Over the past month, I've watched several people freak out when I've mentioned 19-year-old Chicago singer/rapper Tink's recent song "Don't Tell Nobody." The duet with Jeremih ("Birthday Sex") is compulsively listenable. It's intricately laid out melodrama told in the filthiest of terms. Switching meter nearly every four bars, with more deftness than even Beyoncé in "Drunk in Love," Tink rap-sings the verses, detailing her man's cheating, her thirst for revenge, and her weakness for being unable to let the whole thing go. It's an aural soap opera made by a prodigious talent.
I listened on repeat to wrap my head around it, and then I listened more because I love it so much, and then I listened because my life didn't feel right when I wasn't listening to it. This is my favorite song of the year. It's my life, and it's my wife. (Also, it's my early summer jam pick.)
I've never gotten a chance to talk to the creator of the song I'm obsessing over at the moment. So I called Tink last week to freak out mostly. In the process, I pummeled her with questions about her song, its politics, and her recently announced collaboration with Timbaland. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.
Tink: Everything. It's maybe not the same person I'm talking about [throughout], but everybody's got a situation where the guy he's lying, he's not coming home when he's supposed to, he's not calling you back. You know, like little situations. I just combined them all together, so it really hits home.
It's interesting to make the hook about the guy—why do you think he doesn't want your female narrator to tell anybody about his misdeeds?
I mean, that's just like modern day, the way relationships are set up. Of course a guy doesn't want you to let the world know when you have problems going on. Sometimes that can make the situation worse—people are gonna know that the home is not where it should be.
I thought maybe part of it is that he doesn't want her to tell nobody so he can keep cheating without tarnishing his reputation. If she tells, that could make him unattractive to some women that he might want to cheat with.
Right, secret life. And that's cool too. I never really thought of it that way, but that's a nice little twist to it. That's true as well. A lot of guys will be like, "Don't say anything, so my side chick doesn't know."
"...So I can keep doing what I'm doing." The power dynamic is interesting, too. He's saying, "Don't tell nobody," but the song is, in fact, serving to tell everybody because that's what songs do.
When we first made the song, the chorus was already written. So when I went into the studio, I was thinking: What would somebody not want me to tell? What does my boyfriend not want the world to know? So it's everything you just said. I had to think of every situation that would normally be on the low.
There's a sadness to the female part, too. "Fuck that love shit / I don't feel none of that / Like, I'm numb to the pains / And I'm done with the game / But I'm still here running back," you sing, and then at the end of the song, the female character is exposed: "You don't talk that shit when I give you gas money / Five star chick, baby, when your ass hungry."
You have to put that sympathy in the song, or it comes off like I'm just over hard. That's not the situation. There's still that type of pain there.
The female character is complicit, too, because she's putting up with it.
Of course. I think that's why people are taking to this song, because it's so realistic. I don't like to sugarcoat. I don't like to say things without feeling it. I like to get to the point and say exactly what I'm talking about.
I like in this song that the female has a well of men that she can tap into to exact her cheating revenge ("I'mma text Bryan / Facetime Ryan / Call up Keenan / Tell him I need him..."). What are your thoughts in general on strict monogamy? With so many people failing at it so often, it seems like an unreasonable ideal.
I think monogamy exists when you're of age. I'm not saying that's good, but in today's time, a female won't honestly get a full commitment until they're at least 25 or 26. That's not good, but that's how it is. It's fucked up because people kind of expect [cheating] now. It's almost part of the game. It's messed up, but that's just the reality of life.
I wonder if we're too strict with our rules. I understand wanting to connect with one other person, but it seems like a little bit more understanding that people do regularly fail at monogamy even when they're in love...maybe that's where we need to go. Maybe we need to evolve our ideals.
That's pretty deep. That would be the moral way of looking at it, I guess. But at the same time, man, it's pretty hard sharing. At least for me. I don't really like to share. That's deep, though. That's very deep.
I think that's why I connect with this song: it's not a love song describing the perfect world. It's talking about the imperfect way things actually are. The most outstanding thing about this song, besides the subject matter, is your flow, how it changes every four bars basically. Is this style something you're going to pursue?
Before I went to L.A., I got on the phone with Da Internz, the producers, and I was just explaining to them that I both sing and rap. What I was looking for was a way to incorporate both, and at the same time keep it me. When I got to L.A., we had it in our minds that we had to make this certain sound. This certain sound is going to be different from anybody in the game right now, from anything I've ever done. I wanted to implement the rapping and the singing. So it was in our heads before even going into the studio and: bam, it came out so great.
I love how interested in slow jams you are. Your mixtapes are full of them. It's audacious. A lot of people tune out when faced with a slow jam.
That's very true. Sometimes you can get lost making a slow jam. You have to really say something to keep somebody's attention.
Is Timbaland working on your entire album?
I wouldn't say entire album, but he's going to handle the majority of the production on the project, which is awesome.
How does it work with Timbaland? Did you sign a label deal, or are you cutting an album that you'll then shop?
I'm not really supposed to go into too many details about it...I'm independent, though. You understand what's going on without me saying it. I'm independent right now, we're cutting an album, and whatever blows, blows.
So much of your appeal comes from how raw you are. I'm assuming that somewhere down the line, someone's going to tell you to be less raw so that you can be more commercial. How will you hold onto yourself while appealing to a larger audience?
That's the thing. I think there are ways that you can be raw and capture the general sell. Production is so key. You can make a mainstream or pop song still saying gutter stuff. It all ties in one. That's why production is so important. The beat gives a message as well. I don't ever want to lose my rawness or whatever. That makes a person special.
So you'll resist if people tell you to change?
I'm flexible. The key to artistry is being able to say stuff the way other people can't. That might mean I need to figure out a way to say what I'm trying to say. I don't have a problem making it a little more commercial, but I'm always gonna find that way to throw in Tink.