Tank Rolls With His Force Of Nature

First solo effort from Blackground Records (Aaliyah, Timbaland) surprises with strong chart debut.

Talk about having pressure put on you.

Not only did the heads of Blackground Records, Barry and Jomo Hankerson, give Durrell "Tank" Babbs the ball as the leadoff artist in their new partnership with Virgin Records; the newcomer also had to contend with comparisons to percolating projects by his labelmates, Aaliyah and Timbaland.

"It's incredible," Tank said. "I wasn't slated to be the first act off the label. We just came up with some amazing records that Jomo and Barry felt could lead the new merger. Virgin was real happy with it and said, 'Let's do it.' All of a sudden it was, 'Tank, the pressure is on you, what you gonna do?' "

Blackground's intuition paid off, as Tank's Force of Nature debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart the week after its release, surprising industry insiders with over 97,000 copies sold.

The LP, which also debuted on the Billboard 200 at #7, is filled with edgy tracks such as "My Freak" and "Lady on My Block," yet much of Tank's success can be attributed to his mellower hit, "Maybe I Deserve." On the song, the former high-school football star sings about how his mate is justified in her infidelity because he cheated on her first.

"In my experience, a lot of times what you do comes back to haunt you," Tank said. "That's more or less the catch of the song. I wrote it from a female's perspective. It's just something men don't touch on. We feel no matter what we say or do, we don't deserve [anything] that comes back and haunts us."

The 20-year-old, who's had his moniker since he was a baby ("They called me Tank because I had a big head and big stomach," he explained, laughing), put plenty of time on the road before getting a deal. He gained recognition while singing background on tour for Ginuwine and Aaliyah and was signed shortly after, in 1998.

Tank then spent time honing his singing and songwriting skills and logging long hours in the studio; he recorded over 80 songs, he said, including his entire LP and tracks for a new album in the works. More recently, he penned songs for Dave Hollister's latest LP and earned songwriting and production credits on new albums by Aaliyah and Ideal.

The time spent on the bench and behind the scenes was valuable for other reasons, too. "I got to learn a little bit more about the business," Tank explained. "I got to sit with Barry and Jomo and talk strategy. It totally prepared me."

The next salvo from Tank is from "the sexy side" of his album; a ballad titled "Slowly." A Blackground Records tour, possibly to kick off before the end of the year, is also being talked about. The singer, who grew up in Milwaukee and Maryland, welcomes it all.

"I'm enjoying the pressure," Tank said. "They can't throw enough dates my way, or enough in-stores or enough concerts."