Ballenger Highway

The conscious art of tattoos with K-Dub of K-Dub's Tattoo

FLINT, Michigan — K-Dub of K-Dub’s Tattoo & Airbrushing has spent his life drawing and being into art, so much so that it eventually became therapy for him. Born and raised in Flint, K-Dub spent his early creative days challenging his cousin, who was also into art, to see who was the better artist. But tattooing wasn’t something that he intended to do. Instead, after he graduated high school, he enlisted in the military, hoping to pursue art, to the bewilderment of his superiors.

In an eerie sense of the divine, he fell into tattooing by way of someone looking for “anybody who knows how to draw” inside an unemployment agency in Durham, North Carolina, after he got out of service.

That moment, he says, is “when everything stopped, like he was talking to me only,” that would forever change the trajectory of K-Dub’s life. He’d eventually learn that a woman was searching for a Black tattoo artist to train and work for her, and he fitted the bill perfectly. It opened his eyes to “learn that manifestation is real” and opened a path to spiritual enlightenment and a greater understanding of his purpose.

Flintside caught up with K-Dub inside his shop in Flint’s Ballenger Hwy neighborhood to discuss his passion for art, tattooing, his spiritual awakening, and more.

Flintside: You get this dream opportunity in Durham to turn your art into tattoos. How was that experience?

K-Dub: “It was like a dream come true. I was living with my cousin, who I drew with all the time, and I got him a job, too. [However] the lady wasn’t making money, so we couldn’t [either]. She was taking 70%. But my mama called and said she was sick and only had five years to live. So I came home and right in this plaza at the end, Boss Tattoos, I went in there, showed him my work, and he said, when can you start? That’s how I started tattooing in Flint.”

“I still have a lot of customers that love my work. They see my work and say, ‘go do your thing,’ says K-Dub on celebrating almost 20 years of tattooing. (Courtesy photo)Flintside: That’s a wild series of events. You started working there, but you now own your shop. How did K-Dub's come into existence?

K-Dub: “This guy named Will was airbrushing. He and I got to talking about leaving and starting our own. I was going to call it King Tatts or something. He was like, ‘nah, we calling it K-Dub’s Tatts because you K and Will, and that’s K-Dub.’ But he didn’t know that was my nickname! That was kind of crazy. The whole manifestation came into play how I wanted it without me doing much. That’s how I knew this was meant for me to do this. It was waiting for me to take action.”

Flintside: I can see why you would believe that! What were some of the things you had to learn?

K-Dub: “It [started in] 2004, and I had a baby on the way. When I opened up my shop, it was kind of rough. I had to be mentally strong. Customers would play games. You think it’s all business, but customers might start something. It could be competition sending somebody to act crazy to get you out of character. It’s shady like that. Each city has its own mentality that you have to deal with. I had to learn that crowds change. Generations come with stuff, and you got to get used to it and adapt. So, it’s not all fun and games. [But] it’s the yin and yang. That’s life, and I love it because it’s art.”

Flintside: You say you started this in 2004, which means you’re coming up on celebrating 20 years. How do you feel about that?

K-Dub: “It went by so fast. When I first started, [my first day], I opened up at 12 and worked from 12 to 12 with no advertising, no commercial. Everybody flooded my shop. I still have a lot of customers that love my work. They see my work and say, ‘go do your thing.’ I said this is amazing. So that’s been a good thing.”

A hand-drawn mural by K-Dub of a Black Native American with the Eye of Horus in the tattoo room of K-Dub's Tattoo pictured on September 21, 2023. (Xzavier Simon | Flintside)Flintside: Speaking of manifestation, the necklace you wear is the Ankh symbol. How do you go through this life spiritually?

K-Dub: “[Drawing] is self-healing. Art, when you do it spiritually, it aligns you back to who you are — your purpose. It had to be my calling. My mom was on drugs, but she supported me, and my dad was telling me, ‘so what you can draw, that don’t mean nothing.’ But I kept doing it. I knew it was a reason for me to keep going. To this day, I still have to tell myself to keep going.”

Flintside: Because you’ve learned that what’s for you is for you.

K-Dub: “I moved over here because I wanted to be in this plaza. [Someone] asked me how I feel about the competition. I’m not in competition. I’m in my own world. Everything in life mostly deals with your thoughts, and your thoughts can destroy you, or it can advance you. That’s what I had to learn throughout the years. I gotta stop thinking negative thoughts. That’s why I rock the Ankh to stay in the light. I ain’t been sleep since ‘99.”

“[Drawing] is self-healing. Art, when you do it spiritually, it aligns you back to who you are — your purpose. It had to be my calling," explains K-Dub inside his tattoo shop on September 21, 2023. (Xzavier Simon | Flintside)
Flintside: Art is the vehicle, but what do you think your purpose with it is?

K-Dub: “I think that’s why I [have] been doing conscious art. It’s time because I think art leaves something on the brain. I put that energy behind it. It ain’t no such thing as business hours when you are doing art. This city has changed, and it’s getting a little tight. But I’m here to bless my people and work with the community with good prices and quality work.” 

Flintside: Through all the manifestation and blessings that have come your way, what do you want to leave people with?

K-Dub: “You gotta take pride in what you do. If a person is doing good work, give them some respect. Show me some respect and love [because] the energy you put behind something can take you a long way.”

To learn more about K-Dub and to get tattoo services, find K-Dub's Tattoo & Airbrushing at 3108 Flushing Road in Flint, across the street from the Golden Gate Restaurant.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.