had to just go with whether you liked the content, the beat or the video. People appreciated the record for what they appreciated it for and not labeling Kid Ink as a specific type of artist. The process has been going well and the music has been getting better. I’m excited about so much new stuff that I have coming out. I think we’ve come to a great plan and release dates in mind, new features that I’ve never done before.
I don’t really want to go too crazy right now. I got some surprises. One situation I’m definitely trying to get crazy is that me and Miguel have been talking a lot lately and hanging out. I probably got a record or two with these XXL Freshmen kids. I got a lot of new music and I definitely feel like I’m in pocket of what’s going on now. I’m not too far out of the lane. I don’t feel like I’m about to come out with a project like J. Cole talking to the young’ns. I’m still in the mix with the music I’m making and the lifestyle I’m living.