The Lowdown: For many, Kanye West’s “Fade” video may have served as an introduction to the inevitable superstar that is Teyana Taylor, but it was far from her debut. Taylor signed to West’s G.O.O.D. Music under Def Jam in 2012 and released her debut record, VII, in 2014. Four too many years later, Taylor’s K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy) closes out West’s five sequential G.O.O.D. Music releases. Taylor is the only R&B artist of that bunch, as well as the only member to produce eight songs, rather than seven. But being the final release of West’s ambitious five-albums-in-five-weeks plan had its drawbacks. A tweet from Kim Kardashian revealed that West was still finalizing K.T.S.E. on a flight to the album’s listening party in Los Angeles. It was then available on streaming services a day later than fans expected.
The Good: While VII was a collection of successfully sultry bedroom jams, K.T.S.E. is about reflection, acceptance, and commencement, performing simultaneously as a sex symbol and as a wife and mother and proving that those roles are not mutually exclusive. The Delfonics-sampled “Gonna Love Me” is a brown sugar-coated acknowledgement of the struggles of falling and staying in love. Through sampling soulful R&B spanning the last five decades, showcasing her underratedly wholesome, buttery, Alicia Keys-like vocals, and always maintaining a not-so-subtle hint of Ginuwine and D’Angelo-inspired sensual grooves, Taylor creates an unapologetic record of late-night slow jams that stem from a more mature, experienced perspective.
The Bad: Taylor is joined by Ty Dolla $ign on “3way”, on which the artists discuss inviting another woman into bed with them. The forwardness is welcome, but the angle Taylor takes is questionable. “Threeway, I couldn’t wait to have with you,” she belts in the chorus, “‘Cause I know it turn you on, so let’s do it, babe.” Taylor has typically valued and prioritized her own sexual desires within her songs, and this passive, secondary approach to sex refutes that.
The Verdict: Teyana Taylor has been a lioness all along, but her next step is to become the queen of the jungle on her own terms. As Kanye West and the rest of his G.O.O.D. crew’s social media antics consumed more time than they potentially spent to produce Taylor’s entire album, the singer makes a quiet assertion that from now on, her success is in her hands on “Never Would Have Made It”: “Made a lot of decisions based on everyone but me/ But now, I’m strong enough to let it go/ I’m wise enough to take control.”
Essential Tracks: “Gonna Love Me”, “Hurry”, and “Rose in Harlem”