Across eight mixtapes, two EPs and four full-length albums that span nearly a decade, Tink has pioneered a relatable brand of trap R&B that captures both the gritty and tender intricacies of being in love and learning to live without it. It’s this delicate balance that’s resulted in Timbaland heralding Tink’s music as a successor to the soft stylings of Aaliyah, while also inviting observations that she’s among the most overlooked artists in contemporary R&B. 

But Tink doesn’t feel underrated at all. 

“I feel very recognized with my people—people that know [me] give me all the love in the world,” she told The TRiiBE in an interview via Google Hangout on Feb. 18. “I get a lot of love in the streets, and that’s the thing about me. I’m not looking to please anyone but the people who understand me. They’re from Chicago, so my whole demographic is a bit different. I’ve never been pressed to be this pop or mainstream [star]. I’ve never cared about titles or being put in boxes.”

The Chicago-bred rapper, singer and songwriter knows she’s in her own lane. And she has the talent and consistency to prove it.  Her musical styling is vulnerable and empowering, similar to having a conversation with your wise homegirl after having a bad breakup. Tink wants to continue forging that lane with her new album, Thanks 4 Nothing

Released on Feb. 24, the 14-track album simultaneously poses as the post-breakup emancipatory blues and the earnest ballads needed to drive a journey to self-love. “Tell me what could you do for a bitch that don’t need nothing from you?” Tink retorts in the opening of “Trust Issues” a lullaby-esque track that highlights her effortless blend of singing and rapping. 

On “Someone on You,” Tink turns a sultry beat sample from Twista’s 2010 sex jam “Make a Movie” into a stream-of-consciousness interrogation of possible infidelity. Still, her confidence blares: “But no matter what you do, you’ll still come back to me,” she declares.

On March 30, she’ll embark on a 13-city tour for Thanks 4 Nothing, culminating in an April 23 show in Chicago.

If last year’s Pillow Talk encapsulated Tink’s velvety amorous desires with a partner, then Thanks 4 Nothing completely evades them. Instead, she decides to pour that love into herself. 

But the singer admits it took her a long time to realize how special her artistry is. After being signed to Timbaland’s Mosley Music Group, an imprint under Empire Records, in 2015, Tink spent nearly three years in label drama that notably resulted in an unreleased debut album. 

But in 2018, Tink was released from her contract and received the master recordings of her music— a breakup that Tink acknowledges was needed for her creative journey. 

“I’m around love now, and I’m around a team that pours back into me,” the independent artist said. “I feel like when I was coming up and was working with Epic and Timb, it was tough. And I didn’t understand the light that I had until I branched out on my own and saw how many people f*cked with me. Now, I do feel very loved. The energy is so positive around me now that I can’t help but to love myself.”

However, she’s clear in noting that the experience with Timbaland wasn’t entirely negative. 

“No one can fail me,” she said. “I think what I’ve been through really developed me, if anything. When I was working with Timb, I still was able to capitalize off of what we did together. I made fans when I was working with Timbaland, and we made “Millions,” and I was able to kind of connect with people in the industry.” 

The 2015 Aaliyah-sampling track is Tink’s most successful song to date, peaking at no. 13 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart. “Millions” also marked the first time that Timbaland was heavily involved in a song featuring an Aaliyah sample. The single set the tone for Tink’s boundless future in hip-hop and R&B. Shortly after the single’s release, she was named among rappers in XXL’s 2015 Freshman Class.

“I used everything I did to catapult me. It’s really a part of my story now. I was able to make a record with Jay-Z,” Tink said. An original version of Rick Ross and Jay-Z’s 2014 “Movin’ Bass” featured Tink before her verses were cut on the official release. 

“That was just something that I could never even dream of. It gave me a lot of tough skin. It gave me motivation to get out here and grind on my own. Regardless of how that situation ended, I was still able to persevere,” she added.

Perseverance is a tenet of Tink’s rise to fame. The Calumet City-native emerged in the music scene during the early 2010’s when Chicago artists like Chief Keef and King Louie were being recognized as leaders in the now-ubiquitous lane of drill music. But Tink used the grit and street mentality of the subgenre to establish her own style of R&B—one that became instantly infectious for listeners. 

She weaves rapping and singing so smoothly that you can easily forget the moment she transitions into either. It’s a style that continues the lineage of Lauryn Hill’s 1998 magnum opus, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, or Missy Elliott’s 1997 futuristic debut, Supa Dupa Fly.

And if you were a teenager in Chicago during Tink’s rise, chances are you witnessed—or even participated in— the inundation of tweets and Facebook posts from fans on the heels of any Tink release, before the practice became widespread among artists and their fanbases. 

Her fans weren’t only anticipating the new music, but also yearning for how the music would make them feel and impact their own relationships. Remember the first time you heard the catchy, soulful hook for “Treat Me Like Somebody?” from 2014’s Winter’s Diary 2. Tink’s mixtape run felt like a series of instant, indelible Chicago cult classics. 

Being a teenager herself at that time, Tink knew exactly what to say, how to say it and for whom she was saying it. 

“I wasn’t trying to be anything but myself, and I think people felt the pain and just a street energy, which was new,” the 27-year-old said. “A lot of people weren’t writing or saying the things I was saying or putting the slang or terms I used in their music, so it was definitely something new. I was about 16, so I was really just feeding off what was going on around me, what me and my girls were doing every weekend.”

Photo courtesy of Tink.

Boasting features from Ty Dolla $ign and Yung Bleu, Thanks 4 Nothing marks the third collaboration between Tink and fellow Chicago artist and producer Hitmaka. She said working with him helped her expand her sound and become more open in her creative process, though she still prefers to write songs in the privacy of her bedroom.

The writing and recording process for the album began last fall and was completed in January. Although she admits she wasn’t going through a breakup at the time, she knows her fans love when she’s searing and unapologetic in her music, a.k.a “talking her shit.”

But how does she hone that talent? How does she create songs that feel so spicy and familiar and gutsy that you feel like she’s singing exactly what you typed about your partner in a group chat with friends? 

“I like to write as soon as I feel the emotion,” she said. “It can stem from anything. I can have a conversation with a friend, have a personal argument or even watch something on TV and feel like I need to really attack that emotion, so as soon as I feel something I get out my notebook because I still like to write on paper. A lot of my records, the way that I do it, I like to write it at home to just feel the song. Sometimes, it might take a day or a couple of days.”

Next on Tink’s list is starting an acting career and possibly releasing another iteration of her popular Winter’s Diary mixtape series later this year. But for now, she wants to continue being a voice for women and translating their experiences into music that’s too relatable to ignore.

“I wouldn’t call my music underground, but I feel like I have my own lane with being independent,” Tink said.  “I’m not trying to be the queen of R&B. I’m not trying to be the next anyone, so, for me, Tink is just a woman of her own. I like that space because I think I inspire others to not chase something else. I inspire people to just be themselves, and if I can just touch one person, that means a lot to me. I’m just in a lane of my own.”

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.