Tink Reveals Working With DJ Dahi On Debut, Confirms 'Your Voice' The Power Of The Beat' & 'Cut Her Off'
By Kevin Ritchie. Your new favourite rapper, Tink, is all about female empowerment, tough love and the truth – even when it hurts. There is pressure and then there is pressure. Pressure is when a steady stream of music uploaded to SoundCloud rouses the hype machine and summons the music industry’s attention. Pressure is when influential beatmaker Timbaland grabs the mic at SXSW and tells a crowd that R&B singer Aaliyah – who died in a plane crash in 2001 – appeared to him in a dream and said: “She’s the one.”
"Dacoury Natche, professionally known as DJ Dahi, is an American hip hop disc jockey and music producer from Inglewood, California."
She is Tink, born Trinity Home, a 20-year-old rapper and singer from Chicago who will make her Toronto debut at NXNE on Wednesday. After defining the sound of pop with Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, Timbaland heard in Tink a new artist he could connect with musically the way he did with the teenage Aaliyah in 1996. After spending a year in the studio with Tink, he suggested she record a remix of Aaliyah’s One In A Million he had been sitting on.
The seminal slow jam’s contrast between skittery, heart-racing drums and Aaliyah’s coolly confident vocals became Timbaland’s and production/songwriting partner Elliott’s signature, and a key reference for Toronto-bred superstars Drake and The Weeknd, among countless others. “Aaliyah was Baby Girl, so I had to be very cautious of the words I used and the message I put on it,” Tink tells NOW over the phone from her home in Chicago. “Before I even started writing, I meditated on it.”
Million, the resulting homage, is not only indicative of her warm, optimistic mood of late, but the pressure she is under from hip-hop and R&B fans young and old who are looking back to that era of music and the sounds and ideas that cracked the mainstream. In the way Jamie xx’s recent In Colour album revisited the past to demand more nuance and emotion from current dance music, Tink has studied late 90s R&B and Hip Hop and decided that more realism – and feminism – is needed today to counter the lazy escapism that disempowers women.
In a genre where traditionally one female MC is allowed to succeed at a given time, she hopes to stand apart for an unwillingness to water down her subject matter or sex up her image. Her talking points are about being the average “around-the-way girl,” but her maturity is often noted by interviewers as anything but average. Tink started out as a teen performer in Chicago’s drill scene alongside Lil' Bibby and Lil' Herb. Although she ultimately found drill’s focus on gritty and hyper-violent tales of gang life limiting, she credits the scene with toughening her up.
“It served its purpose for getting my name out in Chicago,” she says. “A lot of times people don’t want to hear drill from a female. So it was 10 times harder trying to reach outside of the city.” To do that, Tink shifted her focus to plaintive slow jamming in the vein of SWV and TLC. She self-released five mixtapes, but it wasn’t until 2014’s Winter’s Diary 2 that she found her voice, singing and rapping honest and, sometimes harsh, assessments of relationship dynamics. Her melodies are full of graceful poise, but Tink can also go toe-to-toe with rappers twice her age.
Last fall, Timbaland leaked an unofficial remix of the Rick Ross featuring Jay-Z street banger Movin’ Bass that got the heads to pay attention. Up next is her debut album, Think Tink. Due out on Epic Records this year, it features production work primarily by Timbaland but also DJ Dahi. A big theme on the album is empowering young girls, which occasionally involves a little tough love. The track list includes The Power Of The Beat, an empowerment anthem. “It’s a strong song for 2015 because right now, I don’t think girls know their worth,” she says.
“Everything I see in the world – on social media, the way other artists portray themselves – I don’t feel like females are being empowered. “We hear so much from the guys that put us down, or we’re seen as these sex objects, like pieces of meat. It’s so surreal right now. Me, being Tink, it’s my duty to make sure that people are informed. We got much more power than we think.” Another song, Your Voice, tackles sexual abuse but is not based on personal experience. “I really wanted to touch on that [subject] because I know that’s gonna reach a lot of young girls,” she explains.
