Tank might not be a superstar, but as a rare and unwavering proponent of gospel- and soul-rooted commercial R&B, the singer, songwriter, and producer has stood out since his debut at the turn of the 21st century. Contrary to his reputation as a niche artist, Tank has hit the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 with Force of Nature (his 2001 debut), the Grammy-nominated Sex Love & Pain (2007), and This Is How I Feel (2012), and achieved the feat a fourth time with Three Kings (2013), as one-third of TGT, beside peers Tyrese and Ginuwine. One factor in Tank's enduring relevance has been his collaborative work behind the scenes, frequently in support of younger vocalists. Among his most well-known songs as a writer or featured singer are Pleasure P's Top Five R&B/hip-hop hit "Under" and Chris Brown's "Take My Time," both of which were nominated for Grammy awards in the R&B field.
Born Durrell Babbs in Milwaukee before later moving to the Washington, D.C., suburb of Clinton, Maryland, Tank became interested in music at an early age. As a youth, he was able to develop his singing ability at his local church, where his cousin was choir director. In his teens, Tank became interested in sports as well as music, and considered playing college football. Ultimately, he stuck with music and landed an opportunity tour as a background vocalist for Ginuwine. Further opportunities presented themselves, most notably with Dave Hollister, whose album Chicago '85...The Movie (2000) includes several songs crediting Tank as a composer.
A recording contract with Blackground Records followed, resulting in Tank's solo debut, Force of Nature (2001), which spawned a pair of singles ("Maybe I Deserve," "Slowly") and topped Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart (number seven overall). A second solo album, One Man (2002), followed shortly thereafter and was nearly as successful as its predecessor, spawning another pair of singles ("One Man," "Let Me Live") and breaking into the Top Five of the R&B/hip-hop chart (number 20 overall). During and after this period of ascent, Tank also busied himself as a writer and producer. His credits included contributions to high-charting albums from Blackground labelmate Aaliyah, Dave Hollister, Brian McKnight, and Fantasia, as well as Marques Houston, Jamie Foxx, Monica, and Kelly Rowland. The demand for Tank's input necessitated a five-year break between solo albums, but Sex Love & Pain (2007) was embraced instantly nonetheless, entering the R&B/hip-hop chart at the top (and number two overall) and earning a Grammy nomination in the category of Best R&B Album. Its "Please Don't Go" was nominated for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.
In 2009, the same year he co-wrote Pleasure P's Top Five R&B/hip-hop hit "Under" and appeared on Chris Brown's "Take My Time" — two more Grammy-nominated recordings — Tank moved from Blackground to Atlantic. His first effort for the major label, Now or Never (2010), included the number seven Adult R&B hit "Emergency" and featured Brown on "Foreplay." The singers reunited for the single "Lonely," a track that landed on Tank's This Is How I Feel (2012), his third album to top the R&B/hip-hop chart. As TGT, Tank, Tyrese, and Ginuwine then teamed up for the similarly successful Three Kings (2013), Tank's second Grammy-nominated LP. From that point through the end of the 2010s, Tank was more prolific than ever. Within six years, he issued four albums. Stronger (2014) and Sex Love & Pain II (2016) entered the R&B/hip-hop chart at the top, and were followed by Savage (2017) and Elevation (2019), sets that showed the artist continuing to adapt to mainstream R&B trends. ~ Andy Kellman & Jason Birchmeier