For the last two years, Tink has been taking her time, re-entering the industry with intention. She released her Voicemails mixtape at the end of April, more than a year after the Pain & Pleasure EP. She’s focused on realigning herself with her ambitions after the end of her relationship with Timbaland’s Mosley Music Group. Her 2014 signing seemed like it would be the perfect fit for the Chicago singer/rapper, but she found that after releasing a flurry of records and projects on her own, her career stalled out.
“It almost put a halt to the way I work; I doubted that I was even in the right industry. You work so hard and you can’t put your shit out,” she says, referencing the much-anticipated debut LP ThinkTink which went unreleased despite a strong demand in 2015.
“A lot went into that, and I was very frustrated, but I just kept moving,” she says. “Every day, I was trying to find that inner strength again and get back in my bag. But now I feel great. This is a testament to what I’ve been saying — when you’re an artist, you gotta have that freedom.”
Around the time Tink started putting her personal experiences on record for listeners to connect with, the hard-hitting drill movement defined Chicago. Chief Keef, Lil Durk and Lil Reese dominated the scene — Tink offered a different perspective and sound. Still, she names G-Herbo, Goody and Keef as a few local favorites.
“Honestly, I love everybody,” she says. “It’s always love whenever I see artists like Chance. He’s one of the people I look up to. I remember when I stepped out of my deal and was trying to figure it out. It went public that I was released from my deal with Timbaland and Epic, and Chance was one of the first guys to text and check on me and give me inspiration like, ‘This is all a part of your story, keep going.’ Chance is like that for real, and I really appreciate him doing that.”
Since 2012, Tink has been releasing music from the heart and although the powers that be at Mosley Music Group recognized her talent, it seemed that they had no idea how to manage or market it. It’s a mystery whether or not it was because of her gender or genre, but with male rappers dropping entire albums, dipping back and forth between rap and R&B, it’s tough to comprehend why Tink hasn’t found that perfect fit, labelwise.
“It’s very hard for us,” she offers, speaking slowly. “Honestly, I feel like the road is much trickier for us than it is for a man. We have a lot of restrictions and there are a lot of expectations with us. I feel like people are a little slower to catch on to women, but at least 10 new guys come out and people don’t put them up as competition and they don’t critique their work as hard. It’s easy to catch a vibe with a guy but females have to put in double time. We have to push our pens even harder to get that respect for sure.”
Tink says that major labels would benefit from hiring and empowering women. But the female presence is scarce in the music industry, especially as it relates to hip-hop, which is why Tink says that she moved to make a difference in her own way, hiring a team of women to work with her. “I know we put in the same effort, if not more. I just feel like, we hustle too,” she says, matter-of-factly.
“Even the way that the business works,” she continues emphatically, “I’ve seen a bunch of male executives and I just can’t wait to see more females working and coming out of offices. That was an issue for me because when you step into a label, you’re trying to prove yourself to 10 or 15 guys. And I’m for women — you want a women to understand and try and see where you’re coming from. But a lot of times, those offices are all guys, older men. Female presence behind the scenes, business-wise? It’s lacking, for real.”
These days she’s back to toting her notepads and pens around everywhere — she says it keeps her “sharp” — writing at least once every other day. She’s matured beyond that high schooler who created bops about youthful drama and love on the Winter’s Diary series; now she’s developing her sound and curating a vibe for grown folks. Songs like “Different” and “Bad Side” from Voicemails speak to a relationship gone awry, but it’s the versatility in Tink’s execution that makes all the difference. “Different” features honeyed vocals over ballad chords while “Bad Side” finds Tink playing with rhythm and melody in her bars. She’s back to doing what feels right and listeners can hear it in the airiness of her voice.
“You can’t tell people what to say, what to wear, you gotta let people be free and that can make a difference,” she says. “The independent wave is for me.”
Tink is no longer under anyone’s thumb. She’s at the helm of her career, choosing the production to match her writing, planning her calendar with her team and plotting out every step that will put her closer to the goals she’s desired for years. For once in her career, she’s free.
“At the time when I was going through being released, that was all I thought about: ‘I sat down for two years under a label and I honestly felt more free when I was by myself,’” she says. “That’s what I always tell people: you want your freedom but they dangle this advance in front of you and tell you what they can do for you. But at the end of the day, you’re still going to have to work for yourself.”
“I’m not scarred though,” she adds. “If they come with the right situation and it’s something that I think would help my career in a lot of ways instead of hurting it. Right now, I’m enjoying the ride.”