Two years ago,Tink opened the fourth edition of her flagship Winter’s Diary mixtape series with a sketch in which a fictional therapist discussed her case: “Client seems very disturbed, extremely emotional at times/Seems to be a lot of pressure/A lot of pressure on her shoulders.” It had only been a year at that point since the Chicago rapper and singer’s debut album, Think Tink, was delayed for the first time, but the tape suggested deeper anxieties than the frustratingly common Nevruary 31st release dates that affect many promising new artists.
Think Tink never arrived, of course, and her alliance with Timbaland, who had once anointed her as the second coming of Aaliyah, turned out to be a doomed one. There is an unmistakable disconnect between the slick hybrids of pop, R&B, and hip-hop on Tink’s earlier, self-released work and the two singles she put out after signing with Epic Records via the producer’s Mosley Music Group imprint in 2014 (the hokey “Ratchet Commandments” and the Aaliyah-sampling “Million”). When she was finally released from that deal late last year, she posted a selfie on Instagram with the caption #FreeAtLast.
The question on Pain & Pleasure, Tink’s first release since then, is what she wants to do with that freedom. In a way, she has always been free: Her well-curated, confessional sound is her own, and she has been pushing it independently since she was a teenager. Pain & Pleasure deals in familiar textures, but there are no rap tracks, and the lyrics lean away from the personal. Opener “On to the Next One” has a title that perhaps hints at her exodus from the major-label system, but it’s about a dude. The same goes for “M.I.a.,” which is not about her 2017 break from music and social media, but instead is a slippery ode to vacation sex.