With a Timbaland-produced album on the way, and collaborations with Jeremih, Kelela and Sleigh Bells under her belt, Tink has come across a huge rush of success recently. It’s safe to say the 19-year old Chicago rapper has begun to carve out a space for herself. But to Tink, she’s still just the girl from around the way.
Billboard’s The Juice caught up with Tink earlier this month, while she was in New York working with Sleigh Bells.
Billboard: How did your collaboration with Sleigh Bells come about?
Tink: I opened up for Sleigh Bells at SXSW. That was my first time performing for that type of crowd. You knew they were there for Sleigh Bells, so it was a different energy and a different vibe; but there was so much love. They accepted me. We had a good-ass time. Alexis brought me on stage with her and that was so surreal because females don’t really do that. Guys do it all the time. But as a female, we don’t really get that a lot. So I ran with that, and from there it sort of flew. [Sleigh Bells] hit us up and said they wanted to get in the studio and of course, you know I’m all for expanding. It’s not good to stay in the same circle [of artists]. You have to change, evolve and grow. They wanted to get in the studio and here we are in New York. We laid down a hot one. The track is an uptempo; it’s so fun. I love it. It’s different, but good.
Speaking of collaborations, you’ve had a lot of interesting ones lately. How was that experience different from working with, say Kelela?
Kelela has soul but it’s in a different aspect. When we went in the studio, we wrote the song like three times before we had the final [version]. To me, that was different because a lot of times when I get on the mic I like to keep little mistakes because it makes it feel like you’re hearing me for what I am. But Kelela, she’s a perfectionist so it was cool just vibing with her. She likes to cross every “t” and dot every “i”; I took from that.
What about working with Timbaland? That must be a dream come true.
When I met him and we first got in the studio, I felt like that was a peak moment for me. I’ve never worked hands on with a producer. I’ve been on my own writing, just taking beats and doing what I have to do. I’ve been on my own. To have Timbaland invite me in, and say that ‘I want to work with you’ is amazing. He’s a legend. He worked with people I grew up listening and watching [like] Aaliyah and Missy Elliott. I’ve seen him work with Justin [Timberlake]. For him to see something in little me, motivated me so much.
Check out an exclusive video premiere of Tink’s latest single, “Used 2 Know.”
You mention quite a few female artists, all of which are vastly different. How do you, as a woman, avoid being stereotyped?
[I] assert myself differently. I’m not a gimmick. People expect us, female rappers, to just talk about bullshit [or] sex. People stereotype female rappers a whole lot. They expect us to talk a certain way, to look a certain way [and] dress a certain way. And I’m not with that. When you listen to my songs you hear messages and real stories. That’s what’s setting me apart. I don’t fall in line with the ‘look at my ass’ type rappers. I’m real. I stick to my guns with that. I don’t want to be mediocre.
Is it harder for you, as a female?
It’s so irritating because male rappers don’t have to have a look. A guy can look like a bum on the street; but as a male, people will accept him because he’s a rapper. But females, they expect you to have a big booty. They expect you to walk in with six-inch heels. They stereotype us and they have a small lane set up for female rappers and it’s fucked up because males have it easy. People don’t really put them in a box. They don’t say, ‘he doesn’t dress like this, so we don’t have to listen.’ I have to break down the barriers as a female. I have to work 30 times harder just for respect. As a female, we always have to be labeled this new female rapper. It’s never like, ‘I heard this rapper Tink.’ It’s always, ‘I heard a female rapper.’ They put us in a box. The lane is so small and narrow. I just want to break it down because it’s about the music.
In music today people are against females. We don’t have that empowerment anymore. We don’t have that voice. A lot of times, the guys will put out a statement and that will become the status quo. But behind the scenes, that’s not how it is. Guys hurt us first! There’s always more to the story. We don’t have that on the radio. You can’t turn on the radio and hear what’s really going on. You’re going to hear the perspective from a guy.
I got a responsibility. I want to bring us back, and put us in the game.
How do you define yourself?
I’m the girl [from] around the way. I say that because it’s easy to relate to me. I’m not going to be the artist that talks about a million dollar whip and ‘I just bought some red bottoms.’ That’s cool, but that’s not all there is to it. I’d rather talk about something everyone can relate to and feel. Ten years from now, I want people to play my records and still get the same feeling: ‘Tink is the girl from around the way.’ I think that’s what we’re missing today on the radio. You don’t hear to many people that you can feel attached to and think, ‘oh, she went through the same thing I went through.’ I’m regular.
I think why people are drawn to me is because I’m very relatable. I don’t filter. I’d rather tell you the story detail for detail, than over-process the song. [If not,] people will miss the message sometimes. As an artist, I want it to be so simple that anyone can understand it. No matter what age you are, you’re going to feel it because it’s real. I don’t like to sugar coat. There’s not too many artists that can tell stories and be vulnerable on the mic.
You’re going to be moving to Atlanta at the end of the summer. How does it feel to be leaving your hometown of Chicago?
Chicago is not even safe anymore. It’s crazy. When I first was coming up, I was kind of involved with the drill and the whole movement. But the more I got into my artistry, people [started to] listen to what I say.
Kids in Chicago react off what they hear, especially [from] rappers. I got to have a message. It’s bigger than ‘bang, bang, shoot you in your face’ type of music. I want to be above that and the violence.
Do you have to leave to be above it?
Yeah, it’s strong. My city is… I’m sorry, I can’t even reflect on it. It’s tough in Chicago. There’s a lot of haters. And then of course, you got my fans and supporters… But Chicago, like, people hate to see you win. It does take a toll on you. You almost have to look over your shoulder wherever you go. It’s hard to really work and stay motivated when the city is almost pulling on you.
But at the same time, you seem to be very much about Chicago.
I’m all for rocking with people from my city. I’m all about that. I’d rather be unified than spread apart and hate on each other. Of course, I love working with Chicago: Lil Herb, Lil Bibby, Sasha Go Hard and Jeremih. I love that. That’s what I think our city should be about. Herb and Bibby, we go back, way before we started rapping. We used to hang out so we already had a relationship. That fell into place because we’re homies.
As far as Jeremih, I came to the studio and he already had the hook laid down for ‘Don’t Tell Nobody.’ So I jumped on it. That song is just like the female anthem. Chris Brown has ‘Loyal,’ but you got to listen to ‘Don’t Tell Nobody.’ That’s the real deal.