We can’t seem to stop talking about Chicago. The city’s hyper-representation revolves around its soaring violent crime rates, a narrative often told through tales of a hungry hip-hop community. Graphic, explicit, aggressive lyrical content gets attention for the way it mirrors the stats, and the drill scene glorifies traditionally masculine constructs of dominance, emotional detachment, and risk taking. One artist's distinct ability to use those tropes to comment on the culture of her city in one song, and simultaneously subvert them with gentle, emotionally-charged R&B in the next stands out. Her name is Tink.
Tink is a talented rapper lyrically, rhythmically, and stylistically. In August, she paired up with Future Brown, an NYC-based production supergroup made up of Fatima Al Qadiri, Nguzunguzu and J-Cush for their banger “Wanna Party,” proving she has the ear of club music’s underground elite. In November, she contributed verses to Sasha Go Hard’s single, “Problem” and NYC rapper Jungle Pussy’s “Curve 'Em." This month, she makes a cameo in WorldstarHipHop’s documentary The Field: Violence, Hip-Hop, and Hope in Chicago to rap a few bars. Hosted by DJs Reese and Honorz, her recent mixtape, Boss Up, turned heads with its mix of bawdiness and bravado.
But the thing that distinguishes her from her hometown contemporaries is her alternate identity as an R&B vocalist. Lest we forget, Chicago also has a rich history of tender, sexy, emotionally-charged soul music; home to iconic names like Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls, The Chi-Lites, Chaka Khan, and R. Kelly.
Tink’s latest project Winter’s Diary 2: Forever Yours places her firmly in that world and asks that we hear her seriously as a singer. Compared to her 2012 debut, WD2 is more ambitious vocally, more personal lyrically, hinged on a vulnerability and delicacy that stands in stark contrast to the aggression that’s come to be associated with new music from The Chi.
After a late night in the studio working on her debut album, Tink got on the phone with us to catch up about the making of Winter’s Diary 2, working with her female peers, the sensationalizing of Chicago violence, and the difference between rapping and singing.
Tell me a little about making Winter’s Diary 2, how did everything come together?
I’d been working on that tape since last summer. I had dropped like four hits that were pretty much just rapping, but I noticed my fans enjoyed more of my fluid songs so I wanted to make a tape that would appeal to every emotion. I wanted a song for when you’re happy, when you’re in love, heartbreak, or ready to kill your guy. That’s how I planned it out.
A lot of your music is about relationships, do you draw from personal experience when you’re writing?
I mean a lot of times I have personal things, things I go through that I may exaggerate or make a story around, but it always has a meaning related to something I’ve been through, for real.
Who are the main players when you’re in the studio working on new material?
I like my studio sessions to be very private. When I was writing my tape, it was only me and my dad. There was nobody else in the studio but me and my dad. He’s a sound engineer. He mixes all my music and we record together. I recorded like 75 percent of my songs with my dad.
When I’m rapping, I’m thinking about what the people want to hear, what they’re going to like. When I’m singing, I’m like telling my story. I’m not worried if people like it, I’m just trying to be truthful.
He must be supportive of everything you’re doing?
He’s involved every step of the way. He is my solid, he’s always giving good feedback. It’s only me and him. You know? He’s basically getting a piece of everything I give out.
When you were growing up did you guys make music together? Was he the one that taught you how to be in this world?
I got my music experience from him because like I said, he engineered and always had other rappers and artists coming through. I was always around it. When I started rapping he was the first person that recorded me along with my brother. It flows so well because he did it, so it was okay for me to do it. He was teaching me the way.
How did you get started singing?
I used to sing in church when I was younger and in choir with my mom. I took it to school, and was also in the choir in high school. It’s been around since I was a young, young girl, literally like five or six. You know when you young and your mom puts you in the choir and you just sing?
Would you call yourself a singer before a rapper?
Maybe singing is the true passion, but I got a big heart for the rapping as well.
Do you feel like two different people when you’re singing versus when you’re rapping?
