Bitch, slut, nigga, nigg*r, light-skinned, dark-skinned and feminist: these are some of the labels discussed in my half hour conversation with Tink.
And at the risk of sounding patronising, I find it hard to believe I covered so much ground in such a succinct but astute way with a 20-year-old.
Tink is intelligent. She is an old soul, very thoughtful – and initially quite demure – in her presence. She has a tiny frame, with an air of delicate grace carried in her features, that contort slightly before she gives an answer. There’s something quite onomatopoeic in that moniker – Tink.
As cool and collected as Timbaland’s latest protégé may appear, her music – which sees her flip between gorgeous RnB and ferocious rapping – betrays a multi-faceted individual. At such a tender age, the Chicago artist can sing, she can rap, she can dance, she can write – was she that annoying kid at school that could just do everything with ease and dexterity?
“Yeah, it’s just so crazy,” Tink laughs between dainty bites of a Pret sandwich. “I had all As throughout my entire time at high school. I had all 4.0s. I was just really, really smart, but at the same time I was still cool. I had a really good balance, I won’t lie to you. It’s actually like an epiphany, just looking back. Everything I was doing then was setting me up for right now. Being in the talent shows, going to church every Sunday and everybody telling me to sing … Everything along the way was like a set-up for now.”
Tink, birth name Trinity Home, was born in Calumet City, Illinois in 1995. Her mother was a gospel singer and her father a record producer, and so it was somewhat inevitable she’d go on to embrace music. When she was just 16, her freestyle over the beat of Clipse’s Grindin’ was posted by her brother to Facebook, suddenly affirming her as a rapper and generating local hype. Within a couple of years, there were meetings with label execs in Los Angeles before eventually teaming up with Timbaland. Some of these negotiations took place while she was still in high school. With five mixtapes out before she’d graduated, the music/school balance became increasingly intense, causing Tink to finish her high school diploma online.
“When you have something going for yourself, especially when you’re young, you will have people that love you, but at the same time, there’s always that one group of girls – the mean girls – who just hate,” she says, recalling her breakthrough stages. “I also had a lot of people who wanted to hang around just because I was shooting a video and they wanted to be in it. So I kind of just stuck to my two friends who I had known before the little buzz I had.
“You definitely have a lot more guys that crush on you too,” she continues. “It was really weird in high school. I think about missing prom from time to time, but then I feel like I’m at prom every photo shoot I do. It was a sacrifice, but at the same time, a lot of things that I’m doing now are like a chance of a lifetime.”
She’s right. For an entry-level artist, Tink’s accolades are seriously impressive. She is often compared to Lauryn Hill, she’s been touted as the next Nicki Minaj and she has one of the most legendary producers in the business working on her music. How can there be no pressure? And how do you muster up the courage to tell Timbaland that one of his beats isn’t really to your taste?
She laughs. “Me and Tim have a vibe. He’s open. He’s not the type of person that says, ‘do this beat’. He’s more like, ‘listen to this, listen to this and listen to this. Now, which one are you feeling?’ Tim always tells me we balance each other. He always says I refresh him as a producer. My opinion still matters. I don’t have to be scared to say, ‘Hey Tim, maybe that sound shouldn’t be there.’” Timbaland and Tink have been working on Think Tink, the debut album expected to be released this autumn, and there have even been rumours of a Missy Elliot collaboration. Going toe-to-toe with Missy Elliott on a track would scare the soul out of you … surely?
“We have a song that we are working towards,” Tink confirms. “She called me and she told me that she would put the verse on it. So it’s in the works. Hell yeah I’m rapping! What I do is so totally left. I’m setting up my own lane for myself, so it’s never a competition to me. Even down to my presence, I don’t care to compete. I don’t have to have the highest heels or the most expensive shoes. It’s not really about that.”
Speaking of her appearance, during my research I was shocked to discover so many negative comments online, attacking the 20-year-old for her deep complexion and features. While she’s clearly not the type to be shaken by internet comments, I’m curious to hear about her experiences with colourism.
