Teyana Taylor feels “young again,” which is odd to hear coming from a 21-year-old, but considering how hectic the last six years have been for her, it makes sense.
At 15, Taylor was signed to Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak imprint under Interscope and though the experience featured some highs—a few singles being released from an eventually shelved debut album—the end goal was never achieved.
Now things are looking good for the Harlem artist. She’s parted ways with Interscope and recently signed on with Def Jam’s motley crew, the Kanye West-led G.O.O.D. Music.
The multi-talented First Lady checked in with Complex to talk about how her tomboy swag changed the game, how humming around Mr. West got her on his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and her squad’s forthcoming Cruel Summer album.
Interview by Brad Wete (@BradWete)
Complex: How did you first meet Kanye West?
Teyana Taylor: At his Glow in the Dark tour with him, N.E.R.D. and Rihanna. At the time I was signed to Pharrell Williams and his Star Trak label. Kanye used to always like my outfits. So from jump we became fashion friends and we’d talk about different clothes and designing different things. We’d email each other different garments that we liked. That’s how we became friends and super close.
How’d you go from being the stylish friend to being on a couple of records on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?
One day he called me while he was working on the album. He wanted me to come to the studio to check out some pieces that Balmain had exclusively made for him and he wanted me to check out his album.
Even though the invite really was to check out clothes, I had told myself I was going to get on that album—whether he knew or not. [Laughs.] I’m not even a morning person and he wanted me to come at 9 a.m. I get there and I like his clothes. He’s like, “I knew you’d like this!” Then he started playing his album and I start humming and doing some little runs to what I’m hearing on the sly tip. I came in there humming! I knew what I was doing. [Laughs.] So he hears me and is like, “You can really sing. Yo, can you put some backgrounds on this song 'Hell of a Life'?” He knew I was signed to Pharrell and all that, but I guess he didn’t know what I could really do. Like I said, we were more fashion friends. He just knew I was fly.
So then he tells me to do “Dark Fantasy.” At the time it was pretty empty, just verses. He put me in another room by myself and said, “Go.” I came back with a whole intro and chorus. I did all the scratches and the cuts myself with my voice. That’s not a DJ thing when you hear my voice go like that. I was so nervous when I played it for Kanye. I hadn’t been in the studio for so long. I was so excited to be trying out for that song. Rihanna was there.
Are you a Martin fan? Your story sounds like the episode Biggie was on. Pam and Gina got all dressed up and sing in the background while he and Martin talked in the living room. You really got on Kanye’s album by singing in the background.
Yeah! That’s kind of what it was. I was scheming, looking through clothes on the laptop doing my little humming. Yeah, that was definitely an episode from Martin. That was a great experience.
Who else is really fly enough to be the first lady of G.O.O.D. Music? I don’t feel it could have been anybody else but me. And I’m a humble person. But you couldn’t name another person who’d be a better first lady.
What did Kanye think when he heard your work?
He loved it. He didn’t add nothing or change anything. I ended up getting three placements on that album. It was perfect. So then he asked me what my label situation was. I told him I was getting out of the Interscope contract that I was in for a while. He called me to perform in New York and then in Austin, Texas. Shit pretty much popped from there.
When did you first think being signed to G.O.O.D. was an actual possibility?
After I heard “Dark Fantasy” being played on The Hangover 2 trailer and at basketball games, it really got me thinking, “Who else is really fly enough to be the first lady of G.O.O.D. Music?” I don’t feel it could have been anybody else but me. And I’m a humble person. But you couldn’t name another person who’d be a better first lady.
What do you think Kanye loves about you as an artist?
Kanye always felt like I was the female version of him. The way I believe in clothes. The visions and wanting to make more than just a great song. It’s bigger than that. He’s been where I’ve been, where people aren’t believing in you. I feel like everybody has their season. And my season is coming up.
Was it tough being on the shelf for so long at Star Trak and Interscope?
I’m so blessed, man. It doesn’t make any sense. Of course the haters are going to see what they want to see. But you have to think about it: I’m a young girl that’s worked with Beyoncé when I was 15. I worked with Jay-Z when I was 17 and I was signed to Pharrell. I’ve been a part of some pretty epic situations. I’ve had one-on-one heart-to-hearts with Alicia Keys and people like that. And they say, “I understand you. I’ve been through that.” And even when I spoke to Swizz, he was like, “Alicia can’t stop talking about you.” So when people would hate on me, I just knew none of that matters. The right people believe in me. When Beyoncé stops me and goes, “Oh, my God, I love your video. I’m so proud of you.” That’s all that matters to me. I’m blessed on a whole other level.