Various dictionaries define the word “strength” or “stronger” as “being able to withstand great force or pressure,” “possessing skills and qualities that create a likelihood of success,” and “firmly held or established.” Durrell Babbs, more commonly known as singer-songwriter-producer Tank, is in his fourteenth year of his career and showing no signs of slowing down, hence making him a “strong” candidate in the R&B music game. He knows it too (his stage moniker is Tank for crying out loud!), but in addition, that’s why he’s titling his sixth solo studio album, Stronger, which arrives on Aug. 12. It’s a simple statement of his physical, mental, and musical fortitude.
During our photo shoot with Tank for the inaugural issue of Singersroom’s digital cover series, the 38-year-old dished on his source of strength, citing personal growth as the reason behind this new era of robust creativity. “What makes me stronger is growth. I think that if we all give way to experience and accept the teachings, accept the understandings that goes along with it, then you really have no choice but to become stronger. You really have no choice but to benefit from all the trials and tribulations from the good times as well as the bad times,” Tank intimately reveals. “And this information has taken me into a space where musically, I’m at my best; I’m at my strength, physically, spiritually, mentally.”
Regarded as one of the most underrated entertainers in R&B, Tank knows that it takes tough skin to maintain a sound mindset, and to stay the course. “The things I thought that could break me have only made me stronger; it’s something that they call when all the stars align and right now it’s just one of those times for me. The music reflects it, the subject matter reflects it, the attitude reflects it,” he says.
Tank is no stranger to growth: after turning down a college football career to pursue music, then perking up ears by singing background for Ginuwine, he went on to release his 2001 debut LP, Force of Nature, which spawned the hit single, "Maybe I Deserve." Four more solo albums followed (‘One Man’, ‘Sex, Love & Pain’, ‘Now or Never’ and ‘This Is How I Feel’) — He peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart with “Please Don’t Go” from 2007’s Sex, Love & Pain. His songwriting and production credits aren’t shabby either after working with the late Aaliyah, Jamie Foxx, Donell Jones, Beyoncé, Monica, Omarion, and Dave Hollister as a part of the famed Underdogs production team.
“The creative process for me, kind of all happen at the same time conceptually,” he says. “When I come up with a melody, I’m already singing on stage… It’s almost like a build backwards to try and fill the space between the inception of the idea and the life that I see it taking on. I’m pretty much inspired by anything.”
Just listen to the previously released singles “You’re My Star,” “Stronger” and “Dance With Me” and you'll hear the obvious: Tank is coming for blood on this next album! The swingy, horn arrangements on "You’re My Star" echo the same sentiment of The Jacksons’ "This Place Hotel”; he’s utilizing some throwback magic to sweeten the ears of the grown, and to produce timeless sounds after trying out the harder “trap and B” sounds heard on his last solo album, 2012’s This Is How I Feel.
Tank – Digital Cover
Case in point, “Stronger,” an epic power ballad for the ages: they just don’t make R&B songs like this anymore! It respectfully mimics Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” or Michael Jackson’s “Stranger in Moscow,” in which a story is presented through haunting, strong production, and emotional lyrics… not to mention soaring vocals about overcoming obstacles, all thanks to a special lady. This would explain why he considers strength to be just that: and outpouring of emotion. “It’s the person who isn’t afraid to take that emotional leap, someone that isn’t afraid to share that sensitivity, the person who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, that’s the strongest because it’s easy to not get involved," he explained. "It takes a stronger person to rebound and to get back up from being knocked down. I’m gonna continue to be emotionally available, continue to put my heart out there, eventually it’ll work in my favor… That is what I consider strength, that is how I define a real man, that, at the end of the day, will cry for his woman…those are the types of men that I was raised by, and that’s the type of man that I want to be.”