Yeah definitely, it’s definitely like that. I’m in a totally different mindset when I’m singing. When I’m rapping, like a turn up song, I’m thinking about what the people want to hear, this is what they’re going to like. When I’m singing, I’m like telling my story. I’m not worried if people like it, I’m just trying to be truthful, you know what I’m saying? I’m just talking about something that happened to me.
You can really hear it in WD2, you’ve come so far with this mixtape and it’s so, so personal. Are there any other R&B singers who you really love right now.
I don’t want to name ‘em all but like, Jhené Aiko. I like the underground, not underground, but people who aren’t so mainstream. I listen to a lot of Frank Ocean and people who just, you know, they’re more personal and not so like, mainstream. I like when artists write real and just get personal.
Tell me about your appearance in Worldstar’s documentary about Chicago, The Field?
I got involved through a videographer who mentioned to the director behind The Field that I could spit, so they looked me up and were like, ‘We definitely got to throw her in.’ I was actually downtown at the time they were filming, so I ran over to where they were and just posted up in a vacant lot, like it was anywhere, and they were like, ‘Do whatever you feel.’ I had to give them whatever I had on the spot. We just ran around and they threw me in.
What did you think of it?
I’ve seen bits and pieces, I didn’t watch it all the way but I saw a majority of it. I thought it was a good representation, a lot was said that needed to be said. It was just the truth rather than what people think from the city itself. The fact that they put so many of the big artists in the entire thing, it just made it so serious. Oftentimes people are throwing in just this one person, they will base Chicago around one artist. In The Field everyone had a say, so you really got to understand where people came from.
You say it felt serious, was watching it an emotional experience for you?
It wasn’t really emotional just because you get, I don’t want to say numb to it, but it’s just life. So maybe it would be emotional to the outside world but when you’re living it, it’s just truth.
I think there was a really big emphasis on how hip-hop becomes a chance at redemption and escape for young men, but how is it different to experience the Chicago hip-hop scene as a woman?
I’m trying to think about how to answer this question. I think being a woman we got to prove ourselves twice. I don’t want to say we don’t get a fair chance, but we got to do extra just for people to say ‘She’s good.’ It’s easy for guys to listen to another guy for support, but if it’s a female they seem to shy away from it, like they don’t want to be a sucker, you know what I’m saying? So we kind of got to go harder.
Do you feel like it’s important to work with other female rappers?
I have a relationship with Katie and Sasha, but people don’t really know because they always want us to be against each other.
I think its good, in Chicago people put us in competition and its almost annoying because you know, we show each other love. You may not read about it all day but we support each other. I have a relationship with Katie and Sasha, but people don’t really know because they always want us to be against each other. I think it shows that we don’t have to hate on each other.
Its so common for male artists to get together, you hardly ever see that with females.
Its hard, its almost natural, not to hate, but to think “I’m better than you, so I can’t work with you” that’s the status quo of how females act. I don’t want it to be like that, that’s why I like working with other females.
Are you still an independent artist? Not signed to anyone?
No, I’m not signed. I’m almost in like, two lanes and I want to know where I am and where I stand before I sign.
What’s the hardest part about navigating the industry?
To me, its hard to be able to know just what you’re doing. I think labels tried to get me because I was young. They thought they could take advantage of me, but I wasn’t going for it. The hardest part is seeing through the BS.
Being able to say no takes a lot of courage. Do you even think having a label is necessary anymore?
I think you don’t really need a label, like Chance the Rapper, as far as I know he’s still independent and he’s doing it and playing overseas, so to me it all depends on your work ethic and if your fan base is right and your numbers are right. You don’t need to depend on a label because you’re making that money on your own.
You give away a lot of free music, too. How do you balance that ambition?
I drop free music because I want people to know I’m still working. I want people to know I’m working and making my money independently. I don’t want to charge for a mixtape, I’d rather charge for an album and really give something to my fans. I put a lot of work into my mixtapes and I want everybody to understand I am doing this genuinely I don’t even want to be paid for this I just want you all to hear my music and appreciate it. I think it brings me closer to my fans because they know I’m doing this for them and not just to get the bucks.
Follow Tink on Twitter @Official_Tink.