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Live, Tink Works to Find Her Voice

The promising Chicago rapper takes the stage in Brooklyn.

by Drew Millard
12 November 2014, 10:00am

Photos courtesy of Electric Circus

The Chicago artist Tink seems on the fast track to stardom. She is signed to Epic Records, has been tipped by countless publications (including us), radio personality Charlamagne tha God, and Justin Timberlake. Timbaland has tapped her as his newest protégé, and has teased on Instagram a clip of a song featuring both her and André 3000. Meanwhile, she has spent the past five years steadily building up buzz in her hometown of Chicago, where mixtapes such as Boss Up, Alter Ego, and the Winter’s Diary series have made her a local star. She is versatile and open-minded, slipping between the harsh sounds of Chicago drill, dark club beats, indie-R&B, and sweet soul with ease. When writing, Tink demonstrates an intelligence and nuanced grasp of romantic relationships beyond her 19 years, articulating the universal in a way that seems personal. Given her considerable talents as well as the hype surrounding her, it may seem less like a matter of if Tink will blow nationally, but when.

However, for all of her potential, Tink is still very rough around the edges. When people talk about Tink’s 2014 output, they tend to focus on the Jeremih-featuring “Don’t Tell Nobody” as well as “I Just Wanna Party,” her collaboration with the all-star leftfield production collective Future Brown. Her January mixtape Winter’s Diary 2 was spotty at best, uneven and unfocused. Still, part of the fun of being a Tink fan is watching a rare talent find their voice. Each of her songs that she’s posted to her SoundCloud since the release of Winter’s Diary have shown Tink streamlining her aesthetic—while her previous work often found a hard cut between her rapping and singing, lately she’s more fluid, switching between the two with a liquidity that suggests she’s decided that the distinction between rapping singing is bullshit. These new cuts are exciting, dynamic, experimental, tough, and are even further cause for excitement.

Tink may one day be a star, but her Sunday evening performance at Baby’s All Right in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, proved that she still has some ways to go. Taking the stage a hair after midnight sporting a leather jacket, long braids, and a hat that said “BRONX” on it, Tink began her set full of energy, running through many of her more drill-heavy cuts initially. And I mean running, quite literally—she sprinted, jumped, danced, and shook her braids with an infectious, carefree jubilance. Though the energy is there, the polish is not. She rapped and sang over backing vocal tracks, often too busy leading the party to rap a whole verse through. Though it was clear she could hit the notes and nail complex flows even unassisted, the backing verses seemed to serve as a crutch. The most exciting moments of her set occurred during the well-known “Wanna Party” and “Don’t Tell Nobody,” songs where Tink was essentially leading a group singalong.

This sort of performance, fueled by exuberance and a charming “let’s put on a show!” sensibility, doesn’t fly in venues larger than the 280-capacity performance space of Baby’s. Here, the show was about establishing a connection between performer and audience, and doing so through any means necessary. This can definitely lead to a fun show as it did on Sunday, but it's not the type of thing that's going to fly in larger rooms—the size dilutes the power to connect, and it ends up coming off as amateurish. If Tink is to become the powerhouse she has the potential to be, she will need to rise to the occasion and learn to perform her vocals unassisted. But for now, part of the fun of being a Tink fan now is watching a smart, talented young person find their voice and develop into not just an artist but a person. She is completely without pretense, not afraid to be sloppy, a little awkward, a little unorthodox.

The best moments of the show, then, were rhetorical rather than musical. She invoked the ancient rallying cry of, “How many of y’all love real hip-hop!” She had her DJ Reese play “Dipset Anthem,” followed by Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot N—ga,” during which she hit a pitch-perfect shmoney dance. Though each track comes from New York, they have a particular significance in Chicago: In “Dipset Anthem,” Cam’ron raps, “I’m on the westside of Chicago, lookin’ for a buss-down / She make me put my two arms up / Touchdown!” And though Bobby Shmurda hails from Brooklyn, “Hot N—ga,” is Chicago drill through and through. They were subtle reminders that though Tink is young, she understands the national landscape of hip-hop, and Chicago’s part in it. Knowing is half the battle. As long as she has the map, Tink’s journey will be easy.

Follow Drew Millard on Twitter.

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