- Words Hiba Hassan
- Photography Shaun Michael
For so many R&B lovers, Tink has been a constant force of vulnerability and power. We sat down with the artist after almost a decade into her musical journey.
Chicago is notorious for housing some of the most legendary music minds, individuals who have paved the way into new realms, like Kanye and Chief Keef to name a few. 2014 was the first time I had come across Tink. Only being 15 years old at the time, I was obsessed with feeling love through music, and Tink was as magical as her name sounds. Portraying a raw, vulnerable side while encapsulating a sweet, soulful tone, Tink was born to two very musical parents – her mother a choir singer and her father a musician. It’s no wonder, then, that music has had a hold over Tink for her entire life, singing in church and penning poetry since the age of 12.
Since then, Tink has been a constant force in R&B. A staple of comfort to her fans, projects like the highly appreciated ‘Winter Diaries’ that show off Tink’s poetic roots once more, following her ‘Heat of the Moment’ album earlier this year. She has been releasing properly since 2012, and her journey during this decade has been one filled with lessons and power in curating art that is most authentic to herself.
Fresh off a tour with Queen Naija for their Butterfly tour and recent single “Selfish” with Yung Bleu, Tink is ready to redefine her sound while going back to her much-loved signature gritty experiences. The forthcoming ‘Winter Diaries’ album is a beautiful blend of Tink’s much-loved characteristics, along with a new direction propelled by her long-time friend and producer Hitmaka.
Approaching her 10th year putting pen to paper, we sat down with Tink as she draws 2021 and this decade in music to a close…
The thing is, I can’t speak about R&B artists without naming Tink…
Ahh… that is my motivation. Sometimes we judge each other off awards or who’s on the radio and to hear other people still see me without being signed, means a lot to me to hear that.
You’ve just got back to Chicago from touring with Queen Naija for The Butterfly Tour! How was it?
Yes! I’ve just got in, I’m glad to be back home! It was amazing being on the road with Queen Naija, it was the best experience. The last date was so special, I had so much fun.
If you could sum up the tour in one sentence, how would you describe it?
Bringing the emotion for the girls!
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?
Oh my god. Probably split my money or the check. Or someone moved in and they just shouldn’t have… too many crazy things.
You’ve not long released your latest album, ‘Heat of The Moment’, how has it been now it is out in the world?
It has been such a relief for me, it was a project that is so different from what I am used to. But it so well in terms of streaming and audience interaction, so it has opened my eyes to trying different things now and pushing myself to come out of my comfort zone more.
You describe it as an elevation from your past releases, how does that translate to your personal life?
It is a challenge. I think that is the best part of making the album, I am so used to working within my small team and when I went in the studio with Hitmaker, he opened me up to different elements, whether it’s different producers or having live instruments come in, and having different writers in a room to pitch ideas. That was all totally new to me, and my music is really personal, so on this album, we experimented with more up-tempo beats and brighter sounds. It was really just helping my sound grow, as I have over the years, and adding something different to what I’ve already been doing.
Why did you feel the want to start experimenting with different sounds?
I’m signed independently to Empire, a distribution company, and with Hitmaka being involved it was the perfect time to link. I had been making ‘Winter Diaries’ for a while then it went to hopeless romantic, and all these albums are just me pouring my heart out, being as honest as possible. And for once I wanted to make something that felt good and not so tense. ‘Heat of the Moment’ took my sound somewhere else; it is more of a summer album as opposed to winter, sadder vibes.
You worked with your long-term friend, Hitmaka on this album, why did you decide to work on this together in particular?
He’s now working at Empire we were first going in to do a day or two and I think the vibe was just so nice. He was so understanding of me and we wanted to keep the energy. The first song we made was “Selfish” and then “Might Let You”, and it just sounded so good and I didn’t want to break that chemistry. So, instead of a couple of singles, we decided to do a full project.
Now reflecting back on that, would you work with close friends again?
I would for sure! But this time around I would keep my core sound if that makes sense. Looking back, I did really push the envelope a lot. I would still want to have that outlet of reaching out to different producers and stuff. But ultimately, I want my sound to connect with my day ones.
I’m a day one! I started listening to you when I was 15, I’m now 23, so I feel like I’ve really grown up with you. when listening to this album I could definitely see that difference.
I had a record on there for the day ones, the whole album is not my similar vibe but there are so many tracks on there that feel like Tink. But I did not want to keep repeating myself or what I can do, and I wanted people to miss ‘Winter Diaries’ vibes as well, so I had to shake it up. And that is what it’s all about as well, I do enjoy what I bring but ultimately, I have to evolve, my subject matter will change and it’s about making sure we’re ahead of the curve.
Looking back at my mindset when I first started listening to you, to now, it has evolved completely. How has it been for you to look at your evolution from when you first started to now?
So much growth. I think early on when I was writing I was only thinking of myself which worked. But my music now, I take bits and pieces from everything. I may make a song that’s not really what I’m going through but my friends are, so I am thinking more about my listeners now it is not just about the little girl in Chicago, it’s a bigger picture that I want to make sure I’m making music for. Not just for people from Chicago, back then I was still in the streets, I would have my foot in Drill. My music subject matter was very tense, so now I’ve grown up the things I want to say are more mature and I want to talk more to women my age. That’s the most important thing to show that growth.
Representing 10 years since you first released music in 2012! I took this meaning of the number 10 from my friend and it reads; ‘The number 10 is comfortable with being alone (like the number 1), and it recognizes the need for individualism while being part of the whole.’ How does that make you feel, if anything?
