Tink remembers the trial by fire that launched her career | The Block Beat | Chicago Reader

Tink remembers the trial by fire that launched her career 

The crowds at Adrianna’s wouldn’t rock for just anybody, but as a Calumet City teenager she won them over with a mix of drill rap and R&B.

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The Block Beat multimedia series is a collaboration with The TRiiBE that roots Chicago musicians in places and neighborhoods that matter to them.

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When Tink performed at Adrianna's for the first time, it was summer 2012, and the Chicago rapper and R&B artist was just 17—not even old enough to get into the Markham nightclub and banquet hall. But she had a chance to open for Future at one of the underground rap world's answers to Harlem's Apollo Theater, and she wasn't going to pass it up. Though Adrianna's had a reputation for rowdiness that sometimes escalated into violence, it was also a vital proving ground.

"I was nervous as hell," Tink says. "This was my first club experience. I had performed for smaller crowds—small gigs. I'd do parties or drop by if somebody was having something at a school. But the club was a totally different scene—you gotta remember, it's grown folks in here. It's turned up. People are smoking. They drinking. They having a good time. It was a lot that I had to prepare myself for."

Much as a preteen Michael Jackson earned his stripes singing for adult audiences on the chitlin' circuit of the 1960s, Tink went through her musical rite of passage by getting 500 or so clubgoers at Adrianna's to rock with her music.

Tink debuted at Adrianna’s in summer 2012, when she was 17 years old. - OLIVIA OBINEME
  • Tink debuted at Adrianna’s in summer 2012, when she was 17 years old.
  • Olivia Obineme

"Everybody in Chicago who rapped, you wanted to be on the bill—just to get those looks, just to possibly shake hands inside here and hold the mike," she says.

Tink, now 23, was born Trinity Home in Calumet City, a southeast suburb a few miles east of Markham. Two years after that show with Future, she signed a deal with Mosley Music Group (run by megaproducer Timbaland) and Epic Records. But what looked like a dazzling success turned out to be a trap: her album Think Tink, originally scheduled for July 2015, remains shelved. She's free of her contract now—she escaped in December 2017—but other than self-released mixtapes, all she put out for its duration was a handful of unconnected tracks.

Last month, Tink dropped the EP-length mixtape Pain & Pleasure, which just entered the Billboard 200 at number 147 (it's at number 15 on the independent albums chart). And last week she took us back to Adrianna's, where it all began for her. The building at 163rd Street and the Dixie Highway is no longer home to the nightclub, but its new occupants, Signature Banquets, were gracious enough to let us inside.

"Just imagine being in the club," Tink says as we walk through the transformed space. "It's two levels, and from each side of the room, it's packed with people—like, shoulder to shoulder. You got the hottest DJs coming by. Even the parking lot is packed. So, I mean, about 500 people in the club at once. To perform there, it means a lot."


Tink
Fri 6/8, 8:30 PM, the Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park, $30, $27 in advance, VIP tables $50 per seat, $45 in advance, meet and greet $62 with GA, $80 with VIP, 18+


Back in Adrianna's glory days, from 2010 till maybe 2014, it seemed like nobody in rap's underground royalty could step foot in Chicago without stopping by to throw bands and pop bottles or to bless the stage with their latest hit. We're talking Migos before Donald Glover's Golden Globes shout-out gave them commercial clout, or Gucci Mane before the prison weight loss, dental overhaul, inspirational tweets, and mainstream glow-up. Nicki Minaj, Wacka Flocka Flame, Yo Gotti, Juicy J, and many more.

So naturally, Chicago's emerging rappers dreamed of opening at Adrianna's—or even headlining a show. "If you take over Adrianna's, if you get a banger here, nine times out of ten it's going to blow up," Tink says. And that's exactly what happened for her.

