When you’re young, unknown, and with however much disposable income, the painful ritual of tattoos is a short-cut of individuation and branding on one’s own, most superficial terms. Kid Ink, so-named after the dark and elaborate stains of literally every limb he’s got, is pastiche per se, as ubiquitously vapid as Iggy Azalea but with better features and a steadier stream of potential hit records. In the shadow of his own tattoos, he’s grown to resemble the previously slender Chris Brown, the occasionally gully Jeremih—whomever radio wants him to be, really.
How could a rapper be so successfully anonymous, so profitably vague, so interchangeable with a few of today’s pop radio greats? Where Ink’s previous album, My Own Lane, was occasionally cloying (“We Just Came to Party,” “I Don’t Care”) in its cross-pollination of R&B, fellow freshmen Dej Loaf, Young Thug, Quavo, and Offset curb (just barely) such pop excess on Full Speed. Its guest list aside, however, Full Speed isn’t street rap either. Ink rarely pretends at that sort of credibility, what, with fashion (“Cool Back”), fronting (“About Mine”), and flirtation (“Hotel”) being his foremost concerns.
A glance at song titles—“Dolo,” “Hotel,” “Be Real,” “Rough Here,” “About Mine,” “Blunted,” etc.—proves that Kid Ink is minimally invested in standing out or above; simplicity is his calling, and it's a principle upon which many Hot 100 records are built. As much as the album is Kid Ink's latest artwork, Full Speed is very much also the product of a market's lottery incentives. For the love of radio play, Ink is a persuasive moderator of hip-hop posturing, R&B melodies, and pop gusto; between street proficiency and the PG-13 civility of the suburbs. With Usher and Tinashe on the hook, “Body Language” could’ve gone for exotic or at least been conventionally vulgar, a la Omarion’s “Posed to Be,” but instead we get Usher singing “under the covers” as the boldest innuendo on a song about sexual anticipation.
For the most part, Kid Ink is a C-average rapper scoring unexpected B-pluses over A-grade beats from DJ Mustard, Stargate, and Metro Boomin. And for a certain slice of people living in Central Time, he (via “Like a Hott Boyy”) will provide the second Young Thug feature they’ll have ever heard, and the first time they’ll have understood what Thugger was saying.
His appeal is formulaic in a sense that it is carefully crafted, not entirely cynical, and not simply exploitative of more distinguished rappers.
While many, myself included, would call Kid Ink a shapeshifter peeled from the mold of like nine other motherfuckers, I’ll give him this much credit: Rarely does an artist feature alongside the Migos without assimilating to their affect and vibe; yet “Every City We Go” is, unquestionably, a Kid Ink record. “Be Real” features Dej Loaf in what sounds (to me) like her first fleshed-out, worthwhile appearance since “Try Me,” and this is mostly due to Kid Ink’s mighty pronouncements and brief, persuasive Drake impersonation (“Representing Westsiiiii-de/Lotta people try to tell me I’m the next guyyyy-y”). His appeal is formulaic in a sense that it is carefully crafted, not entirely cynical, and not simply exploitative of more distinguished rappers.
Hit records or no, Kid Ink will likely never dodge such reaches for the nearest comparison. He’s a thin persona and overall failure of imagination, perhaps, but he’s an effective, saleable musician, competent in voice, chords, and melodies, though he’s more conventional with these devices than all of his guests are with their own. Way less divisive than Iggy Azalea if only because he’s black, from the Westside, and easy to mistake for a rapper that you actually like. Kid Ink personifies nothing but success.