In late February 2007, MTV premiered Teyana Taylor’s episode of My Super Sweet Sixteen. “I’m a singer-rapper/dancer and I just signed to Pharrell's label, Star Trek,” she says, a short but compelling introduction. I remember wondering how someone so young—Taylor was 17 at the time—and relatively unknown was on MTV, and being offered a record contract by The Neptunes. This was the same Star Trek that inducted Kelis, Clipse, Slim Thug, and Robin Thicke. Would she be next?
Seven months later, Taylor returned to television, but this time it was as a B-girl in JAY-Z’s “Blue Magic” music video. Her hair wasn’t as big, her style not as bold, but that Harlem-bred confidence was present in every movement. From that moment, there was a mystique created by Taylor’s repeated pattern of vanishing and reappearing. Year after year, she would appear as a dancer in videos; heard as a singer on songs; watched as a model on runways or an actress on television. Throughout her expansive, 11-year career, she has done it all, and she has done everything well, gracing mediums of art and entertainment on no one’s time but her own.
K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy) is Taylor’s first album in four years. The long-awaited sophomore release also concludes the five-consecutive week G.O.O.D summer series that began on May 25, with Pusha-T’s DAYTONA. Taylor is far more famous now than when she first appeared on MTV, but her music doesn’t have the notoriety of a Nas, Cudi, or even Pusha. The release of K.T.S.E. may be a day late, but it still has the promise to break new ground, positioning Taylor's voice before listeners who were unaware, uninterested, or simply overlooked her debut.
K.T.S.E. is the moment of potential breakthrough I thought The Neptunes’ and Star Trek would’ve brought her over a decade ago, but as the saying goes: better late than never.
Per usual, the 1-Listen review rules are still in place—no stopping, no rewinding, and no fast forwarding. This is a gut reaction stream of consciousness, where I let the fingers move faster than the mind.
1. "No Manners"
I'm loving this already. Opulent strings and graceful piano keys. Teyana sounds lush, yet striking. Singing about having a man but not having manners. What a remarkable switch-up. Without any hard drums the entire energy shifts. I like the vocal effect. The song suddenly went to an opera. A form of audio cinema. This record came to life. It has a presence—simple, but as I said, also striking. Having a man, but not having manners is going to inspire Instagram captions until 2019. The attitude is energy.
2. "Gonna Love Me"
This sample! Shouts to The Delfonics! Delicate drums. Teyana sounds exquisite, her voice has a unique texture to it. The softness of this production is a nice pairing. It’s like a scoop of ice cream upon a warm brownie. Yep, this is desert. Sweet enough to cause teeth to rot. With the release of Everything Is Love, listeners are getting a double dose of black love R&B in 2018. Love is in the air this summer. Teyana did a little duet with the sample at the end. Love it. Such a nice, final touch. Elegant.
3. "Issues/Hold On"
Hmm. This sample sounds familiar. Is it a sample? Maybe not. It could be a male vocalist. That high note! The pace just increased. This has an after Sunday service groove to it. Teyana is giving me life. These vocals are absolutely gorgeous. The spirit of Lauryn Hill has seeped into the song’s soul. “I got my demons too, I know how you feel.” Who is writing for Teyana? Does she write her own songs? Why did Kanye add in these Galaga background effects? Hahaha. This reminds me of Leon Bridges, and how an artist can channel so many different eras with their vocals. I’m doing backflips. These background harmonies are spiritual. I’m head over headphones for this song. “Issues/Hold On” is a record Amy Winehouse would’ve made for Back To Black. I miss Amy. Woo! Teyana is sangin! A violin to close. We need more violin solos, please! She’s three-for-three.
4. "Hurry" ft. Kanye West
Okay, the first sample that didn’t grab me instantly. Not a bad thing. Seductive Teyana. Nice bounce. The inaugural Kanye West feature. Not once in my entire life did I ask to hear Kanye rap a Zaddy line. Not a terrible verse, but not necessary. At least he doesn’t overstay his welcome. I’m not enamored. The production isn’t as gripping. The flow switch up Teyana just pulled off is a highlight. She has to be the first artist to rhyme Jimmy Neutron and Jimmy Choo, ha. Representing for all the '90s babies who grew up on Nickelodeon and hip-hop. I wasn’t expecting the moans, hahaha. The beat doesn’t scream sexy to me, and the vibe just doesn’t sell the vision. Eh, not bad, but I can see myself hitting skip on the replay.
