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Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E. Music Album Reviews

Teyana Taylor - K.T.S.E. Music Album Reviews
Teyana Taylor and her tremendous voice are so deft at performing modernist soul with the genre’s forebears as her backdrop, and her album features some of the best Old Kanye beats heard this year.

For Teyana Taylor, music has been a waiting game. She started her career at Pharrell’s Star Trak label over a decade ago, but it wasn’t until 2014 that the singer released her first full-length studio album, VII. It was a smooth and adventurous pop record that only made a small splash due in part to the lax promotion behind it. Since then, her star has risen mainly for music-adjacent accolades, such as dancing sweat-slicked and ripped in the video for Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo track “Fade” and the emergency birth of her daughter Junie, who she delivered straight into the hands of her husband, NBA champ Iman Shumpert, with whom she shares an eponymous reality show. It’s finally time for her enormous voice to retake the spotlight.

Taylor’s latest, K.T.S.E. (short for Keep That Same Energy), is long overdue, but the album remains too small a platform for her tremendous vocal talent. It is the final of the five G.O.O.D. Music albums produced by Kanye in Wyoming, the least controversial—save for its delayed release—and, perhaps, the most in touch with the Old Kanye. Soul samples abound throughout, from the Delfonics to GQ to the Stylistics’ “Because I Love You, Girl” on the New York native’s personal empowerment anthem “Rose in Harlem.” The minimalist guitar noodling often found in the blues makes the flirty “Hurry” even more playful. These songs aren’t just Kanye catnip, but a marker of Taylor’s flexibility. She is deft at performing modernist soul with the genre’s forebears as her backdrop. Her singing sounds luxurious but effortless; even when she adopts a Migos-type flow on opener “No Manners,” it’s sticky and seductive.

Album closer “WTP” is one of the most compelling songs on the album—but it is a lot to untangle. Taylor floats over a pseudo-vogue beat, singing only a sultry cabaret-style hook as rapper Mykki Blanco tries on the role of ballroom commentator. The song’s mantric backbone of “work this pussy” straddles the line between a hypnotic siren call and a runway maxim for feeling like you have the best tuck at the ball. The song is de rigueur fun at a time when Vanessa Hudgens can guest on “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” and passively say, “I’m really into voguing right now.” Ballroom continues to face mainstreaming beyond the short reaches of Paris Is Burning and vogue house’s canonical text Masters at Work’s “The Ha Dance” making its way into all types of global club music. It feels perfect for Taylor, but it’s also dishonest and off-putting as produced by MAGA-era Kanye who has no business pilfering from anyone’s liberation sound when he likes the way it sounds when Trump talks.

Kanye’s fetid touch could sideline Taylor yet again, even though she belongs among a cadre of R&B singers, like Kehlani and SZA, whose hefty talents and distinct points of view are often relegated to supporting roles on albums and tours. This absence was probed last August by Mosi Reeves for NPR in a piece called, “Kehlani, and R&B’s Women of Color, Struggle to Be Heard in Pop Market” as Demi Lovato’s Kehlani-like “Sorry Not Sorry” went to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 while Kehlani has yet to score a Top 20 single. Even SZA—whose extraordinary, voice-of-a-generation album Ctrl earned her five Grammy nominations (she won none of them) and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200—spent 2018 as an opener on the TDE Championship Tour instead of taking a victory lap with top billing on her own stadium outing. K.T.S.E.’s length—22 minutes, even shorter than the pint-sized ye—makes it feel like a blip on the bloated timeline of Kanye West’s 2018 when it should really be Taylor’s turn at musical stardom. But within this brief album are all the small secrets of Teyana Taylor just waiting to be delivered on a massive stage.

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