This past Valentine’s Day, Tink hosted what was essentially a master class in overcoming heartbreak. At a Morehouse College event in Atlanta, fans lined up with blue baseball bats marked with the Chicago artist’s name and happily smashed them through a car windshield, just as you would a fake ex’s ride. The whole thing was very much in the character of the 27-year-old rapper and R&B singer, best known for her diaristic, bloody ballads. And though she hails from a southern suburb, she’s the quintessential Chicago woman: direct, collected, commanding, glamorous yet guarded. The 2022 album of hers, pillow talk, it was his second full-length collaboration with labelmate Empire and beatmaker Hitmaka. On that record, she gradually eliminated Timbaland’s stagnant instruments that once held her back, bringing a new level of sophistication to the singer’s music. Her last album thanks 4 nothing, contains Instagram-caption-worthy bars, diamond-studded melodies and smoldering duets, all delivered with poised swagger. Tink’s voice is more powerful than ever, the power of him hidden behind his tongue like razor blades against the tableau vivant of Hitmaka’s splendid and thunderous universe.
Over 14 tracks, the singer flows through heartbreak, finally remembering her worth and finding an elegant sense of self-awareness. A narrative told from the perspective of the shadowy side of her, she digs the depths of her desires and, refreshingly, never fakes a linear healing arc. Her version of R&B goes beyond confessional and carnal needs, beyond reaching for perfection. In “Toxic,” she admits that she fell for someone who waved enough red flags to start Chicago’s famous Bud Biliken parade. An opulent orchestral string arrangement sets the stage for Tink to puff out her chest like a “real bitch, not industry.” She gains vitality the more she unravels, her blows burning the earth and clearing the ground for her to grow a healthy life. “Fake Love” demonstrates this superpower to the third degree: “she Dove in me, contradicted everything you said you were / Strong in mood swings / Talk about how you handcuff me to use me.” Here, she is a desperate sensitive who takes aim at all who try to control her. It’s Tink at her bravest, unafraid to demand emotional security.
But it’s the Chicago spirit she shares with her producer that leads her to a pivotal and soulful duet with Ty Dolla $ign called “Let Down My Guard.” Hitmaka takes on the role of a chemist, mixing soft trap percussion with special blaring red light sirens. The glistening, gliding lines of the electric guitar accentuate a request shared between lovers: “If I let my guard down, would you give your heart to a thug?” The structure evokes the 2000s and ’90s R&B style of true collaboration, with Ty and Tink singing bar for bar. When Ty yells, “Little girl, hold me, on all that’s behind,” the line soothes, if not melts, the scars that come from running down cold streets.