Eleven years ago, in 2007, is when Teyana Taylor was first introduced to the public eye — as a 16-year-old girl on MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen. Signed to Pharrell Williams Star Trak label, this young Harlem girl with style and panache commanded the best of the best for an exclusive extravagant birthday celebration. The world first learned of Teyana Taylor as Pharrell’s artist, and she stayed with him for three years, but we never really got any music from her during that period except the Billboard hit “Google Me” in 2008. Even as she signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music in 2012, the question remained: Where is the music?
And after that, for a while, it felt like GOOD Music was putting other artists on the label before Teyana. Although they released her 2012 mixtape The Misunderstanding Of Teyana Taylor, and her debut album VII in 2014, both projects flew under the mainstream radar. Regardless, both were impressive enough to help Taylor continue building out her loyal fan base. While VII is a fantastic R&B album with considerable replay value, its topics are typical: surface-level singing of broken relationships, unrequited love, lost apologies, heartbreaking arguments, and of course lust. There was nothing there that felt truly in-depth to make you feel like you understand who she is as an artist.
Four years later, her sophomore album K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy) takes Teyana’s sound outside of contentment and unmasks her ability to offer something more creative compared to her past music releases. It extends heartfelt emotion and vulnerability, yes, but this is also a grown-up, contemporary album. Though appreciated, Teyana’s voice deserves more than trendy ’90s R&B production that the more-recent mixtape The Cassette Tape 1994 gave us, or even the relatively safe R&B beats we heard on VII. Those were great projects, but Kanye allows us to hear Teyana’s natural voice as he hears it; his production exposes the texture of her voice by using real instruments, slow-strummed guitars, and of course, his signature sped-up old school samples. Nothing about K.T.S.E. is superficial, and that’s what makes it special.
Only after Pusha T, Nas, his own solo album, and a collab record with Kid Cudi did Kanye give us K.T.S.E. Perhaps Ye was saving the best for last? This is also the only album out of the quintet of GOOD music releases that carries eight songs instead of seven. First off, it’s important no one sleeps on “Gonna Love Me,” an exquisite love song that perfectly uses The Delfonics’ “I Gave To You” as a sample to reverberate throughout the song’s chorus. Tey addresses relationship struggles on “Gonna Love Me” and sings a relatable story of running back to the one you love after a small argument.
“I’m sorry if I made you feel less than who you are / A little insecure, oh, you’s a shining star,” she sings before getting into the chorus. “I wanna spend my nights with you / My life with you, oh baby, babe / Please wait up for me till whenever I get home / I know that you’re all alone.”
With Kanye’s superb production as a canvas, Teyana can exercise her rich voice to its highest potential, especially on “Issues/Hold On,” where the vibe is as soft as the lyrics are bare. You can feel her voice weave beautifully along the strumming of a happy guitar as she peels back layers of insecurity and begs for her lover’s patience as she grows from a suffering past. Then, there’s the intimate “Hurry,” a fun song that carries over the bright vibe from “Issues/Hold On” directly into the sudden moans heard at the peak of it. Once you get over the sex sounds, the song becomes easier to absorb, carrying on its cheery sound. Though Kanye’s production here is strong, I wish he would’ve stayed behind the boards and sat rapping out on this one — his verse washes out what could’ve otherwise been a super sexy song.
What I do appreciate about Kanye’s aesthetic is that he’s always trying things out and I must admit, the “No fade outs” transition into “3Way” is pretty badass. It’s very in your face and if sexually explicit themes in music make you feel uncomfortable, close your ears. Teyana sings about, you guessed it, all the intimate things that go on during a heated, three-way romp, and Ty Dolla $ign’s voice at the end is a nice treat, with their voices joining together in a final euphoric moment. The production also features input from Grammy Award-winning producer Rodney Jerkins, adding a nice layer of R&B authenticity.
Above all, the standout on K.T.S.E is “Rose From Harlem.” This song must be the reason her album title is the acronym K.T.S.E., for “Keep That Same Energy.” You can hear the rawness in Teyana’s voice as she calls out the ones she’s closest to, the ones she trusts and the ones she looks up to. She sings about people pressing her about Kanye, questioning her music career and criticizing everything about her. “Rose In Harlem” is a tribute to Tupac’s poem “The Rose That Grew From Concrete,” an allegory for enduring hard circumstances and this album is nothing short of Teyana’s reflection of her journey in the music business.
“Oh no, what a shame / 10 years in the game,” she reflectively sings. “N—-s like ‘You ain’t hot? You ain’t pop yet? / What’s up wit’ you and Ye?'”
Even more so, on the prayerful “Never Would Have Made It,” which samples Marvin Sapp’s gospel record of the same title, Teyana really shines, blooming into the woman she is today on what is a tremendously inspiring song. Now, she has her own reality show, Teyana & Iman on VH1 starring her husband Iman Shumpert of the Sacramento Kings and their baby Junie. The album’s seventh song embodies Teyana’s growth from a self-absorbed teenager into a grown, loving woman.
The soul emanating from “Never Would Have Made It” sounds like a suitable way to end K.T.S.E. until “WTP” comes on. “WTP” stands for “work this pussy” and you learn that quick. At this point, you’re either snapping out of a blissful moment to press pause or sticking around for the ride. Though a good song on its own, the abruptness of “WTP” after awakening from such a pure, soulful moment with “Never Would Have Made It” makes this final track feel more like a bonus song than part of a solid body of work. Overall, K.T.S.E. does an outstanding job at exposing Teyana Taylor’s remarkable talent. If the world didn’t realize she is a budding R&B star before, they will now.
K.T.S.E. is out now via GOOD Music/Def Jam. Get it here.