I just really want to own the lane I initially embarked on. Speaking up for women and telling our truth, our story. I think a lot of times when people get caught in the industry, they start making music for radio, which isn’t a problem but you’re making music for one entity. And I want to stick to what got me into this, so women, relationships, I want to bring back those serious topics. Like when you listen to Lauren Hill, Ms. Education, she has records where she is really going deep. And I think that element of being so vulnerable and not giving a F*ck is missing. Even with the Summer Walker album, I relate to her because she is telling her honest truth, it’s genuine and I want to make sure I am pushing that same message.
We all go through similar things and do stupid things for love, and I just want to be honest and vulnerable without caring about being judged. We sometimes make music to look cool and that is not my vibe, I make it to really resonate with people and young women. The dark things we go through are not cool, but I want to keep them alive.
I feel like social media, as amazing as it is and what it has done for artists, has taken away that raw side to music we crave. What are your thoughts on making music for one particular platform?
Personally, I can’t be mad at it, I genuinely respect anyone who can make a name for themselves on a platform. Technology and the way we hear music is always going to be changing. But for me, I know why people resonate with my music and it’s because it’s from the soul and not about a viral moment, it will still feel good for years to come. I want to stay on my path, I’ve never really written or put out a song and thought okay let’s make this go viral, that’s just my path. To each to their own, but my music is like my diaries.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want people to look at my whole story, it’s not just about the music it’s my journey. when I was first signed back in 2015, I ran into a situation where my deal had me in a bad position and I had to lose everything to gain it back. And I think that is an important part of my story, being signed under Epic and Timberland, and I had to fight to get released from my deal. I had to step away from music for a year to get my life together again, and ever since around 2017, that’s when I was independent again. I took a few years off to figure out life. and that’s what I want women to know, you can take a hit and still be able to bounce back, there is nothing wrong with telling your story. I don’t shy away from what happened, we’re all going to have ups and downs no matter what career you’re in.
That’s a part of life and you can still really come out on top if you just stick to what you know, trust yourself. I think that is my legacy; how I persevere through a lot.
What was that year like for you when you took a ‘break’?
That year was the darkest year of my life. I stepped off social media, I spent a lot of time at home trying to see the light. For a second I thought I was doomed, after working with someone so relevant in the industry I felt like no one else would want to f*ck with me, or it would be hard to get another label. So, for a long time I would be at home, still writing records but I had to get myself together. I had to hire attorneys to handle the business, it was when I really grew up. I had to make the tough phone calls, reach out to different distribution companies alone, I changed my management, and that year I was really by myself, I had my DJ and my assistant with me but for the most part, I was really trying to figure it out. It really helped me grow up though.
I went to Empire, which is my distribution now, I had to get on the phone and explain who I was and what I was bringing; it made me hone everything I was doing now.
I was still in the studio, but I was on a break, I had to rebrand and work on my mental and physical being. I kept writing but wasn’t releasing anything… it was a reinvention of everything.
I remember even thinking during that break that was kind of the beginning of the end just because being absent from social media is a big thing sometimes.
I get it. I always had intentions to come back stronger than ever, but I needed that time.
Is it mad to you looking back at the little girl who grew up in Chicago, with a mum who was a gospel singer and dad a musician, reflecting on where you once were, how does it feel knowing you have curated one of the most loyal and attentive fanbases out there?
Man, it feels supernatural. Again, sometimes I see so much negativity and conversations of comparisons and you almost think it’s not real. And when I meet people like you, it reminds me that I am still here. It is supernatural to the average person. It keeps me alive.
It’s because you keep it real, you’ve never tip-toed around a subject in your music.
And that is how I want to treat the next album, I want to say what I have to say without beating around bushes, it has to come from the heart and for the listeners that really know me.
Of course, I mentioned your musical lineage, growing up around music in Chicago, what music makes you feel like home?
Anything R&B 90s. My dad would play all of the girl groups like TLC, SWV; I think SWV was the first song I learned, ‘Weak’, that is home for me. and their influences really had me on my music and writing. Of course, Gospel too, my mum used to make songs in the kitchen and I still take from that, their bridges and the way they do their runs, the pain they bring to music I take inspiration from that.
Looks-wise, what has gotten you into fashion and style?
I have always been into fashion but I’m not too into designer things. I shop at thrifts… I’m one of those girls that enjoy sweatpants and styling them. So, that has always been in me, I love to shop and when we didn’t have money to go into designer stores, we had to figure out how to look good with $10. I keep that in me, I like to look good and I like my pieces. You don’t need a lot of money just confidence in what you’re wearing.
Outside of music, what do you love to do?
Recently I’ve been into my fitness, I’m into yoga now. 10 years ago, I wouldn’t believe I was doing yoga and stretching, it’s a real thing now, it helps me stay level and grounded. It makes me feel so good.
Was it lockdown that got you into fitness?
Yeah definitely. I also had an interview once and it was in a yoga studio and I loved it so when I got home, I kept it going.
Rumour has it you’re bringing back the ‘Winter Diaries’…When can we expect it?
My hope was to have it done this year, but we went on tour and the schedule got crazy. But I’m going into the lab, I’m still going to be working in December. And I want the sound to feel like winter’s diaries so it may come at the top of the year depending on how it comes together, but winter’s diaries now with my issues as a grown woman, it’s going to be crazy. I am really going to give y’all the real.
We neeeeed it!
I got you. I’ve been working, we are actually going to start working on the next album so be prepared