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Teyana Taylor’s “K.T.S.E.” Reviewed

Black girl magic was the only thing missing from the June of Good Music, Kanye West musical gauntlet, that has provided four  seven song albums featuring Pusha T, Nas, Kid Cudi and Kanye West, and a solo Kanye West. All of them are great, all four work on every possible level. Don’t believe the Nas naysayers, every bar Nas raps is excellent and if you don’t agree with the Nas Is Like Nas plus Kanye vibe, the rapping is still  brilliant (shout out to Diddy who spits “you’re lucky God made us compassionate and forgiving”) And Kanye has done what he has done on each album, made the songs both dense and minimal and managed to allow moderate talents like Pusha T to come across as superstar rappers. Kanye takes from everywhere but he doesn’t let what he takes overpower the song.

But no black girl magic till now, where the model (no seriously), singer, reality star (with former Knick and my namesake Iman Sumpter), and Harlem personality tough gal superbly voiced woman of the moment Teyana Taylor, K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy), fills the spot and how.  Listening to Teyana’s debut album, 2014’s VII, her voice is beautiful but the neo-R&B is a little obvious, a little whatever. Songs like “Maybe” (with Pusha T) and “Do Not Disturb” were quite big, and I admire them both, but there is nothing on the album to suggest Teyana is capable of songs as crossover and straight faced as “Issues/Hold On” and “Hurry,” songs that could move her  from her soulful r&b and into every direction and are superior than anything on the vastly overrated new Beyonce (and, what’s that name again? Jay Z) album. Among producer Kanye West’s many gifts, his ability to nail a sample is among his greatest and  while he co-produced  “Issues/Hold On”, that GQ sample is so great and so well played it has his fingerprints all over it (not to mention the space invaders sound effect). Yes, you can feel Kanye manipulating the sound but to an end, an exploration of where these artists exist between space and time.

K.T.S.E. was finished in January but Kanye sat on it for months,  still putting the final touches on it  the day it was meant to be released and releasing it a day late, and yet when you are dealing with Harlem you just know that Teyana is badass, that she is not going to fake it out and let West take over. Listen to her moaning in sexual pleasure on “Hurry,” as great a sex song as you can possibly believe, hear her sexual submissiveness on “3Way”, her fidelity question mark (from a woman who opened her album with strings and piano), this is the essence of soulfulness, sexdual healing indeed. While the other four albums moved from mental illness to political dragon slaying, Teyana is taking r&b (really soul) and pushing it hard into sexed up bangers of great pleasure and great power and enormous intelligence, a view into how she loves. Try the closing (eighth song!) “WTP” (work that pussy), it uses a form of disco called Harlem Ballroom from the 1970s,  where queer identifiers felt safe because if transgender people and queer identifiers get beaten to death now, then it was seriously dangerous. even by dead standards. The song is just a great disco dance amplifiers but it hides between the surface and says a lot about Teyana and Kanye. A great song, they are all great songs though “3Way,” about inviting a woman in bed with her and Sumpter is a little meh; Ty Dolla $ign can add something to anything, but he falls a little flat here.

If “3Way” is the weakest link here, nothing is really weak, and if eight songs is more than the seven we’ve been used to, it is still only 22 minutes in length. Maybe because, as Kanye notes on “Hurry,” -“No fade outs”. Nothing here out stays its welcome, everything is clear as a bell with none of the muddied overtracked that hurts r&b. Teyana sings extremely well and it is certainly a real r&b album, it isn’t Good Music slumming after four rap albums.

And Teyana’s singing… she is a sexual and sensual dynamo, who gives herself to lust and to love with equal ease. And there is still “A Rose In Harlem” which takes a Stylistics sample, and adds a Tupac poem, and while Ben E. King doesn’t get a mention, he should do. While this is Teyana’s work, it is also a part of what makes the Good Music June albums so special, they work on so many levels without being overbearing for even one moment. They just sound good.

Grade: A

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