Review: Teyana Taylor 'K.T.S.E'
You may not have heard much about her but trust me, Teyana Taylor has been grinding behind the scenes way before she was grinding in Kanye West’s ‘Fade’ video 2 years ago. The 27-year-old from Harlem first came on my radar when she appeared in season 4 of MTV’s ‘My Super Sweet 16’ back in 2007. At that point she’d already secured her first record deal, signing with Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak Entertainment label just weeks before her TV debut. Her musical debut, however, was delayed a further 7 years. After switching labels to work with Kanye in 2012, VII was released in 2014.
Teyana’s first album, although a masterful showcase of her vocal ability, didn’t gather much momentum. In the meantime, she made sure she was getting money in other ways; pursuing gigs in dancing and acting while also starting a family with her husband, NBA player Iman Shumpert. It’s safe to say Teyana Taylor has glowed up in every sense, from the demanding and slightly bratty teen she was in ‘Sweet 16’ to hard-working and empowered songstress she is today, this new album may be just what it takes to get her the recognition she has so long deserved.
As the fifth and final release from Kanye West’s ‘Wyoming series’- a collection of albums produced by the rapper for artists signed to his GOOD Music record label- Teyana Taylor’s ‘K.T.S.E’ is an uplifting blend of soulful, sweet and sexy, much like the vocalist herself. Out of everyone West has worked with for this project, Teyana is by far the most talented vocally, and it is her voice, rather than Kanye’s beats, that lends the album a unique flavour and sets it apart from the rest.
In fact, many of her die-hard fans took to Twitter to complain that ‘lazy’ production on this album, has meant that it does not meet the expectations set by ‘VII’. While I don’t completely agree with this (on ‘WTP’ Kanye has created a beat that could instantly fill dance floors anywhere) I can see where they’re coming from. Unlike the other Wyoming releases, the album seems erratic and unbound by theme. Kanye’s influence is overbearing (samples on samples on samples) and it doesn’t leave much room for the listener to grasp what Teyana’s signature sound is.
Azealia Banks, amongst others, pointed out that the late release of ‘K.T.S.E’ (which was scheduled to come out on Friday but didn’t reach listeners until last Saturday afternoon) is emblematic of the fact that, as the sole female signed to his label, West invests much less time and energy into the promotion of Teyana’s work than that of his other artists. Personally, I don’t think Teyana should stick around to let Kanye redeem himself. Being at a label that values her as much as any other client, and perhaps one that is more used to dealing with female artists of her calibre, is the least she deserves.
Regardless, I believe that K.T.S.E is further proof that, with or without Kanye, Teyana Taylor is destined to be a household name in R&B. Her voice glides effortlessly across a range of beats and while the songs don’t exactly melt into each other, Teyana’s caramel-smooth tone provides all the continuity you need. The stand out tracks on the album for me are ‘Rose in Harlem’ and ‘Gonna Love Me’. Starkly different yet equally popping, the former features Taylor rap-singing against a gritty, old-school hip-hop beat, accompanied by a sample of the 70s soul band The Stylistics and is definitely the best produced of the 8 tracks. The latter is reminiscent of SZA or Jhene Aiko with its classically romantic, retro R&B vibe and puts Taylor’s vocals where they deserve to be: at centre-stage.
This is the album that’ll put Teyana Taylor’s name on the map as not just a dancer or reality TV star who can sing, but as a bomb-ass vocalist with multi-facetted talent that transcends several sectors of the entertainment industry. She clearly is not afraid of her sexuality as is evident in lyrics like “her on top of me, You on my face, ride me like the wraith’ from the fifth and raunchiest song on the album ‘3Way’. As a black woman in an industry that loves using black women’s sex-appeal against them, (see criticism of Nicki Minaj / Lil Kim / Cardi B for starters), I hope she surrounds herself with people who really want to see her succeed as she enters what looks like a very exciting stage in her career.