Tink grew up harmonizing on gospel tunes with her mom and singing in the choir at Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church at 46th and King Drive. But her dad's taste in soul, R&B, and dusties influenced her even more. "My dad would have these records—he would have Brandy, Michael Jackson, SWV, even artists who were more towards funk, like Teddy Pendergrass and Zapp," she says. "It was unlimited amounts of records laying around." He also built a studio in the basement of the family's home in Calumet City, and would engineer for local people he knew.

As a student at Thornton Fractional North High School, Tink started playing around with music. The Chicago scene was boiling, as the likes of Chief Keef and King Louie cooked up a new style of trap-derived rap called drill. So Tink got into the mix, moving between drill-influenced hip-hop and tender, insightful R&B—she debuted with the first installment of her ongoing Winter's Diary mixtape series in March 2012 and followed up with Alter Ego four months later.

Winter's Diary was more R&B than rap, but Alter Ego gave Tink street cred—it featured the brash, booming "Fingers Up" and a freestyle over Keef's "3Hunna." She'd just started working with Maurice Davis, aka DJ Reese, who had a job at Adrianna's at the time, and shortly after she opened for Future, Reese got her a slot opening for Juicy J on Labor Day weekend.

"We would pile into the car. It would be about three or four of us in the backseat, and I remember we would wait [in the parking lot] until it was time to really perform, because we weren't supposed to be in there so we didn't want no drama," Tink says. "People be smoking they weed. People will have they Hennessy bottles. It be live," she adds. "You'll never see that type of energy again, 'cause Adrianna's was just on a whole 'nother level."

Top: The former home of Adrianna’s. Bottom: DJ Reese, Tink’s DJ, used to spin at Adrianna’s in the booth that’s still there behind the pool table. - VIDEO STILLS BY MORGAN ELISE JOHNSON
  • Top: The former home of Adrianna’s. Bottom: DJ Reese, Tink’s DJ, used to spin at Adrianna’s in the booth that’s still there behind the pool table.
  • Video stills by Morgan Elise Johnson

In summer 2016, Adrianna's became Stadium Plus, and in October of that year it shut down after a 36-year-old man was shot and killed by police—according to the Tribune, they were responding to calls about a fight behind the building. But the club had been scarred by violence for years—between Christmas Eve 2010 and July 2016, at least eight people were shot there, and two of them died.

You don't have to look far to see this closure as part of a pattern. Also in 2016, popular hip-hop club the Shrine, located in a gentrifying South Loop neighborhood, was shut down by the city after a patron was shot in the head outside. Black Chicagoans complain that incidents like these are taken as pretexts to unfairly target the venues they frequent, because officials and residents equate gatherings of black people with violence. Late last month, WGCI's Takeover Jam at the Chicago Theatre, featuring buzzing hip-hop artists such as YFN Lucci and Rich the Kid, was shut down before it started when Chicago police cited "specific safety and security concerns for the surrounding area." WGCI radio personality DJ Moondawg took to Twitter to remind his listeners that no similar official responses greet much bigger but largely white Saint Patrick's Day and Lollapalooza crowds—and to ask them to look up the phrase "coded racism."

"Our city, we just gotta do better so we can come and party in peace," Tink says.

“If you take over Adrianna’s, if you get a banger here, nine times out of ten it’s going to blow up.” —Tink - OLIVIA OBINEME
  • “If you take over Adrianna’s, if you get a banger here, nine times out of ten it’s going to blow up.” —Tink
  • Olivia Obineme

Did the closure of Adrianna's leave a hole in Chicago rap? Tink thinks so. Though she doesn't want to minimize the occasional violence that doomed the club, she misses the space it provided for emerging artists to thrive—and she thinks there must be a way for the city to maintain something like that. "It sucks. It'll never be another Adrianna's," she says.

"You go to Atlanta and they in the clubs, and it might be turned up but they really just trying to get a bag," Tink continues. "If we all had that mentality, Chicago would be on fire even more than it is. It all just started with us just doing our parts and making sure we're setting that right example, so when you come through, people know that you're coming for a good time or you coming just to count it up. It's no bullshit involved."  v

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