Speaking of emotional strength, crying isn’t off limits to the veteran artist either. One must be in touch with his or her emotions to really touch people, and Tank knows this. “I’ve cried in front of a few audiences. I try not to get into the cry where you can’t really rebound, you know, snotting and stuff, but I really just feed off of the emotions of the crowd,” he says. But what really turns on the waterworks for Tank is the fact that he’s still in the game thanks to the outpouring of love from his fans and supporters; that’s half of where his “musical muscle” stems from. "It’s always been love … I know so many artists who started this journey with me, and they’re no longer apart of this journey, they’re no longer supported or sought after, no one really cares anymore, and to be 14 years in and still have a camera on me and people still asking me questions and caring about the answers, that makes me emotional. I’m not afraid to be that way.”
The upcoming Stronger comes after the multi-talented artist joined fellow R&B peers Tyrese and Ginuwine as one-third of the powerhouse group, TGT. The trio released the LP, Three Kings, in 2013, which earned them a Grammy nomination for “Best R&B Album” and a No. 3 spot on the Billboard 200 chart. The group had both their successes and failures (unorganized flubs like standing up Arsenio Hall, the bizarre performance on "The Couch" morning show), but Tank’s work ethic drove him to step away from the group to pursue the creative juices brewing in his spirit: his grind makes him stronger, as well. He explained, “When we finished the TGT project, I was like ‘That was a great project, but oh, we could of done better.’ Now that I’m on to this Stronger project, I’m so excited about it, can’t wait to put it out in stores, but I know three months after that project drops, I’m gonna say ‘oh, but I could of done better’ and I’ll be right back grinding again, trying to figure out how to be better.”
Tank – Digital Cover
As an artist on the verge of putting out arguably one of the best R&B albums this year, it’s safe to say Tank (and the 14 years of experience trailing behind him) would have a valid opinion about the current state of the genre. He values individuality, and wants to see more in the genre: “Inspiration is one thing, but copying that’s a whole ‘nother [thing],” he explained. “We’re losing the authenticity of what these artists can be and what they could really mean to the musical world. I would like to hear a collage of personalities, individuality… Those differences should be expressed in our music.” He continues, naming artist who has made an impact from just being themselves. “I had Jomo and Barry Hankerson, who created an R. Kelly, managed Gladys Knight, who had The Winans, Aaliyah, God rest her soul, and Timbaland; they were a part of creating lanes. The people I’ve named, there’s nobody like them. So I was able to be a part of that where I was encouraged to be myself.”
At the end of the day, Tank (like the French Montana song goes) ain't worried bout nothin', because when it comes to his legacy, Tank’s looking at a strong one in R&B, the genre he holds close to his heart. “I fight for music that I can feel, that has an impact on people’s lives. I remember hearing certain songs, certain chord changes, certain melodies; they would literally change my mood… when I finally understood what that music was, it was R&B music… I find myself trying to create those moments of my own, so I could share with people and they could feel the way I felt when I heard that [R&B] music.”
He continues: “I just wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be remembered as one of those musical entities that defined the space of time with his music; made you fall in love, made you cry, made you dance, and inspired you to hold on just a little bit longer.”
And so he keeps his word: Tank continues to move people with his relatable, timeless music, which tugs on your emotional strings. And with the release of his upcoming infectious musical opus titled Stronger, his legacy is sure enough strengthening along with it. “I don’t think I have any fears when it comes to my musical journey. I would risk it all for what I believe, what I feel is right musically, for where I feel I wanna go, what’s gonna be best for me in my music career; I’ll just let the chips fall where they may. This album is different from the last, the next will be different from that one, hopefully they buy it; it’s good music, it’s coming from the heart, and at the end of the day, even if you don’t like it, you gotta respect it, and I’ll take that.”
Strength often comes with a combination of having a wealth of experiences, confidence, and maturity. And that, my friends, was spoken like a truly strong artist.
“With all the work that I’ve put in, I haven’t necessarily stopped to count accolades. I haven’t stopped to acknowledge the thank yous, I’m not really ready to do that,” says Tank. “I feel like a have so much more to accomplish.”
Contributions by Elle Breezy and DJ Jus Music
Photos by Karl Ferguson Jr.