Tink is a Chicago triple-threat singer, rapper, and songwriter who has been gradually making her rise on the rap blogs and niche-music internet over the past two years or so. "Ratchet Commandments" is the first single off her upcoming major-label, Timbaland-produced debut record. It's great, but it's not the only reason you should be paying attention. She really is unlike anyone else out there.
Tink is 19, but even though she's young, she's by no means new to this. She started making music in her basement when she was 15, with the aid of her father; until she linked up with Timbaland, she was trading beats over email and working entirely off her home computer. She has already self-released five mixtapes, and has a handful of strong collaborations to boast about already, with everyone from diminutive Chicago locals like Lil Durk and Lil Bibby and Lil Herb to underground darlings like Kelela to R&B big shot Jeremih—that track in particular should be a huge hit.
These collaborators run the genre gamut—I don't even know what you'd call Sleigh Bells, exactly, but Tink kills a verse and a hook on what is basically a loud, brash, electronic rock song. She's melodic and feminine, but she has this bold, cocky, almost masculine delivery, proving her worth simply by acting like she has nothing to prove at all.
Her sound has drawn comparisons to TLC; her flow reminds some people of Nicki Minaj. But in reality, she's got very little in common with either of them. Tink is Tink. And we need her right now. She's on the cover of The Fader this month; speaking to writer Jenna Wortham, it's easy to see why:
There's a broad range of male rappers, so if they're going out on a limb and they sound different, it's okay, because we have 20 other rappers doing what the radio wants ... as far as females, there aren't as many, so if you want to compete, you have to sound just like this, because that's the only thing hot right now. If you want to compete, you have to look like this ... I'm brown, I don't have a big ass, my lips are full. I'm not the ideal pop star, not what you see on TV. I look like I could be your best friend.
The Timbaland boost doesn't hurt here, of course: It's been a while since he helped mint a new star on the order of Aaliyah or Missy Elliott, but in a recent interview with New York's Power 105, he insists that the comparisons are there:
Tink is somebody that God blessed me with, that's the best way to put it. She's a girl from Chicago that, she really is to me, the way she grew up, it reminds me of if she was Missy's cousin back in the day. Her talent is just not normal. It's like we forget how old we were when we came up, we forget we was that young. What she brought out of me was appreciating life more and what God has in store for you. Like, your chapter is never over unless he say it's over. So what she has done has inspired me because she's so smart in how she pick music and how she arrange music. I've never seen somebody 19 do that.
We don't necessarily need another Missy right now, but more than anything, hip-hop needs more strong women—especially those that don't fit into the industry's traditional, rigid boxes. On record, she commiserates with women, empathizing with the problems we face in dealing with reliably unreliable, disloyal, worthless men. In the DJ Dahi-produced "M.E.N.," she croons:
Shut up, by now you have it
Can't fix one thing in silence
You say you care but you don't care like how I care
And that's fucked up
And what hurts the most is you don't want my love
My love, no, can't explain men
Say what you want to hear, they will
You'll never understand how it feels, no
Trying to get through to a person
Who can't, who can't, who can't
Feel what you feel
She demands that same kind of respect on the self-explanatory "Treat Me Like Somebody"; elsewhere, on the Jeremih-featuring "Don't Tell Nobody," she basically tells her main guy that two can play at this game:
I ain't gonna trip on a weak-ass n***a
Imma just find me a n***a much bigger
Imma just do the same shit that you do when I'm not up in the room
Yeah baby let's think
Imma text Bryan, FaceTime Ryan, call up Keenan, tell him I need him
N****s ain't loyal, and I knew from the jump when you showed me the ropes
That I wouldn't never have the trust for you
In an essay for the Hairpin, Grace Gordon called Tink the perfect antidote to Chris Brown's presumptuous demand for loyalty; she doesn't mince words about this stuff, and she definitely doesn't defer to some disingenuous, undeserved sense of how women should treat men. This demand for respect extends to her industry dealings; I spoke to Tink in June for Billboard, and she told me about some of the struggles she faces as a Woman in Rap, even though she's not exactly keen on being a mere Woman in Rap:
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 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 almost the next breath, Tink described herself to me as "just a girl from around the way." She truly reads as that when you speak to her: She's focused, but relaxed and confident, and she has that hunger that comes with youth, although she seems much older than she is. She's the real deal.
I'm not making some bold claim that Tink is going to single-handedly reverse sexism in music. She's not going to fix decades and decades of deeply ingrained stereotypes with one album. Or even two albums! I am saying, though, that she's something fresh and new and welcome in a landscape where pop stars tend to all be the same boring, blonde, ubiquitous multimillion-album-selling machines. It's a tired model, and Tink doesn't fit it at all, and that's a very good thing.