Tink is among the 10 rappers featured in XXL Magazine’s annual Freshman Class issue alongside GoldLink, DeJ Loaf, OG Maco and K Camp, who scored a number-one Billboard Hip-Hop chart hit last year with Cut Her Off. The annotated lyrics website Rap Genius describes that song as a banger “about keeping gold diggers and side bitches in their places, without letting them take too much control and being able to get rid of them without a second thought.”
Cut Her Off could sit alongside Chris Brown’s Loyal and Migos’s Wishy Washy in a Spotify playlist dedicated to one-dimensional portrayals of dishonest women. Although Tink says she was unaware of the (successful) petition to bar rapper Action Bronson from playing a free outdoor NXNE show on account of his violent lyrics about women, she agrees music has a misogyny problem. “It’s not even a secret,” she says. “Back in the day you didn’t really hear many artists bashing women or making profit off of bashing women. They might have said a line or two, but there weren’t many hit singles going crazy over bashing women.”
She pauses before continuing. “It’s such a tricky subject. I don’t know how to say it,” she says. “You have artists who are just talking about their reality. It’s like you want to say, ‘Hey, don’t say that,’ but at the same time it’s just their reality, and it’s also just how females move nowadays.” She explores that issue in Ratchet Commandments, a withering take on the Notorious B.I.G. classic Ten Crack Commandments that goes in hard on young women – and men – obsessed with social media, sleeping around and clubbing. Some called it sex shaming, but she calls it honest.
“You have a thousand songs that get played in the club, on the radio and on iTunes glorifying the ratchet things going on, and so for people to listen to one song that’s actually telling the truth about the craziness and to get upset over [that song], it’s just wild to me,” she says. “It just shows how far left we’ve gone. “Before my time, there were songs – heavy songs – about political and racial issues. On Doo Wop (That Thing), Lauryn Hill gave girls a sense of reality. We don’t have that no more, so Ratchet Commandments scares people. It blows my mind. I knew it was coming – the little backlash it did get – and I understand because the truth does hurt.”
Tink doesn’t necessarily take issue with male artists rapping about their emotionally numb interactions with women, but she believes female points of view need more prominence. When Brown’s Loyal reached the Billboard Hot 100’s top 10 last year, her song Don’t Tell Nobody featuring R&B singer Jeremih – the track that attracted Timbaland’s attention – was winning raves for its considered portrayal of a teenage girl confronting her unfaithful partner.
In that song, she calls the boyfriend out, retaliates, takes him back even though he continues to lie and realizes she’s addicted to the drama of it all. One lyric reads like a blunt riposte to Brown’s: “These hos ain’t loyal,” hook: “Niggas ain’t loyal.” “I tell my side,” Tink explains. “I’m not the type of artist to get upset at another artist because of something they said. I rebuttal in my music and I put my thoughts into my music the same way another artist is putting his thoughts into his. It’s not so much an argument or a back-and-forth type of thing. I just keep it real and from my perspective.”
Admitting that honesty might become a challenge as she releases music on a label with commercial interest in her success, she says that concern is on her mind, but somewhere in the back. At the forefront is putting finishing touches on Think Tink. As she does that, she’s realizing how integral romance is to her productivity. “A year ago I probably would’ve said eff love. I’m working right now, but the more I think about it, the more I need to feel something so I can write about it. I’m one of those artists who if I’m not going through shit, I don’t have anything to talk about.”
Asked what impact songs like Don’t Tell Nobody and Treat Me Like Somebody have had on her relationships, Tink sighs heavily. “Those songs make it hard for me. When I meet a person, they find my music and they understand I’m not some bullshitter. I’m not one of those girls you can just talk to any kind of way. It’s almost like an intimidation. It’s caused a little friction, but that happens when you keep it honest in your music.”