A slow build up. Now, this is sexy Teyana! “3Way” is music that matches the shower scene in the “Fade” music video. I can’t remember the last time a female R&B song was explicitly sex-driven. SZA’s Ctrl didn’t have a record like this, but I’m probably foolishly overlooking a Rihanna record. I'm loving that there are no drums. The imagery has reached the Zane novel level. I’m surprised Zane didn’t try her hand at writing R&B songs; those records would’ve moved like her books. Ty Dolla! Ha, this is his lane. I wish there was a modern, raunchy, but soulful Isley Brothers-esque R&B group that Ty Dolla could join. This is what I want from his forthcoming collab album with Jeremih. These kind of records. Someone get him his seven Kanye beats. These two sound very natural together.
6. "Rose In Harlem"
Interesting sample. I love the chords. We've got some bounce. These drums could knock a lot harder, but rapper Teyana is all attitude and swagger. She has an energy that is perfect for this era of trap music. She’s talking her shit. The record didn't need this sample. This is an anthem. And it could be a great single, minus the sample. “Just bought my third house no album out.” Talk that talk! I need a Beyoncé feature on the remix! This is a record she has to jump on. I’m glad the setbacks in the music industry didn’t affect Teyana's livelihood. Harder drums would have elevated this record, but I love everything “Rose In Harlem” does right. Strings to close.
7. "Never Would Have Made It"
Birds. It sounds like we're outdoors. Strong vocals! She’s singing her heart out! Oh! These drums aren’t it! They sound so muddled. Take them back. Take them back, Jesus! Teyana sounds great, but Ye really made a poor decision by picking these drums. A choir? Who is this on the lead background vocal? A very strong, uncredited performance. I can’t do this record. It was such a good idea. I love the Marvin Sapp interpolation, but the moment those drums dropped, my interest did as well.
Okay! This sounds like an anthem that Issa Rae will be working into the third season of Insecure. Crazy build up. Drums just dropped. Full vogue club record. YEP! THIS IS ONE! She's got her a record that’s about to take over the clubs. “WTP” is everything I thought Azealia Banks was going to build her legacy upon. I would’ve bet my bank account on Azealia becoming a force in the electronic, dance, vogue space. Teyana (Kanye?) added a curveball at the end. This will definitely be a favorite, and I can see this catching the kind of fire that will cause shows to erupt when it drops.
K.T.S.E. (first listen) closing thoughts:
The album arrived later than expected, the seven-track concept was discarded, and there’s no sign of the Lauryn Hill interlude that was teased, but all that aside, K.T.S.E. is an exquisite return to music for Teyana Taylor.
Soul oozes from Taylor's voice; it’s the standout instrument that makes each song a compelling listen. The production is featherweight thin, the kind of minimalism that exemplifies her voice. Most of the album sounds as if it was crafted to center Taylor as the attention grabber. Only “Hurry” and “Never Would Have Made It” sound like missteps that weren’t well paired with her vocals.
It’s a short project, but K.T.S.E. showcases the many sides of Taylor's artistic range. The vulnerability of “Issues/Hold On,” the boastfulness of “Rose In Harlem,” the lustful spirit of “3Way,” and the vogue queen energy of “WTP” are all vignettes that highlight what makes Teyana Taylor whole.
In a way, the G.O.O.D. Music summer series has served as an artistic reintroduction for all of its participants. K.T.S.E. exhibits an artist with a strong vocal and a demanding presence, one who can be used to make almost any kind of R&B or soul record. Taylor bragged that she can do anything, and I’m a believer that she can.
Like the four Kanye-produced albums that came before it, K.T.S.E. is a pleasant listen. It's a warm, soulful project that strays from sounding too modern, but isn’t weighed down by an overabundance of nostalgia. Taylor doesn’t borrow anyone else's voice, nor does she try to tailor the music to any particular audience. She made an album that answers the question I asked all those many years ago: who is this girl? K.T.S.E. is Teyana Taylor. Get to know her.
By Yoh, aka Yohana Taylor, aka @Yoh31