At a party celebrating the release of Teyana Taylor’s VII album in 2014, Kanye West gave a short speech praising the R&B singer, who is signed to his G.O.O.D. Music label. “Teyana provides something that’s so R&B, so black, so ‘hood, so missing, so necessary in the marketplace,” West asserted.
Her work may be so necessary, but it’s also so infrequent: Taylor’s new album, Keep That Same Energy, which debuted last Thursday at a listening party in Los Angeles, is her first new release since VII. And it might have arrived even later than that: K.T.S.E. is produced by West, the final entry in his five-projects-in-five-weeks eruption; according to a tweet from Kim Kardashian, the producer was still finalizing the LP on the plane back to L.A. after visiting Paris for Fashion Week. The album eventually made its way to streaming services many hours later than it was expected.
If there’s one advantage to Taylor’s sporadic release schedule, it’s that she hasn’t released enough music to have an identifiable sound – no expectations means no constraints. So it makes sense that K.T.S.E. is the least trendy of any of West’s recent projects. It’s also, of course, the lone R&B release in the bunch, and much of K.T.S.E. repositions Taylor as a retro R&B torchbearer. West surrounds the singer with samples from old low-rider soul records – including a version of Billy Stewart’s classic “I Do Love You” and the Delfonics’ confection “I Gave to You” – which merge doo-wop’s innocence and soul’s intense yearning. Taylor excels in this setting, singing huskily over handsome rim-shot funk on “Gonna Love Me” and “Issues/Hold On.” The transformation is thorough: These songs are a world away from “Maybe,” Taylor’s radio hit from 2014, which offered a conventional contemporary mix of rap and R&B.
Thanks to Taylor’s new direction, K.T.S.E. ends up being the most fun of any of G.O.O.D. Music’s recent releases, existing without the self-seriousness that weighed down the albums from Pusha T, Kid Cudi, Nas and West himself. The men were all preoccupied with their place in the hip-hop ecosystem, their interior dialogues, or both. By contrast, only one track on K.T.S.E. mistakes solemnity for meaning: “3Way” is a celebration of sex so dirge-like that it becomes soporific. Mostly, Taylor wants to express joy. You hear it in the falsetto fillips in “Gonna Love Me,” the skipping rhythm to her singing in “Hurry,” and the four-on-the-floor rush of “WTP.”
There are enough good ideas on K.T.S.E. to suggest a path to prominence for Taylor, and her album ends with a strong statement of purpose (pulled from the documentary Paris Is Burning): “I want my name to be a household product.” But until Taylor releases, or is allowed to release, music more often, she will remain stuck on pop’s sidelines – still necessary, and still missing.