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The short-lived Vh1 reality show Teyana & Iman featured entertainer Teyana Taylor logging long hours in the studio, feeling the pressure to complete and perfect her sophomore R&B album. “The first and number one music priority, is to get the muthafuckin’ album out,” she declared in the season premiere back in March during a studio session with producer Sean Garrett. “This album has to be amazing. It’s hard for a lot of artists to top that first solid album—it can’t be a horrible sequel.”
Around the same time, she shared with Hot 97 personality Ebro that the project was “90% done” and she had enough material to start releasing singles.
Fast forward two months later to June 22—the date G.O.O.D. Music mastermind Kanye West announced as the release date for K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy)—and the album still wasn’t done. We know West to be a master of production on many levels. Blowing up the typical release formula, he promised a run of five consecutive albums exclusively produced by him, each featuring just seven potent songs. Taylor’s album was meant to round out the slate; if the adage is to save the best for last, then the artists before her—Pusha T, solo Ye, Ye with Cudi, and Nas—had certainly paved the way for the first lady of the label to make a grand entrance.
But a live-streamed release party in L.A. came and went, and the album could not be found on any streaming platform. Almost a full 24 hours later, K.T.S.E. finally arrived — four years in the making, bungled by a sloppy rollout and hampered by uncleared samples. People who’d watched the listening party noted that some versions of the songs weren’t the same as they’d been just a day prior. While Taylor even managed to sneak in an eighth song, she said afterward that the album that had been released was incomplete. I’ve never heard of a parent apologizing for their new baby, but it seemed that way when Taylor went on to say a “more completed” version of K.T.S.E. would come in the following week.
Teyana, it might be time to find a new team.
The Teyana Taylor we have come to know and cheer for is so charismatic that she steals the show, no matter what the show is. However, at this point, she’s become so famous for her other, non-musical talents—dancing, modeling, acting, being dope on social media with her NBA star hubby and beautiful daughter—that some people didn’t even realize she was a singer. K.T.S.E. had the potential to be her breakthrough project as a vocalist and songwriter, but amid the bonfires in Wyoming, Ye’s headline-making political Twitter tirades, and a scene-stealing Pusha-T/Drake beef, Taylor’s album was lost in the shuffle. The first week album sales held the proof: While the four releases prior to hers debuted in the top 5, K.T.S.E. landed at No. 12.
“I blame a little bit of everyone because of that fact we set a date and then we had a listening party and we had clearance issues,” she said on Big Boy’s Neighborhood the Tuesday after her album’s release. She went on to say that “there are different levels of R&B on this album and then once y’all hear THE album, like next week, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about because it’s way more completed. It’s just crazy.”
This isn’t unheard of; Kanye continually updated The Life of Pablo well after its premiere, so we had no reason to doubt Taylor would make good on her promise. But even after June wrapped and a new month began, K.T.S.E. remained on the internet, unchanged. When fans pressed Taylor on Tuesday for the new material, her answer was deflating:
Teyana went on to tweet that, at this point, she plans to keep the album as is and debut the extended versions through her visuals, a compromise she’s likely just as frustrated by as her fans.
This is the downside of being under a heavy-handed impresario like Kanye. The relationship benefited Taylor when she got the co-sign to model in the Yeezy SZN show during Fashion Week and when she was cast as the star of Ye’s 2016 music video “Fade,” giving her a platform to dance into (a degree of) stardom. But when it came to executing on her vision for the release of her debut album, VII, which she’d been working on since 2014, it held her back. When the boss announced the five-album, seven-song combo, she likely had to get in line. As she said on her reality show, “ I’ve been choosing the songs based on how everything would sound live and in concert.” The songs on the final project are mostly slow to mid-tempo, and certainly don’t give “I have to see this live” vibes.
I blame a little bit of everyone because of that fact we set a date and then we had a listening party and we had clearance issues.
Kanye is not the first musical genius to recognize her talent, and he won’t be the last. In 2007 Teyana signed her first record deal with Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak imprint. After a single called “Google Me,” and a forgettable mixtape, she had little momentum and asked to be released from the label. She appeared on the G.O.O.D. Friday release “Christmas in Harlem,” then signed with G.O.O.D. Music in 2012. It’s inarguable that her star has risen since aligning with the label, but it’s also true that this is not off the strength of any music of her own.
And so we are left with K.T.S.E., an incomplete capsule, which, thanks to going sans fadeouts, smushes a song sampling the biggest gospel music hit in recent years, “Never Would Have Made It,” right into a vogue bop called “Work That Pussy” that sounds eerily reminiscent of Azealia Banks.
The great thing about Teyana Taylor is that she is bold and irrepressible. People find themselves fans of her as a person, whether a commercial enterprise is attached or not. She will bounce back and gain her footing. But if G.O.O.D. Music doesn’t care to help her do so with the level of attention and respect she deserves, she might have to bet on herself and find a home that will better cultivate—and elevate—her talent.