“Well, I’ll tell you this, I think I’d be at a different level in my career if I was light-skinned and I think that’s because of the fucking brainwashing in America. It’s so real. I hate to even contradict myself and I’m trying not to be too political and shit, but there is a lot of brainwashing. People don’t look at darker-skinned women the same. I don’t know if that’s because lighter-skinned people are closer to white, or if they think you’re prettier if you are light-skinned … but for me, I do feel as though if I was a light-skinned girl, I would be in a different place.”
Tink believes in the theory that fast success comes easier to lighter-skinned RnB artists in the music industry than women of a darker complexion. “I’m getting deep, but I feel like because I’m this way, because I’m brown-skinned, darker-skinned, I have to go harder,” she emphasises. “Maybe a lighter-skinned person doesn’t have to do as much? They can rely on just smiling, sitting there and waving. So their impact might not be as strong as someone who is really, really, going for it, someone who is really digging deep and really trying to connect. I rely on my talent. Like I said earlier, I don’t have to wear heels and shit – my talent speaks for itself.”
As well as dealing with the cultural divides, Tink has separated herself from other RnB women in terms of her lyrical content. A lot of contemporary hip-hop and RnB artists tend to follow a similar pattern. Misogyny is still rife, women are calling themselves bitches – something which Tink now refuses to do. But why refuse to call yourself a bitch, but refer to men as niggas; are both terms not derogatory? She pauses for thought.
“If you use it in context, nigga is not an insult,” she argues. “It’s not derogatory. Bitch … in my head, it is. It’s hard to explain, but I’m going to try and word it the right way. If your boyfriend was to call you a bitch, that’s not cute. It shouldn’t make you feel good. Nigga and bitch are just totally different, man!” She laughs. “I hate complicating shit sometimes. Nigga is like saying my homie, my brother, my family. Bitch is not the same.”
To many, Tink’s single Ratchet Commandments was the breath of fresh air the hip-hop/RnB world needed. In the controversial track, Tink scolds the young women who seek status by trying to please men who have no respect for them, and some saw the overall message was empowering. “I told Tim like, I’m irritated, devastated / I thought, I thought we had some young queens, what you mean? / We act belligerent, generation of ignorance,” she spits. But not everybody appreciated the tone of the song. Some labelled it patronising, some called it ‘slut-shaming’ and others accused her of ‘male-bashing’. I put this critique to the singer/rapper and for the first time she becomes visibly riled; riled in a good way, riled in a Jesse Jackson way.
“Slut-shaming? Should I be slut-praising? Would you like my music then? And if so, then the game needs fixing. Music has become so toxic. People think just because everyone is doing this, I have to do this too. Back in the day music had a real message. Aren’t there enough songs glorifying that shit? Is there not enough slut-praising? I’m a real person. Behind the music, it isn’t just music, I really am Tink. I think that’s the problem. We wonder why we have so many men making songs about hoes being loyal, because we’re not ever really trying to hear the truth. We’re upset about the truth, rather than just taking from it and growing. Why do people see it as ‘bashing’? Why not, ‘damn, she’s telling the truth’? The truth does hurt and I think that’s the reason some people feel some type of way, because Ratchet Commandments is so far left of what we hear every day.”
It’s another layer to the often conflicted world of the modern feminist. What is a girl to do these days? On the one hand we’re being told to respect our bodies, and on the other hand we are being told we should be able to do with our bodies what we like – after all, they’re ours. What does Tink think?
“To me it’s not even that deep. I think people make things a lot more complicated than they actually are. From my end, as a 20-year-old in the rap game – in the music industry period – it’s like, view me as an equal artist. I say that because a lot of times as a female, you get overlooked. It’s harder to get that respect. Feminism to me is like … I can run with the boys too. Guys will reach out to another male artist over a female any day. It’s more about equality and having the same respect. I hate to say it, but a lot of times, females do go harder than the guys, period and … and …” Tink slows down, laughing. “And I’d like to leave that right there.”
Words: Trina John-Charles
Photography: Elise Rose
Stylist: Charlotte James
Hair Stylist: Joel Benjamin
Make-Up Artist: Sophie Cox using NARS Cosmetics
Think Tink is due to be released later this year via Epic. Tink’s new single Wet Dollars – a collaboration with London producer Tazer – can be pre-ordered here