Songwriters need to live life to have material, particularly artists like Tink. The Chicago singer-songwriter-rapper has made a career with frank, incisive records about love, heartbreak, and dusting yourself off while in the space between them. Her latest LP, Thanks 4 Nothing, sees the 28-year-old fed up (“I’ll never be the girl you can front on/Tired of sittin’ here, writin’ love songs,” she sings on “Fake Love”), and channeling that into some of her most fiery, impassioned music yet.
But all that living can take a toll, and Tink admits she could use a little time to experience life “without musical pressure.” For some artists, that could mean years away from the limelight, but Tink has been consistently prolific since releasing her breakout mixtape, Winter’s Diary, in 2012. So what does a break look like for a musician who has released eight mixtapes, four albums, and a pair of EPs in a little over a decade? A month off, maybe two if she’s feeling extravagant.
“So when I come back, it’s gonna be crazy,” she says with a laugh.
Her second studio album, Thanks 4 Nothing, is a companion piece to last year’s Pillow Talk. The first record contained some of Tink’s most tender, romantic songs, but some listeners felt that she wasn’t speaking to a core part of her audience — people struggling through the end of a relationship or simply trying to navigate the chaos of modern dating.
“I was reading a lot of comments and opinions about Pillow Talk and, to me, what I got from people was like, ‘Man, you in love now. You forgot about us single girls. Are you that happy that we couldn’t get one heartbreak record?’” Tink recalls. “I saw a lot of that, and I just told [my producer Hitmaka], ‘I want to appeal to my core with this album. I gotta go dark, and they miss that aggressiveness. They miss that sharp edginess when I talk to my shit.’”
With that ethos, Thanks 4 Nothing features some of Tink’s best material in years. “Toxic” uses elegant pizzicato strings as the sound for a track about 21st century sex, making it feel like a contemporary update on a classic ‘70s R&B showcase. “Tongue Tied” is a nimble vocal showcase, as Tink moves through each verse like it’s an agility ladder. “I’m the Catch” is a self-empowerment anthem that eschews cliches because of cutting bars like “Can’t you see, you had it on a platter?/Can’t believe you tried to treat me like I never mattered.”
AP spoke to Tink in New York about offering a missing perspective in the “toxic” R&B conversation, lessons she’s gleaned from Beyoncé, and gauging success as an independent artist.
This latest album is very much in conversation with Pillow Talk, but offers a countering perspective.
It’s the dark side, and that was what I wanted. Pillow Talk was so sexy and soft and emotional. This album was like, “Flip the switch, let’s go dark. Let’s be aggressive, let’s attack.” [It’s] still vulnerable, like Pillow Talk, but this time I’m giving it to you from a darker point of view.
Are these all songs you wrote after you finished Pillow Talk, or had you been working on them simultaneously?
We started working after Pillow Talk. It was like August, and we went right back to the studio in October, so it was a couple months we worked on it and then right back at it. I like to go in the studio when I’m feeling a certain way, so it took a certain amount of time for me to feel angry. We had to find the moment and find a reason, so we started back in October, and through the fall and the winter, I was just going through the motions, just figuring out how to put what I’m feeling into another album, but make it different from the rest.
Was there something specific in your life that got you angry to the point that you wanted to write this album, or was it more about just getting in a headspace over time?
A little bit of both. Some of the records were thought out, and some I’d just got off the phone crying and I had to write it down. Those are the records that, to me, just go deeper. “Fake Love” was a record I wrote at home. Then you have records like “Stingy” with Yung Bleu, we did that in the studio. So it depends on the mood.
There’s been such a glut of “toxic” R&B songs in the last few years, and a lot of them are just recycling the same ideas and imagery from a stereotypical male perspective. But young songs like “Toxic” or “Let Down My Guard” with Ty Dolla $ign were really cool because you’re adding something to that conversation.
Yes. For me, I feel like I speak for a lot of women. You always hear the male perspective. Males get away with so much toxic shit. They say vulgar things. We always hear the guys popping their shit, so I feel like for me, I didn’t want to have no limits on this album. We need a voice to fight back. In this toxic shit, I feel like I speak from the female perspective.
[Photo by AJ Incammicia]
You’re so right. The male artists who do it get put on a pedestal like, “Oh, he’s so cool and out of control.” It’s glamorized without much reflection or insight.
I listen to these artists, too. It’s nothing bad. It’s just saying what it is. The guys are more free to say whatever, and that’s why this album I am talking a lot crazier because I want to match that energy now. It’s 2023. The dating scene is more toxic than ever, so my records aren’t gonna get any nicer. [Laughs.]
Going down that path, were you ever worried about what the reaction would be?
Absolutely. I was worried a few times, and that comes with me working with other writers. There’s always a point where I’m like, “Guys, are we pushing it too far?” But for me, that’s a part of the journey. It’s not supposed to be safe forever. I’ve gotten a bit older. I’m 27 now, and being in your 20s, nothing is safe, if you’re real. I feel like everything is tainted, so it’s my job to just be honest, and that’s the way to connect for me with my fans. When I’m being brutally honest, saying things that hurt my feelings, I have to go there because that’s just the way we’re living.
Is there a song or a couple of songs that you really feel like encapsulate what you were trying to do with Thanks 4 Nothing as a whole? “Fake Love” comes to mind, obviously.
Yeah, “Fake Love,” and there’s a record on there called “I’m the Catch.” To me, that really embodied what I was trying to do. Thanks 4 Nothing is the moment when you’re separated from someone, and “I’m the Catch” was, to me, telling people, “I know who I am. I’m confident in who I am to stand alone.” That’s what the album is about: Sometimes it’s a gift and a curse when somebody leaves. In the beginning, we don’t look at it as a great thing, but you probably dodged a bullet or caught a blessing by getting away from a situation, so it’s like, “Thank you…for nothing.” [Laughs.] I want people to know “you’re the catch,” no matter what’s on your arm: You’re single, you’re in a relationship, you are worthy.
