Chicago Rapper Tink on Love, Loyalty and Loneliness

Madeleine Holden

By Madeleine Holden

on 07.24.14 in Features

For two years, Tink has been deftly straddling the rapper/singer divide. The 19-year old Chicago-based artist resembles a grittier, rawer Aaliyah on heart-wrenching ’90s-R&B-style love songs and raps with the kind of witty, takes-no-shit attitude (“What if I told you that you bore me and it’s no longer fun/ And while we’re talking I’ve been texting three niggas at once?”). She’s been releasing consistently impressive mixtapes since her debut project Winter’s Diary, which contained the ride-or-die ballad “Bonnie and Clyde” that first caused ripples online, and 2012′s “Blunts and Ballads.” It’s still the best showcase of her fierce-to-tender talent range, but the widespread critical acclaim she’s received for her latest release, Winter’s Diary 2, seems to be her tipping point to stardom.

It’s about time, too: Tink’s talent is undeniable, and she has an alarming knack for wringing out every emotion on the romantic spectrum, whether it’s lust, heartbreak, frustration or sheer adoration. She’s a sweet-voiced teenager, but she sings with a moody maturity and conviction that makes her sound like an older sister: warning you away from unfaithful, ain’t-shit dudes, yet empathizing with you when you run back to them anyway. I caught up with Tink over the phone to discuss money, loyalty and the dubious aspects of being a “female rapper.”

I hear you’re in New York right now, what’s going on there?

I’m doing a lot of interviews and networking, and I’ve been in the studio with Sleigh Bells. I’m working with them on one of their songs they’re about to release.

You’re dropping a lot of new music on your Soundcloud right now. Recently you tweeted, “I can’t stop working. I need a mil by age 21.” Can you tell me a bit about what drives you to work so hard at such a young age?

Yeah, that’s real. I have a point to prove. I want to be able to reach people through the music, and I want it to be bigger than just Chicago; bigger than just America. And of course, with the hard work comes the money, the millions; so I’m chasing it.

A lot of your music and your Boss Up mixtape in particular is about pursuing money, and in your songs you quite often talk about money being a bigger priority for you than romantic relationships. In a lot of ways, your music is like the female version of “money over bitches.” Can you talk to me about that?

I like to bring messages to the music, and especially with female [rappers], we don’t have a lot of empowerment in the music. So when I’m writing and putting songs together, I always think, “What’s gonna motivate somebody my age?” They listen to me, especially young teenagers and young females. I do talk about money a lot. The guys, though they do the same thing: “money over bitches,” “money over hoes.” In my eyes, it’s the same way. If they’re gonna feel that way about us, well, I’m gonna feel the same way about them. I’m gonna make money my priority as well.

‘We [women] get stereotyped…People expect female raps to be about sex and to be explicit for them to listen. For me, I don’t like staying in that type of lane; I like to talk about real matters.’

You’re from Chicago and you’re coming up alongside artists like Katie Got Bandz and Sasha Go Hard. What’s it like being female and trying to make it in the rap world? Are there any particular challenges that your male counterparts don’t face?

The females, we have to do so much more to be recognized. It’s crazy, because guys in the music game don’t have to have a specific look, people just accept them the way they are. A guy doesn’t have to do much, but they expect females to have a certain look or dress a certain way; move a certain type of way. And we get stereotyped as far as the music; people expect female raps to be about sex and to be explicit for them to listen. For me, I don’t like staying in that type of lane; I like to talk about real matters. That’s really the biggest thing as a female: getting that respect.

Do you feel a sense of solidarity with the other women in the game right now or is it more of a competitive vibe, or both?

It’s definitely competitive. I think females kind of distance ourselves a lot more than the guys do. Guys will reach out to other male artists and work from there, but with females it’s very competitive. I have nothing but love for every female artist. We stay in our lane, but it’s not like I have a problem with or look down on any other female rapper from Chicago. I wanna see everybody make it.

What do you think of labels like “female rapper” — does it ever get annoying to be defined by the fact that you’re a woman in this industry?

Yeah, sometimes. To me it’s so obvious: People don’t go around saying “Hey, we’ve got a new male rapper on the rise!” It goes back to the thing I said earlier about having to work harder for respect: We don’t even get called “artists,” it’s always “female artist”; you have to start at “female” before you say what I am. It is annoying because at the end of the day it’s females that go harder than some of the guys; for me it needs to be unified.

‘Guys can say that “these hoes ain’t loyal” but I don’t feel like they really look in the mirror. I’ll be honest: Females react off how we feel; a female can be loyal, but you can’t expect her to be if you’re not loyal yourself.’

Who else do you think is really killing it right now?

I look up to Chance the Rapper so, so much. His takeoff was just so authentic: over the past few years when he was rising, doing everything independent — it’s motivating to see him come from the same place I came from. I really look up to him a lot. He doesn’t follow trends, which I also like. When Chicago was coming up with the drill movement I noticed that he didn’t conform to it, and that’s great to see.

One of the themes that comes up a lot in your music is loyalty, especially within romantic relationships, and that’s a hot topic at the moment now that Chris Brown’s “Loyal” remix is all over the radio. What’s your take on the idea that “these hoes ain’t loyal”?

Guys can say that “these hoes ain’t loyal” but I don’t feel like they really look in the mirror. I’ll be honest: Females react off how we feel; a female can be loyal, but you can’t expect her to be if you’re not loyal yourself. It’s only so much that a female is gonna take! It’s just sad that the guys can point the finger, but they can’t admit to what they do. Nowadays guys think it’s OK for them to do whatever they want and the females can’t. They expect the females to stay loyal — you can’t do what you want, or talk to whoever — but I’m gonna talk to these other chicks and that’s OK ’cause I’m a guy. I think it’s a bunch of BS; it’s unfair.

One thing that’s so compelling about your music is its emotional depth, and you touch on every romantic feeling — from being deeply in love with a guy to being heartbroken to not giving a fuck about dudes at all. On “Don’t Tell Nobody” you say, “Fuck that love shit, I don’t feel none of that.” Can you explain that? Is that where you’re at right now?

We all have our moments where, even if we are in love, we just don’t really feel it. It can get to a point with a guy where you can be in love and you’re in a relationship, but when he acts up and doesn’t treat you the way you should be treated, you just feel like this can’t be love, you know? I don’t feel love right now, this isn’t how love should feel. So that line is a “moment” type statement, when you’re mad and you’re like “fuck love, I don’t feel that.” One of those argument statements that you make!

You have a project in the works with Timbaland right now. Can you tell me about that? What else is coming up for you?

Yeah, we’ve been in the studio working; working hard. I don’t have a due date or a release date or even a time for it yet, because I really want this project to make sense; I can’t rush it. I have to take my time with it, but it’s going to be soon; you’ll start to hear the production. Me and Sleigh Bells have a joint together and we’re going to shoot a visual for it. This summer and going into the fall I have so much planned, and I really want to start collab’ing with people outside of my genre and push myself to tap into different sounds. Just expect a lot of different things from me.

That’s exciting. Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to your haters?

My message would honestly be that you can’t stop shit, simple as that. You can do whatever you want, you can hate all day, but you can’t stop shit.