R&B veteran Tank released his seductively soulful eighth studio album, Savage, and was greeted by thriving viral streams. The album’s leading single “When We,” not only became his first Billboard Hot 100 entry as a solo artist (peaked at No 86) in over a decade, but currently sits at No. 1 on the Adult R&B Songs chart at the week of Dec. 30. Even so, the multi-hyphenate’s 17-year tenure affirms more to come.
Spearheading his Atlantic Records’ synergetic label, R&B Money, and cross-country performances, Tank has been extending his hands to uncharted artists by sharing his stage for their most lustrous moments. Billboard connected with the headliner to discuss his breakthrough record, re-inventiveness, comradery among youthful acts of substance, and what guidance he received from Aaliyah and Gerald Levert. Take notes; this R&B boss won’t be signing his terminus any time soon.
You made your Hot 100 return with “When We.” What does this moment feel like for you?
It feels crazy, actually. When you think about the time that you have been in something — I guess with anything, with time, it is just a natural fall-off. A natural decline. Evolution kind of just sets in. Things are just happening a lot faster, or better. And you are no longer in the space that you once were. So for us to still be here after 17 years looking like we just got here, it’s amazing. 17 years, and we have a number one [Adult R&B] record. So, I feel young. [Laughs.]
Your fiancée, Zena Foster, is the leading lady in your “When We” music video. How was it collaborating with your real-life love?
Well, it is always interesting collaborating with your significant other. You know, they get to break all of the rules. [She says,] “I want to do another take like this.” It’s like, “Okay! Zena wants to do another take like this.” Normally, if it was just somebody you hired, you could be like, “This is what it is. Live with it.” But, if it is somebody that can take things away from you at the house, you have to be a little bit more lenient. [Laughs.]
The video for “When We” featured darker, yet sexy imagery. How did you conceptualize this theme?
Well, I wanted the song to sound literal. But, I also wanted people to explore their horizons, in terms of their sexuality. I think sometimes people can be basic in these moments. And, it is not because they are trying to be basic. Sometimes, you just get accustomed to doing a certain thing all the time. And it works for you. Sometimes we forget to be creative [in bed]. We forget to use our imagination. So, even though the song has a very literal word, that word can go so many different ways. That is what I wanted to show. How deep, and how dark this word can be. And, how beautiful at the same time.
Your song credits include Aaliyah, Beyonce, Pitbull and Jamie Foxx. Ideally, who would be next?
I think the motivation now is about R&B Money [my label]. It is really about the artists that we sign, that we are developing, and putting them in a space where they can look up 17 years later. And [I want them to] still have the same type of success that I am having. I am looking forward to writing for my artists. I want to develop and prayerfully give them the gift of the kind of career that I have had.
Who do you feel will be next out of the R&B Money gate?
Well, we have two kids. One is by the name of, DanteDontayDuntea, who is an absolutely incredible singer-songwriter/producer out of Beaumont, Texas. We just signed a kid out of London, U.K., named Jordan Morris, who is a singer-songwriter/producer as well. They are both working at a crazy pace, right now. I think DanteDontayDuntea will probably drop first. Then Jordan will drop not too far after that.
What was your studio experience like with Aaliyah?
I first met Aaliyah on the road. We kind of built a good rapport and relationship. [We were] buffing out there. I was just [getting an] understanding of her idea of professionalism, and understanding her talent level on all of these things. I was very well-versed by being with her. That summer [consisted of] sitting down, building and talking. So, being there in the studio with her, was damn-near like being in there with a family member at that point. I think, more so, for me, it was just about learning.
When you were in the presence of Aaliyah, and Ginuwine, these were the artists who were killing it at the time, you were just trying to come up and get in it. It was all a learning process.Then when I was able to write for her album, that was a blessing, as well. For Aaliyah to get on the phone and tell me, “Hey! I need records like this. I need something like that.” And, for her to believe that I could deliver that, was just amazing. It felt really good.
I thank you all from the bottom of my heart! This is an amazing feeling and i pray my music brings you as much joy as the success of it brings me. I’m working even harder to keep this good energy going! #Love #1 #WhenWe #Tank #TheGeneral #RnBMoney #Savage #king #boss #music #life #entertainment #brand #worldwide
How does your eighth studio album, Savage, differentiate itself from your prior projects?
I think Savage... even my seventh album, Sex, Love & Pain II, we’re just settled into [creatively]. We were doing it, the way we want to do it. It has been very unapologetic. The process was very much on our own terms. It has felt like, “I don’t care what everybody else is doing.” We just have to do us. And, we see where the chips fall.
It was just about getting back to that individuality, and seeing how people felt about it. I preach that to other artists a lot. The most valuable thing you can be to yourself is yourself. Because, you are unique in what you have to offer to the music business and music in the universe. So, right now, we are just being ourselves. We are saying it how we want to say it. We are producing it how we feel it. We are just doing it, and not considering anything else other than the art. We are having a good time doing it, and it is working. There is something to be said about that.
How was it collaborating with Candice Boyd on your album?
I think she is one of the most amazing talents that we have right now, period! I would stand Candice Boyd next to anybody. I will say she will not only hold her own, but a lot of these established artists are going to have problems showing why they are more established than what she is. She just needs a shot. I just pledged to her, I am going to do whatever I can, to make sure, that shot is a good shot.
I think she is just phenomenal, man. I think her story is the thing that people are going to fall in love with the most. That is the thing that has not been told. People want to know her story. They want to understand who this young lady really is. [From that point on] they will understand her gift, when they learn how hard she has had to work for it. So, I am looking forward to her moment!
You credited the late Gerald Levert as being someone who opened doors for you. What was the biggest lesson he offered you?
Gerald [Levert] would be there when artists came off stage. [I’d] realize he was standing backstage with his arms folded watching me. He would say, “Come sit by me. Let me put something in your ear, real quick.” “Do this! Make sure you do that,” [he’d tell me]. That type of thing. He’d invite me to Cleveland to hang out with him. We hung out in a small little tavern one time. These are the best things that really keep the music going, the underground. This is the place fans don’t expect you to show up.
I learned that from him. It was like, “Wow! We are in a place where they don’t expect us to be.” That tavern probably offered Gerald nothing to be present, and he was there rocking! He was rocking with the people. He was having drinks, and having conversations — even performing. It was inspiring. Touching the people was the most important thing. That is what he taught me, along with Ginuwine.
The people are your common everyday folks. Do that, and you will always be around. I learned that from him. When he passed, I went on tour with his father and The O’Jays. His father would watch me every night, man. And, every night, Eddie Levert would come and talk to me. He’d say, “You got a good thing going. These are some of the things you gotta do to keep it going. Be great, man!” He’d speak, and I’d listen.
Eddie Levert would come out and perform, and I’d take notes. I’d watch him, because that is who I want to be. I want to be able to go on tour at 60 or 70 years old and have 5,000 to 10,000 people show up to see me, do what I love!