In recent years, the lines between the various genres of Black music have become blurred, specifically that of Hip-Hop and R&B. Tank, one of R&B foremost artists, believes that many of today’s top rappers sound like singers, and vice versa. While rap has risen to the top of popular culture, traditional R&B, from the male standpoint, seems to have suffered. Decreasing record sales and a lack of representation is hurting the artform that produced acts such as New Edition, Usher, Boyz II Men, and Lucky Daye, among others.
For upwards of two decades, Tank has managed to put out records consistent to the sound of R&B, beginning with his debut, 2001’s Force of Nature. Today, he releases his final full-length studio album, but not for the reasons that one may think. He believes that in order to sustain the integrity of his genre, he must take a step back from the recording process and reach out to the young and talented artists waiting for their opportunity to shine. R&B Money may be his last solo project, but he still has so much more to give.
“I have a goal to build an army of singers, songwriters, and producers. The kind of time that I need to do that, I can’t do it always being in album cycles, and in tour mode,” Tank tells ESSENCE. “Somebody has to make sacrifices and go have tough conversations, and build real bridges to make sure that R&B has more places to go. So, there’s only so much I can do behind the microphone. I think that’s the only way that we’re truly going to move forward.”
His experience as a background singer, featured artist, and ultimately a solo act has given Tank the tools to effectively create a network of like-minded individuals, with a focus on R&B preservation. “As someone who truly has lived R&B music, we are the only ones who can curate the space. When we had Babyface and L.A. Reid and Laface Records, they were able to do that very thing,” says the 46 year-old musician. “They were able to give us all these amazing musical moments because they knew music. Not only did they know music but they had been successful at music, so you could take their word for it.”
“They were able to build that legacy,” he continues. “So you ask yourself, ‘who’s done that since then?’ Nobody. I don’t know why, because maybe nobody has really been willing to take that sacrifice and to step back outside of the spotlight to shine it on other people.”
The spotlight that this Maryland native is referring to has allowed him to reach the heights of the music industry, earning multiple accolades, including four Grammy nominations, a Soul Train Award nod, and the respect of his contemporaries. In addition to these achievements Tank has also ventured into the field of acting, appearing in films such as Preacher’s Kid (2010), and shows like Single Ladies (2012), The New Edition Story (2017), and Hit the Floor (2018).
As his list of responsibilities increased, the task of recording music became more and more daunting, but Tank’s passion for R&B still remained. During the construction of his final album, he went through an unforeseen setback that not only threatened his livelihood, but his overall quality of life. It was this obstacle however, that made recording R&B Money an extremely memorable undertaking. “It ended up being a different kind of process, a more special kind of process, because in the middle of it I lost my hearing in my right ear and developed vertigo,” he says.
“So, now I have to figure out how to sing from this different place,” the father of five continues. “The things that you would only hear on the right side and not the left – I’m kind of missing all those moments. So, yeah, this process was different and more difficult because I went through a state of depression, went through a period of being out of shape, I went through a period of taking medicine that damaged my body in a sense. It turned into a very difficult process that I didn’t see coming. That’s what made it special, trying to figure out how to persevere and get it done in spite of that.”
In June, Tank launched his new podcast, which shares the same name as his final album. He, along with co-host J. Valentine, started this podcast as an extension of his greater goal, along with creating a space for artists, executives and entertainers. “It’s the conversation about music and the nuances of how we do our music,” he says. It’s a platform for us. We have to build out as much R&B space as we possibly can, and it starts here. Then it moves to award shows, and festivals, and it will continue to grow until R&B has just as many places to go as hip-hop.”
In the end, it’s all about finding a purpose larger than yourself. For Tank, that means breathing life into an artform that has afforded him, as well as a long list of others, a wealth of opportunities from their vocal ability. “It’s about shining a light on the newer artists,” he says. “And it’s our job to make sure R&B is left in good hands.”