Album Review: Teyana Taylor Breaks All The Rules On K.T.S.E.

Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.
Teyana Taylor’s latest album, released slightly belatedly on Saturday, June 23, after some last minute tinkering, tops off a big month for G.O.O.D. Music, in which the Kanye West-helmed label dropped five albums in five weeks, each executive produced by West himself. K.T.S.E. (Keep that Same Energy) is completely different from the others, in that it’s an R&B album. It’s also a return to Kanye’s days of deep-crate digging to find samples from the catalog of Black excellence in music.
Taylor’s performance on every song is emotional, her voice filled with cracks reminiscent of Mary J. Blige, if not quite executing the same range. The album feels intimate, like Taylor is whispering stories from her life and how she lives it into the ear of the listener. A sample of her daughter Junie at the end of “Never Would Have Made It” is especially poignant. Her voice is lush at times and full of raw edges at others, but it defies the typical expectations of female R&B voices. Much like Beyoncé on her most recent release, the 23-minute long album is full of hashtag-able lyrics, continuing the run of short albums by G.O.O.D. Taylor explores multiple facets of womanhood, from the sexual on “3Way” to courtship and relationships on “Issues/Hold On” and “Hurry,” to navigating success on “Rose in Harlem” and “Never Would Have Made It.” She’s created a straight-up anthem with “WTP,” which uses callouts from an old-school ball announcer to create an infectious summer jam.
Most interestingly, West uses K.T.S.E. to blow up the R&B template. Hip-hop has been, historically, crafted on the back of samples from soul and R&B songs. To take that idea and flip it, crafting an R&B record where the melodies are sampled, recalls how the actual Pablo Picasso treated the work of the old masters. West notably uses Ben E. King’s “Spanish Rose” to build the lyrical backbone on “A Rose in Harlem” while the music is crafted from a sample of the Stylistics’ track “Because I Love You Girl.” Ye goes deep across the album, pulling out samples from Sly & the Family Stone to Sisqo. All the elements of a classically beautiful work of art are there, but chopped up and rearranged in a Cubist framework until they are unrecognizable and became a new form of art. That’s the trip West is on with Taylor. It’s a smart move for an artist like Taylor, who is as much a brand and reality star as she is a singer and dancer.
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