Before TGT was making its way around the world giving every woman the ultimate eargasm, Tank was only one man looking for stardom while growing up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. After following the usual footsteps of most R&B singers, the soulful sex symbol found his way to music through a church choir. Now, 13 years after the release of his debut album, Force of Nature—and less than 10 months after he, Tyrese and Ginuwine let audiences in on their first group project, Three Kings—Tank is gearing up for the release of his seventh album, Stronger.

Admitting he is now more confident in his lyrical ability than ever, the 37-year-old singer is loving the fan reaction he’s getting from the record’s first single and anticipating how audiences will react when they hear the whole project. People are like, “This is different from Tank, but it feels good, though,” says the singer/songwriter. The heartfelt musician opened up to to talk new music, sampling Michael Jackson and, of course, why women think he is such a force of nature.

EBONY: Why call this project Stronger?

Tank: Musically, it leans to my strengths as a musician; as a singer; as a songwriter; as the entertainer I’ve always wanted to be. This album is freedom to me. I’m not compromising being talented, [and] I’m not apologizing for the gifts God has given me. On the flip side, from a spiritual and mental standpoint I’ve had to go through a lot in the last few years to get to a space where I am this happy or this excited about my life and where it’s going.

EBONY: You recently celebrated the 13th anniversary of your debut, Force of Nature. Does your new album hold anything comparable to hits like “Maybe I Deserve” and “Slowly”?

Tank: I have a record on this album that’s extremely special. It’s called “I Hope This Makes You Love Me.” This record just speaks to the idea of how we try to barter for love. How we, in a sense, try to pay for it—like to love a person and to not get [love] in return, or the same love in return and how far we’re willing to go to have that love reciprocated the way we want it to be. It’s like we do anything for it, and at the end of the day, it’s just in hope of being loved in return. This song is an experience.

EBONY: Aside from “I Hope This Makes You Love Me,” you dropped “You’re My Star,” which samples the Jacksons’ “This Place Hotel.” What made you decide to use pieces of MJ on your album?

Tank: It was actually just a moment where I was creating. I was trying to find something really cool to make a song with, and I started with the bassline. Unconsciously I started playing “Heartbreak Hotel.” As a musician, it’s just one of those bassline that you have to know. I’m playing this bassline, and I’m like, “Oooooh, this could be something. If I used Michael Jackson, it’s a nostalgic moment [but] at the same time [could be] something current.”

EBONY: Is the single written for anyone special?

Tank: The song wasn’t written for anybody in particular, it was just [written] for all women period. I get so irritated with women being called b*tches and hoes on songs, and those songs climbing to number one—you know, those songs just being the barometer by which all records are measured. [It’s] disappointing that my record doesn’t have this disrespectful shock value that [makes] you [not] want to play it on your big station. You need something degrading and defiling to gain listeners. We gotta change that. For all the records that are calling [women] out of [their] name, this record is going to mention who you really are: you’re a star, [and] you’re appreciated.

EBONY: What do you think is the biggest difference between R&B circa 2000 when you debuted and R&B’s sound now?  

Tank: When I first came out, it was great. Back then, the ballad was still working; the heartfelt song was still working. It took a turn when the digital age came in, and the social media craze started. Now, I think we’re making the turn where people want real again. Adele comes out of nowhere and gives you real, heartfelt music… and 10 million records later, people start to realize that people do want good R&B music. We just gotta give it to them.

EBONY: So would you say R&B is in a good place right now?

Tank: The shift is happening organically. People are looking at the Robin Thicke records and the new Justin [Timberlake] records and the Pharrell records and the Bruno Mars records, and they’re looking at those as R&B records because, quite honestly, that’s what R&B used to sound like. It used to be happy and fun with the sexy moments and the blues moments. [But] we’ve graduated to a state where kids and parents can’t even listen to music together.

EBONY: When you released Force of Nature and the records that you did, did you plan on using those to launch you into the R&B sex symbol that you’ve become?

Tank: I can honestly say I didn’t know that was gonna happen. I actually just wanted to just tell my story. The song “Maybe I Deserve” was basically just the truth. It was just what happened to me: what she said, what I said, what she did, what I did, and what she did after. I never thought that a song like “Maybe I Deserve” would be sexy. When you’re a young boy, you don’t know that the truth turns a woman on.

EBONY: Now that you know the truth is a woman’s turn-on, what’s your turn-off?

Tank: We’ll just go with the physical first. Bad feet. I have a foot fetish, so feet are very important to the process. And two, I’m turned off by women who aren’t willing to receive what a real man has to offer. I can’t blame it all on them, because they run into very few real men, but my idea of what a real man is, is my great-grandfather.

Before he passed, he worked at the steel mill. He had maybe a fifth grade education. When he would get his check, he would come home [and] have enough money to buy hamburgers and hot dogs and buns and stuff, so he could put it on the grill and cook for everybody. He would give the rest of the money to his wife so that she could take care of the bills, put money up [and] if she wanted to get something nice, she could. I watched him watch her, and protect the house with no money. She didn’t worry about, “How am I gonna pay these bills? How am I gonna help myself, my house, my cars?” Nothing. Big Daddy took care of that, and very few men do that these days.

EBONY: So we have to know, what’s been the thing you’ve encountered going to dinner or walking down the street?  

Tank: Fans just ask me to do weird stuff. They’ll be like, “Can you take your shirt off?” And I’ll be like, “Well, how am I gonna eat dinner with my shirt off in a restaurant? I’m not sure Ruth’s Chris [Steak House] is gonna be excited about a naked man eating in their restaurant.” Or they’ll be like, “Can you just like your lips?” And I’ll be like, “I don’t normally do that. I don’t have it on call, just a lick-your-lips button.”