“I play my own music when I'm having a bad day,” Tink remarks. “This music is therapy for me too.”
For years, the Chicago singer has been making R&B as ethereal as her name sounds. With her golden voice and no-holds-barred style, her music hits the sweet spot between the genre's origins and where it could evolve next. It’s days before the release of her new album, Pillow Talk, when we meet over Zoom. She’s excited and a little bit nervous, she confesses. “Every album to me is like a diary. So once it's out, it's like a weight off my shoulders.”
Diary is the right word. If this album sounds like it comes from a real place of learning about oneself both in and out of relationships, that’s because “at least 80 percent” of the music derives from real life. “I make my best work when I'm in the moment, when I'm angry, sad, in love, I go to the studio the same day so that I get that emotion and pour it into the record.” It’s a skill she’s been honing since high school, when she demanded attention with her first mixtape Winter’s Diary. Even then, she was already flexing her unapologetic songwriting and a soulful, ‘90s-inspired sound.
For Tink, born Trinity Laure'Ale Home, it clicked very early that music was her destiny. “I started making music when I was really young. My father had a studio in our basement, I watched him make money on the side that way, having people come by and record. So I was always around music and I started recording my own songs in high school.” Uploading songs to SoundCloud and YouTube, Tink added her voice to Chicago’s thriving music scene. While many acts have found an escape and a chance at redemption in the city’s elite rap arena, Tink took a more raw, vulnerable path.
“I think it's a lot tougher as a woman coming out of Chicago,” she tells me. “In this industry… there’s not gonna be a lot of women coming out the city with you. So a lot of things I had to learn for myself, I didn't have anyone that was a blueprint.” Instead, Tink looked to the R&B divas and girl groups of the ‘90s for inspiration. And in a time where contemporary R&B was increasingly being assimilated into pop music, her Winter’s Diary series offered something firmly connected to R&B’s roots. And very soon her work had earned her a daunting comparison to the queen of R&B herself, Aaliyah – from none other than Timbaland.
In 2014, she signed with Timbaland's Mosley Music Group, but it wasn’t all she’d hope it would be. Catering to the label’s Aaliyah aspirations – a comparison she says hurt her career – and commercial objectives, Tink felt like she was put on hold. She speaks confidently, efficiently about this complicated time in her career. “Once I got signed, I lost a lot of my freedom. I went from making everything on my own to having a bunch of people I never met involved in my music [...] It’s a little stifling, they put you in a box, they want you to look a certain way, dress a certain way, talk a certain way. It's just a lot of pressure.” In 2018, fed up with all the hold-ups and hold-outs, she fought to get back control over career and went independent. “I feel so much freer, and that changes the whole narrative for me because I can make music on my terms now.”
That’s the point: Tink is doing all right on her own. Now her music luxuriates in a settled place. “I think I’ve found my lane and that's the difference now. I'm very in tune with what I want to do. And my R&B is just different.” Pillow Talk is the contemporary album that an R&B traditionalist can love – and it came just in time.
When Pillow Talk dropped on Friday, August 19, the R&B world was in the throes of a tiresome “R&B is dead” debate, sparked by Diddy on Twitter – probably just a PR ploy for his new R&B label, Love Records. As more and more R&B stars weighed in, the discussion once again highlighted the overwhelming feeling that the genre’s contemporary artists have dropped the ball. Tink challenges this conclusion throughout Pillow Talk. The project, executive-produced by her longtime-collaborator Hitmaka, achieves the rare balance of having one foot in the past and one in the future. You’re hearing Tink work through the messy complexities of modern love, but you’re also hearing Destiny’s Child, Brandy, and Monica. And amidst these legacy samples, flourishes Tink’s own brand of prestige R&B. “I'm intentional with everything. I’m really trying to make music that’s heartfelt, that will stand the test of time. And I write everything.”
“I’m talking crazy on some records!” She giggles. Rather than crooning about fairytale romance, on Pillow Talk Tink explores something more real, sometimes cynical, often sexy. “I think what stands out is that I'm telling the stories nobody wants to admit to; heartbreak and the hard things we go through, the decisions that we make that we aren’t necessarily proud of.” There are a lot of those relatable moments on the tape. Lead single “Goofy,” sees Tink returning to a problematic ex against her own better judgment. On the decadent jam “Mine,” Tink and Muni Long go head-to-head in a jealousy-laced rendition of Brandy and Monica’s classic, “The Boy Is Mine.” Track 12, “Drunk Text’n” is just that. In Tink’s writing there are moments of sexual freedom, pettiness, and self-reflection that lend themselves perfectly to Instagram captions, daily mantras, or emotional voice notes. Romantic and dramatic, the album puts her gifted vocals and writing on full display. But Tink cuts deepest when she’s focused on herself. “These songs are about me becoming a woman, understanding how this thing works, and putting myself first. It took time for me to get to this place.” The closing track “I Choose Me” is a perfect conclusion.
“I feel like the older I get, the more things I experience, fall in and out of love, I'm able to really stand on things now. There’s a few records on there that embody who I am as a woman. I'm really not trying to force anything now.” Gone are the days when she had to adhere to people’s versions of herself in both her professional and personal life – “Ain't nothin' worth more than my peace,” she sings on “I Choose Me.” Her presence in the industry has prolonged for over a decade, and she reveals she finally feels settled in her own right. “Sometimes it just takes a little longer, because we going to make mistakes. My journey is a lot different, because I'm doing everything on my own time.” Tink pauses mid-thought. “Yeah, there were times I didn’t trust myself as an artist. Times I’d overthink or second-guess myself. There’ve been moments I'll hold off a record and then go back and be like, ‘Man, this record probably would've been the right one to drop.’ But that's just life and the more that I get into my artistry, I'm beginning to let go a lot more. Making this album, I had to stop thinking so hard about how people are going to react to it. As long as I know where I’m coming from, people will understand.”
A lot has happened to get Tink to this point right now. And if you listen closely to the music, there are an ample amount of lessons and talent she intends to gift us with.