Since the tender age of five, the R&B General has been playing the elegant instrument. In fact, the piano has been the driving force behind Tank’s signature songs “Maybe I Deserve” and “Please Don’t Go.”
“This is actually how I got my record deal,” Tank confidently tells Rated R&B. “This is the thing that set me apart from most people. I’m able to sit down in front of a piano, write a song, and go in the studio with every instrument and produce it myself.”
It’s a Friday afternoon in May and Tank has taken some time away from his lovely family by their home pool to join the call. He virtually offered a bag of chips before we got down into our discussion.
Before all else, the piano man had to be congratulated for While You Wait surpassing one million streams on Spotify.
His goal for the EP wasn’t to hit the one million mark on the streaming platform. Of course, that’s a perk; but the project was merely to “provide a soundtrack for the moment.” He also wanted to grant solace to those isolated and separated from those they want to be near.
“I just wanted to give my fans an up-close and personal feeling and no other way to do that than just a piano and a vocal,” Tank says.
In his first release since 2019’s Elevation, which featured his fourth number one R&B hit (“Dirty”), While You Wait is essentially a hand-written letter to a loved one that snapshots pure sincerity and subtle deficiencies in a standing romance.
Among those touted love songs are “Perfect” and “Facetime.” Both tracks contribute to the mammoth success in streams for While You Wait. For Tank, he’s scratching his head as to why those two are the EP’s standouts.
“I think ‘Facetime’ could have its own moment because at this point we’ve done so much facetiming on our phones that we’re praying and dying for some actual real facetime,” he explains. “In terms of the ‘Perfect’ song, I think so many people are trying to be perfect online that the idea that your imperfections are perfect is probably a breath of fresh air.”
Tank decided the new EP would zero in on his skills. Even as a triple threat, who is a singer-songwriter and producer, he sees much value in writing songs that speak and relate to others, rather than penning from his own perspective.
“I wasn’t necessarily trying to be current or on a wave [with that one],” Tank says. “It was just how I honestly felt and based on the life I’m living now. I think the [songwriting] process is being aware of where you are now and what you’re living in and the material comes naturally.”
Although Tank, 44, has collaborations with Chris Brown, Jacquees, Trey Songz, all from the new school of R&B, doesn’t mean he’s penning lyrics to reach their audience. He labels it as being “competitive,” particularly when his ability to stay relevant comes into question.
“I’m not on the outside [of the industry] trying to figure out how to be a part of it – I’m in it,” he says without a doubt. “I’m not seeing what the new kids are saying now or what the popular phrases are or whatever. I’m just being honest with the things I say and the things I do in my current day and the current time and hoping that it resonates with listeners. So with living it, you don’t have to search that hard.”
Since 2001, Tank has released nine solid albums with his debut album (Force of Nature) being his only RIAA-certified project. His catalog subtext is varied. Sex. Love. Pain. He believes the latter is celebrated more than others.
In 2014, he decided to shift the melodramatic narrative with Stronger, an album he made with retro-soul in mind to celebrate women. Unfortunately, the collection of love songs didn’t charm his female listeners in the way he had hoped.
“It’s tough because you want your fans to be around for the long-haul,” he says. “I remember telling my publicist that “I’m happy. Why can’t the people who enjoy me being sad, enjoy me being happy?”
He appreciates his fans for making his sad songs his signature hits, but he wants balance in his discography, too. “Because of ‘Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Maybe I Deserve’ I was able to break through with ‘When We.’ I’ve always done sexual songs but I kind of pushed the line with that one,” he says.
“So once they accepted that, it was cool but I still have yet to get them to accept my happy moments like ‘You’re My Star.’ Those should be big moments as well. I want to be happy and celebrate and appreciate women in a way that makes them feel like queens. I wish that part of my artistry could be accepted.”
As Tank strives for a balanced catalog, he seeks for the same on mainstream radio. “My Lovers,” on While You Wait, is a retrospective on the good times in music and life. It also addresses the disparity in artful love songs, particularly by Black artists, being in heavy-syndication.
“Name the Black love song on mainstream radio right now. Name the song with just a piano,” he states. “I could name you a few. Ed Sheeran can do just guitar and be on the [Billboard] Hot 100. Why isn’t Black love a part of the mainstream? Why can’t that be the balance? Why does everything they play that comes from [Black people] have to be about drug dealing, using, being incarcerated, twerking or whatever? All that’s fine — if that’s what you’re into but what about love? What about Black love?”
Nostalgia seems to be winning on urban radio and urban AC radio. Many of the recent hits contain a familiar sound in terms of production and lyrics. When asked about how he feels about more sampled songs receiving airplay than original R&B songs, Tank says he “loves and appreciates it” because he’s “snuck pieces from retro music and added them to some” of his own tracks.
“I love artists [sampling] for the simple fact that it keeps our foundation alive. We keep going back and dipping in the well of our foundation to make current moments,” he praises.
If artists decide to take from previously-made songs for their material, Tank expresses the hope that some homework is involved.
“I do want [artists] to understand what [the original is] when the producer sends them the record,” he says. “I want them to go back and check the original artist and the original song. I hope there is some education involved with that process. A lot of those [nostalgic] moments are from old love songs… just old vibes that were huge at their time. I do feel like there should be a balance. I think we should be allowed that originality as well as being able to be nostalgic.”
Like a lot of music fans, Tank says he misses the time when album booklets shared “who was helping make the magic.” If any of his fans purchased a traditional album, they’d see he co-wrote his first platinum single “When We.” It was his first major hit on urban radio after “Please Don’t Go” in 2007. Seeing much of his success on urban AC radio between that gap, Tank attributes the sensual song growing legs on urban radio to “being a really good song at a really good time that a lot of people wanted to hear it.”
“That’s really it. It was at urban AC, which has a feeling that we all know, and it just grew past it. It got bigger and the song just did the work. It went viral, too. When the song goes viral, it transcends any format for that matter. So, I had my first musical viral moment.”
This year, Tank looks to have more landmarks in his nearly 20-year solo career as he preps for the release of his tenth studio album. He had been in album mode prior to the recent EP and the quarantine. He says he is almost finished with the follow-up to 2019’s Elevation. “It’s going to be a situation. I can promise you that,” he says, boastfully.
How will his untitled album be a situation? “I’m going to make myself uncomfortable by making sure I get the tempo out there for people to respect,” he asserts. “Even with the people that I do records with, too.”
He continues to reveal his emphasis on the album and share an inside peek on elevating the brand this next era.
“A lot of times you take losses in that effort because I could do the same numbers if I continue to do the same thing but that’s not how you grow. That’s not how you build. So, I’ll just be expanding by continuing to stretch R&B and what it’s capable of. I just want to focus on some different things to occupy the space that I am in and to occupy some new spaces as well. So, this new album is going to do that. I’m not letting off the gas. We got plenty of gas in the tank,” he explains.
We ended up talking about virtual concert experiences before the conversation ended. Tank is open to the idea. In fact, he’d perform one of his nine albums from start to finish. “I would probably go with Savage since ‘When We’ is on there and we’ve had some great success with that album.” He changes his answer quickly, though. “Elevation got some stank on it (laughs). If everyone from that album said, “We’re rockin’ with you tonight,” it would be Elevation for sure.”
While You Wait is available on streaming platforms everywhere.