Imagine starting your career at age five. No seriously. Imagine already being career oriented and having a firm grip on your dreams before you even knew how to ride a bike. 20-year-old pop and R&B singer Tinashe knew she was destined to be a star the moment she was born. Her parents encouraged her to perform from such an early age, entertaining has become second nature to her. Versatility is her middle name. She worked with Tom Hanks in the movie Polar Express and the television show Two and a Half Men with Charlie Sheen. She has proven to be a formidable solo singer after her departure from the all-girl group The Stunners, dropping three mixtapes, most notably, her recent project Black Water. Black Water garnered rave reviews and the lead single “Vulnerable,” produced by Boi-1da, features rapper/producer of the moment Travis Scott. The single is a sultry ‘90s-esque track that showcases her never-ending vocal capabilities. We also get a sneak peek at her sensual side.
By teaming up with RCA to drop her debut album in 2014, Tinashe put herself in the ideal position to become a prime-time superstar. She sat down with us to discuss her tape Black Water, working with producers Ryan Hemsworth and Boi-1da, why she wish she could have had dinner with Whitney Houston, her ideal man, and more.
When did you fall in love with music?
I would say honestly as long as I could remember doing music. I’ve been in love with music. Literally my very first memory was to do music and be a singer. My parents kind of noticed at an early age that I love to perform, sing, dance, be on stage, and in front of cameras. They supported me and nurtured that in me. I never thought of doing anything else. So I would just say forever; my whole life.
Tell us about your childhood, we know you were born in Kentucky and then moved to LA.
Well I was born in Kentucky. I wasn’t really raised in Kentucky. I moved outside of Chicago when I was about three months old. While I was in Chicago, I really started dancing. I really started modeling. I started acting. I was in my first couple of movies. So I really got into show business young. My whole family picked up and moved to LA to support my career. Acting was kind of my way to appease the entertainer in me until I was old enough to be a singer because you can’t be a singer at age 12 or 13. (Laughs)
So I joined a girl group then.
The Stunners right?
Yeah, The Stunners. I was 14. I was in that group for a few years which I think was a really good learning experience to get acquainted with the music industry and recording professionally. When I was 18 I met ith my management and I’ve been working ever since. I’ve been putting out mixtapes. That’s almost basically where I’m at now. I put out the mixtape. I signed to RCA and I’ve been working on my debut album.
You said you’ve pretty much started at age five in the industry. Do you really have a chance to enjoy life as a kid? It’s clear that you were very career-oriented from a young age.
I don’t feel like I missed out on a childhood because I still had friends. I went to a public school until high school. But, at the same time, I don’t feel like I had the same experiences as most people did because I tested out of school at 9th grade. I didn’t finish the rest of high school like normal people did. I didn’t go to college. So there were a lot of experiences like that that I missed out on.
Right. But I don’t necessarily feel like I missed out because I was doing so many other things that were so much important to me during those times that it didn’t bother me that I wasn’t part of those things.
Tell us about you acting career?
I was in my first movie at age five. It was a pretty dramatic movie, Cora Unashamed. I did a few commercials. I was in The Polar Express with Tom Hanks. I was on Two and Half Men for a couple of episodes. That was more like when I was 15. But I did movies, commercials, and stage performances. Like I said, I just love to be in front of people and to be on stage performing.
So what can’t you do?
Snowboard. I know how to Ski! I can’t snowboard.
Take us back to the day you inked your contract with RCA. What were the initial feelings you had?
That was about a year ago now and I remember I was honestly so excited because I felt someone had really understood who I was as a creative person. A lot of times when I presented my music or who I was as an artist to people at the beginning to people, they didn’t get it. Maybe they would get it if I explained it to them, but it wasn’t like the understood off the bat. With RCA, I felt like when I performed my music and spoke to them for a little bit, they knew exactly my potential, what type of artist I was, and what I wanted to do. So I appreciated that from them.
Normally a project’s intro gives the listener great insight into who the artist is and what we’re in for. Your intro on “Black Water” was amazing. How did that come together?
Well the intro track “Black Water” was produced by Illmind. I was thinking conceptually about where I was trying to go with the tape. Black Water’s meaning symbolizes water at night when it’s calm before a storm comes, that’s the metaphor. I took the beat – which I think is so awesome – and just kind wrote this story about it. It kind of compares what’s important and materialism. It compares things that are expensive things that are priceless. Music to me is the most important possession or the most important thing that I have. So that was kind of the basis – the premise of that song.
You’ve done work with Bo1ida, Clams Casino, and Ryan Hemsworth. How was it working with those producers?
Amazing. Honestly, I’ve been working this past year with such amazing people, such such talented producers, songwriters, and other artists that I feel incredibly blessed at the position that I’m in.
When you’re a creative person and you work with other people who are creative, it just inspires you. It just adds to your creativity. As an artist, I feel like I am more well-rounded working with all these people. I’m very appreciative for having to work with all of them.
Hypothetically speaking, if you could open up for either Janet Jackson or Sade, who would you choose and why?
Because she was performing huge stadiums and her shows were so live and energetic. I would have loved to be a part of that and that zone and that energy. There’s nothing like that energy of a stadium full of people screaming for you. I only experienced that once when I was with the group. But, I’m looking forward to experiencing for it myself.
Here’s another hypothetical for you: If you can have dinner with any ’90s star – TV or music – who would you choose and why?
I think I would want to have dinner with Whitney Houston. I feel like she would have a very interesting point of view. She was a superstar at age 19 and kind of came out and did this whole gospel thing. You know, her whole career was just fascinating with all the stuff that she went through. I think it would be really interesting to sit down and ask her some questions like, “What was that experience like for you?” and here it firsthand. I think it would be really insightful.
For the guys out there. What do you look for in a guy? Or do you even have time to date with your hectic schedule?
It’s really not about time. It’s really about interest. I haven’t really been interested in dating lately because I’ve been so focused with making my music. That’s been my number one priority. Because I’m so young, I don’t feel like I need to be tied down at this point.
You’ve just broken a lot of hearts right now.
Music is just fun for me right now. If I come across somebody, then that’s great. What do I look for in a guy? I think probably somebody who’s respectful, who could have a good time, make me laugh, is spontaneous, and understanding of me and my career because it’s probably hard for people to understand. With all the hours you have to work and the traveling and the music business is kind of scary for people on the outside. If I could find somebody who’s understanding of that and likes to have fun when I’m around them, and can appreciate me, that’s probably the top priority.