There's a lot that happens when Kid Ink and DJ Mustard collaborate, as they've done regularly over the last two years, but the simplest way to describe it also the most accurate: They create something undeniably catchy.
The two proved as much on a string of hit singles (and some album cuts, too), across Ink's debut and sophomore albums, in early 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Chris Brown-assisted "Show Me" and "Main Chick" veered towards the ladies, while this year's "Be Real," with Dej Loaf, was a bit grittier. They were hits all the same, each going at least Gold and climbing into the top 10 of the Billboard Rap Songs chart.
And so a full project with Ink and Mustard seemed like an inevitable match. And it is. But that doesn't mean that their joint effort, Summer in the Winter, which was executive produced by Mustard and released on Christmas, was long in the works.
"Without really having a plan, I just went in the studio for two weeks and really just cut a bunch of brand new records," Ink told MTV News, revealing he recorded the entire project in the short span in between getting off a European tour in late November and heading on the road to Brazil in early December. "I came up with this idea: Everybody’s always asking me, ‘You and Mustard should do a project.’ I already was looking forward to getting new music out. I’m always someone who’s like, I need new music out in the summer, and I think I kind of missed the summer being on tour, so I still had that vibe. It was a cool vibe to get off at that time and I thought it would separate from a lot of other music coming out during the wintertime."
There's no denying that summertime vibe. From the opening moments, with "Bunny Ranch" and "Real Recognize" kicking things off, there's a breezy, warm feeling permeating the tracks, naturally wandering from the records through your speakers and into your body. It's the pairing of snap- and clap-heavy, neck distorting beats and sticky-as-molasses lyrics that the team of Ink and Mustard -- who produced eight of 11 tracks himself but whose ear oversaw the entire project as the executive producer -- have made their forte.
And Ink knows that, with this, he's simultaneously feeding the desires of his fans who feast on the partnership, and feeding ammo to critics who claim, All Kid Ink singles sound alike or Kid Ink can't have a hit without DJ Mustard. But it's also part of a larger plan.
"A big motivation with this project was that people are getting a little bit too used to a specific Kid Ink sound --- which, I don’t think I was necessarily running after or trying to develop, more so than [that] I just get in the studio and make good music and have fun," he said. "The way I went into it, it was supposed to be a mixtape with me and Mustard, putting together a collection of songs that we knew the people would enjoy right now. I could get that off to them and please those fans, but at the same time, I’m someone who doesn’t want to be sucked into a specific sound or be a specific type of artist. Releasing a lot of singles that have the same vibe or wave, because they were working, kind of was throwing me into a box that was a little bit out of where I wanted to be.
"I didn’t wanna go into the album and do the same type of project or the same type of records. Now, I give the fans this, and they have no choice but to be like, 'Alright, now you gotta switch it up.' Instead of asking for the same type of records. Even the label [will feel like that]."
Before any kind of switch, though, he and Mustard -- working at Los Angeles studios three doors down from one another and bouncing ideas back-and-forth during the two-week process -- brought some friends along to help heat up the winter months. Ink toured with both Fetty Wap and Omarion, who show up on "Promise" and "Summer in the Winter," earlier this year, and there's an Akon feature that began less certain but turned out just as certified.
"I was listening to the vibe and thinking about, 'Who could sing this record and still keep the energy that was on it from my dude Verse Simmonds, who ended up writing the hook?'" he said of the Akon-helmed "Rewind."
"It was literally a situation where I made the suggestion, a call got made, an hour later he got the record, and a day later I had it back. It was kind of a movie. I didn’t expect it to come back that perfect and fast."
As for Fetty, the two hooked up in the studio on tour for a track that they've yet to release (but plan to), and headed to the 2015 breakout star's native New Jersey for another session.
"He said a lot of dudes don’t pull up to his studio out there," Ink said. "But it was a dope studio and his whole team got dope vibes. We were able to go into the studio and have fun. I kind of wanted to influence him to go in and do his thing first. That’s something I always try to do with the new artists I work with, especially when they’re new artists themselves. He went through a bunch of different beats. At first, I think he was kinda skeptical of what I was gonna like, and then he landed on this one where I was like, ‘Just go in. Have some fun.’ And we were able to do that at the end of the day and have a cool eight hour session."
With videos for "Bunny Ranch" and "Blowin' Swishers, Pt. 2" already online, expect visuals for "Promise" and "Rewind," too -- each of which sound ripe for radio rotation.
Summer in the Winter should keep Ink’s name hot and fans’ ears ringing until that third album arrives some time in 2016 (because, yes, even though this project was sold on iTunes, it’s a mixtape, rather than Ink's proper third major label album).
"It felt like a gift," he said, explaining the thinking behind the Christmas Day release. "That’s why I didn’t promote it as much: I wasn’t trying to do anything but give away music for the fans. It’s been almost a year, and usually around this time I’m going into another album, but I felt like I didn’t wanna rush into another full major label album that fast. And to change my cycle a little bit."
When we hear from him next, expect changes -- likely in his sound, and definitely in his life.
"I think I’m gonna take a little break off touring," he said. "I got a child coming in February. I wanna be in the zone with the kid. And from there, I wanna really focus on the studio and getting this new sound together."