Tink is one in a million, but can she succeed despite Timbaland?

On July 30, Tink released the third volume of Winter’s Diary, a mixtape series that began back in 2012 on — astoundingly — the day before her 17th birthday.

The first two volumes remain the strongest parts of her ever-growing discography, and both are loaded with examples of her preternatural talents as a singer-songwriter (‘Can I’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ the first time around, too many to mention on the second). The release of Winter’s Diary 3 comes while Tink is under the biggest spotlight of her young career, less than two months since being named as a XXL Freshman. It’s also her first full project since being publicly anointed as Timbaland’s protégé.

Winter’s Diary 3 isn’t as immediately striking as the last volume, but it’s still impressive: simple piano and guitar ballads like ‘I Like’ and ‘H2O’ sit comfortably next to hip-hop-inflected jams like ‘Very Very’ and ‘Jupiter’. Lyrically, Tink opens her Diary (with an intro that presents this literally), singing and rapping about the butterflies of young love and, as always, the pain of cheating (and otherwise shitty) boyfriends.

Tink is as empowered as ever, demanding her partners meet all her needs — mental, physical, emotional — while accepting her for who she is (“don’t blame me for my issues”) while telling stories from a feminist perspective (‘Stripclub’ flips the usual stripper narrative on its head). She does this with the real-world detail (“Tees and sweats, hair’s a mess, Netflix’s on / Still your eyes glued to mine”), masterful rapping (the double-time “look at the way that you gotta regret everyday waking up to ya bitch” of ‘Medicine’) and gorgeous singing (drowning ‘H2O’ in melisma) that have made her so exciting. Plus, the production highlights her songwriting and her background: As with the Alicia Keys-sampling Winter’s Diary 2 standout ‘Your Secrets’, she turns to the R&B of her early-aughts childhood for inspiration, sampling Beyoncé’s ‘Yes’ on ‘There’s Somebody Else’.

The lone song on the mixtape that doesn’t seem to capture Tink’s voice and sound is ‘L.E.A.S.H.’ (even the 80s dance-pop of ‘Afterparty’ plays like an apropos bonus track). Produced by Timbaland, the pneumatic beat and vaguely Eastern flutes don’t quite match Tink’s topline; her lyrics about money and men seem unfocused and the song feels incomplete. Most of all, it does nothing to allay fears that Timbaland is hindering — and not helping — Tink’s career.

“It would be a tragedy for Tink to join a list that includes Ms. Jade, Kiley Dean and Nyemiah Supreme.”

Since their collaboration went public in spring of 2014, Timbaland has been on a hype onslaught, using his frequent appearances on The Breakfast Club to say her album is the best thing he’s worked on since Aaliyah’s One In A Million and boasting that Aaliyah endorsed her from beyond the grave. Certainly, this has all helped her public profile (and probably helped secure that XXL co-sign), but what has been missing is any proof that Timbaland knows Tink’s strengths as an artist, or that he knows how to capitalize on them.

The Tink songs on which Timbaland has had a producer credit are uneven at best. She channeled Talib Kweli and Lauryn Hill on the timely, #BlackLivesMatter missive ‘Tell The Children’, but the song is far from a classic politics-made-personal anthem. The hookless ‘Around The Clock’ muddied the waters by including the boasts of Charlamagne Tha God, for reasons unknown. The Aaliyah-sampling ‘Million’ was an unwinnable proposition: no matter how good Tink was on the song (and her performance is fine), it evokes memories of and leads to unfair comparisons with the untouchable Aaliyah. Even Timbaland’s music business acumen couldn’t save one of their best collaborations to date, ‘Movin’ Bass’, which she was deleted from when Rick Ross threw his considerable weight around.

Their worst song, however, shows how completely a Tink and Timbaland collaboration can miss the mark. The beat on ‘Ratchet Commandments’ feels ancient, without any of the futurism that peak Timbaland entailed, and Tink’s regressive lyrics run counter to the personal brand of progressive feminism that she’s been so good at articulating. There’s some slut-shaming (“if you know your pussy loose, you a ho, so do better”), tone-deaf gender issues (“These niggas are now bitches, quit acting so feminine”) and a touch of respectability politics (“I thought we had some young queens, what you mean? We act belligerent, generation of ignorance”). Not to take away credit (or blame), but do these lyrics sound like the views of a 20-year-old woman or a 43-year-old man?

Timbaland’s late-90s, early-00s heights are undeniable, but his track record since then is spotty, especially when considering his long list of post-Aaliyah proteges. Considering what Tink has already done — in her teens, on her laptop, without an industry machine behind her — it would be a tragedy for her to join a list that includes Ms. Jade, Kiley Dean and Nyemiah Supreme. Tink wasn’t a block of clay that needed to be chiseled: she was a nearly-finished sculpture, ready for wide-scale exhibition. But Tink’s talent is undeniable, and Winter’s Diary 3 proves that when Timbaland steps back, she’s still one in a million.



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