In a vacuum, the epigraph highlights wise words from the 41-year old head GOOD Music and the similarly middle-aged executive producer Teyana Taylor’s sophomore album. However, Pusha-T’s claim that GOOD Music has the “luxury time” has only unraveled over this past month, burdened by West’s self-imposed deadlines and experimentation in form. Now, barely 72 hours after her first album in nearly four years, when she could be celebrating her moment, Teyana is on a radio tour apologizing to her core fans. During a recent interview with Big Boi, she all but promises a brand new album; it’s a shame that such a genuinely beautiful and elegant body work will forever be marred by such an f-putting asterisk.
Teyana’s debut is underrated, and now her follow-up risks going down the same path. VII was called “seven” because that number held significance for Teyana, but even she didn’t want her return to the game to be bound by an arbitrary mandate and claustrophobic use samples that appear and disappear without her knowledge. It’s clear that Kanye is actively working to shirk traditionalist tendencies, and maybe it’s a fateful fit for someone who has had a career as elusive as Teyana Taylor’s. But Teyana has also never shied away from her classically trained roots and a more longform approach to her sophomore album may have been appropriate.
As talented as Teyana is, she is still being treated as somewhat an accessory, another ornament for GOOD Music’s hard-fought sense prestige. This f-the-cuff approach has given both Teyana and her fans demo-itis, effectively diminishing some the album’s intended impact. There’s an alternate version “Rose in Harlem”; there’s a missing Lauryn Hill interlude; there were clearance issues post-listening party; there’s an eighth track. I get it – it’s easy to blame Kanye these days – but, to be fair, it’s as much Teyana’s ambitious nature as it is Kanye’s manic spurts inspiration.
The intro is extravagantly gothic and self-assured in its opulence; “No Manners” sounds like something a modern day Gatsby would have looped on Spotify in an attempt to impress his Daisy. The slow build drums and the careful pullback the initial grandeur plays perfectly into the following ballad, “Gonna Love Me.” Subtle with a gritty undertone, this one allows Teyana room to showcase her developing range as she flits freely over a tasteful Delfonics sample. The first verse is one the album’s most revealing; wisned lessons from one who has been scorned, done the scorning, and now seeks a respite from it all:
The call and answer between her and Randy Cane builds the foundation for the album’s first major highlight, “Issues/Hold On,” a song about trust, neurosis, and the invaluable currency spousal reassurance. Yet because that busy, Daft Punk laser-laden beat, it’s also the kind dystopian instrumental that might be played at a candlelight vigil the night after the proletariat finally storm the blood-soaked shores Mars and dethrone Elon Musk.
Teyana’s magnetic performance throughout the album is ten awe-inspiring, but the gut-feeling that there simply isn’t enough only continues to deepen with each passing track. Kanye’s rapping on the following cut, ironically titled “Hurry”, is brief, but he still takes up precious screen-time to pull a Stan Lee. The racy, colorfully detailed, “3Way” was smoothly sinking into the lustful, unbridled depths Teyana’s id, only for Ty Dolla $ign to enter and sleaze the whole thing up. As much as I love the guy and his admittedly lush vocals, Ty is undoubtedly the most overused instrument currently at Ye’s disposal.
None that matters once “Rose in Harlem” hits, mournful as it is triumphant. A single rose in a sea cracked concrete represents desolation as much as it does hope, and Teyana’s voice allows her to invoke visceral yet nuanced reactions. This is perhaps best exemplified on the penultimate track, “Never Would Have Made It”. Produced solely by Ye, it opens with a soulful interpolation the Marvin Snapp song the same name, capped f with touching vocal samples Teyana’s firstborn. It’s an explosive and transformative declaration commitment with a twinkling vocal performance that swings from innocent to impassioned, doubtful to hopeful, insecure to self-aware.
Despite Kanye’s best attempts at subverting the expected, the young talent manages to place herself in a league her own, arguably above her more seasoned male colleagues. In the dead the night, Teyana managed to turned a bougie LA corner into a Harlem block party. Assured even in the face Kanye’s unpredictability, she delivers a series soulful vignettes, making the absolute most her limited screen time. K.T.S.E. ability to successfully fer a smattering so many different styles is what one would assume these seven song projects were originally meant to do, before Kanye got carried away. In the same way Rihanna’s Anti was important in pushing a forray eclectic influences into the mainstream, K.T.S.E. is very much essential in this current R&B climate.