Give him a rat-tat-tat-tat beat and the tattooed rapper goes off.
It seemed too cute and too expected for INKED to cover an unknown rapper just signed to a major label simply because his moniker coincides with the magazine’s content. So when I got the e-mail saying that RCA just “inked Kid Ink,” I deleted it. A week or so later a hot song came up on one of my buddy’s playlists. “Who is that?” I asked. When the response came, I dug through my e-trash to find out more.
Kid Ink, whose real name is Brian Todd Collins, is a hell of a lyricist—and coming from a production background, he has the tools to put together a complete song. Best of all for those who worry about the current state of hip-hop, his charge is to save it. “The radio world is in a weird place,” he says. “What you hear on the radio isn’t the necessarily the hottest song in the streets, so I’m trying to create a new sound to please both markets. Something that can be mainstream but not be corny. Good music overall.”
For his EP Almost Home, Collins worked out “a new flow called the double- up,” which he spit, spit on the road with Kendrick Lamar in a worldwide tour that wrapped in June. His ultimate goal? “I always wanted to be up there with the greats, the legends. I want a Hollywood star,” he says. “It’s not for a check, though … just the love for music and the rock star lifestyle.”
In fact, before he was Kid Ink, Collins was known as Rockstar. “When I decided to make the switch from behind-the-scenes producer to onstage rapper, I knew I had to switch my name up,” he says. “I went by Rockstar because it embodied my life of being up all night partying in L.A., but when you Google it, there are already brands using the word. So I thought of my lifestyle out of music, and that’s tattoos. I was either in school, working on music, or apprenticing at a tattoo shop where I would clean tools so I could get free tattoos. At the time I thought that if music didn’t work out I could tattoo.”
When he was still a blank canvas, a younger Collins gravitated to tattoos for a few reasons: He dug Travis Barker, noticed the girls in his school were into Allen Iverson, and had some scars on his back from acne that he wanted to cover up. He also wanted to take his look into his own hands. “I wanted to control my image, that my tattoos could speak to people,” he says. He drew out five stars coming out of fire on his forearm, and his mother—another ink addict (according to Collins, she has “too many tattoos”)—brought him to the shop. “I had the biggest tattoo in school, which was my goal,” he says.
Since then, the 21-year-old has filled up his body with an amalgam of designs. “I used to draw my own, even drew one on myself in the mirror of the tattoo shop, but I’ve learned to trust the artist.” He sometimes goes into the shop with ideas—for instance, after watching The Spirit he got a flaming red tie on his chest to signify that he doesn’t live a 9-to-5 life—and other times he just wanders in and lets a design come to him. These days, he frequents Lowkey Tattoos, where most of the work he gets is fill-in. “Since I have all black-and-gray, I can color it in,” Ink says. “Now I feel like a coloring book.”