There’s a lot more music nowadays that is affirming and uplifting, but I thought the way you framed it, even just the concept of “I’m the catch” was a different way than you usually see.
And that’s the thing: a lot of men don’t want you to know that. Men don’t want you to know you’re the catch, so I had to make that the title. I really didn’t hold back. It’s a record to me that’s empowering, because like I said, the men are dogging us out here in this music world, so we’re just fighting back. [Laughs.]
You’re an independent artist and don’t always seem super interested in playing the game in terms of having challenges, TikTok songs, etc. So you’ve gotta figure out how to garner attention in a way that feels like you, which I imagine is an ongoing conversation both internally and with your team.
It’s so funny. I really stand proud about that because I’ve never had to be anything but myself. That’s not a diss to anybody that’s promoting on TikTok. I think that’s amazing that you can reach people through an app, but it’s just very special to have a following without being uncomfortable or being out of your comfort zone. I’m happy about that, and that’s the reason I have to keep dropping and stay consistent. I’m not on TikTok every day, but my fans understand that. I think they love it more when they see me now because I’m just not too accessible to the world.
You recognize people’s shortened attention spans nowadays, and release music in a way that feels consistent enough that you can let the music…
Speak for me. That’s how I’ve always felt. A lot of times people will pack everything into an app, [but] I take that and put it into the album. So instead of me just typing out “Fake love is so high right now. I hate this man,” I write it down, and I go to the studio and put it into my music. That’s just my niche. It’s something that works for me. I don’t want to blend in too much, and I want to get to a point where people just understand me through the albums. There are a lot of artists, for instance, the legendary Beyoncé. I’ve never seen her post a note or tweet a thought, and she’s able to dominate. When you do see her dropping music, it’s so special because we miss you, and we want to know what you’ve been doing this past year. I like to follow that lead and give people just enough.
You and Hitmaka have been working together for years, and he produced basically every track on this record. In terms of the difference between this and Pillow Talk, what were the big-picture conversations you two had about how you wanted it to sound?
Early on when we started, I had expressed to him that I wanted to go bad. I was reading a lot of comments and opinions about Pillow Talk and, to me, what I got from people was like, “Man, you in love now. You forgot about us single girls. Are you that happy that we couldn’t get one heartbreak record?” I saw a lot of that, and I just told him, “I want to appeal to my core with this album. I gotta go dark, and they miss that aggressiveness. They miss that sharp edginess when I talk to my shit.” When we started the album, that was the tone. Every record, I needed to snap. I’m fed up.
[Photo by AJ Incammicia]
You’ve been releasing music to a real audience since you were a teenager, meaning you’ve chronicled a period of your life where you go through a lot and change significantly. What is your relationship today with your early music like Winter’s Diary?
I still play those tapes. It haunts me in a good way because I can never get away from it. Every show, they want to hear records from Winter’s Diary. Online, they’re always asking, “Where’s the 5?” Every day of my life, I have to think about these albums, so it haunts me. I can understand why, though. Those albums played a part in a lot of our childhood memories, and it’s hard to let go of those. I appreciate it, though, because if it wasn’t for those albums, then I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the same love at all.
That’s a good perspective. You see artists sometimes who have a record from 10 years ago that was huge, and they have to end every show with it, and you can feel the resentment start to build up.
I feel what you’re saying, that’s true. Winter’s Diary, it really carried me when I went through my dark patch. I took a year off after I was signed, and I had to get away from my label. It was the mixtapes they were still playing so that it didn’t feel like I’d just disappeared. But I was still able to do concerts, and I would be performing my old mixtapes, so I can’t really ever forget about them.
There are a lot of Chicago artists who get held up as an example of independent music success, folks like Chance the Rapper or Noname. Do you feel in terms of artists who have really paved their own way independently that you get the recognition you feel you deserve?
I think I do. It’s just that my recognition comes from the people or the streets. I’m not mad about that. I’m not ashamed about that. I enjoy it. Being independent, I have my own space, so I’m not fighting for titles or awards. I’m still able to tour, sell out theaters, still able to do numbers with my albums. That’s recognition, and I try not to compare it. If I never win a Grammy, does that mean my music isn’t great? No. I’ve never been the type to chase “Queen of R&B.” That’s not me. I’ve never been the type to chase anything but a fire legacy, and when I am gone years and years from now, I think people will have more to say about me than anyone or anyone with an award.
In the history of popular music, when you look back 20 or 30 years later, the records that endured aren’t necessarily what was No. 1 on the charts. I do think about that sometimes like, “Who are going to be the artists when people in 2040 are looking back on 2020?”
That’s what I’m saying. Legacy is important. The charts are amazing. We wanna be No. 1, but who’s gonna carry on for generations? I’m still playing Lauryn [Hill]. I can name a few people that were No. 1 that I can’t play. It’s all about what you’re chasing, and for me, it’s longevity.
Since you put music out at a pretty breakneck pace, are you beginning to percolate on what the next project will be?
I’ve been telling people that after I tour, I want to take a minute to reconnect and to just live without pressure, without musical pressure. I want to experience things. I want to take a trip. I want to have something new to say when I come back to the studio, so I’m gonna take one [or] two months and really connect with myself. Soul search, read. I wanna meet new people and just live like a regular human without the chore of being an artist for a month. So when I come back, it’s gonna be crazy. [Laughs.]
I’m sure when you experience something, there’s a sense of pressure to turn it into music.
I never live in it because it’s always “Write about it. Now you’ve gotta go somewhere.” I never really get to enjoy the year or the moment, so this is the year that I’m gonna live in my moment and come back with more to say.