Teyana Taylor is someone that appears way less on screen than one would hope. She’s forever in motion, always seen in situations that typically aren’t centered around her, save perhapfor her explosive performance in Kanye West’s “Fade” music video. MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 introduced us to a young, brash young woman; a cocksure air of over-confidence permeated every scene that she spoke in, with the world reading it as an indicator of future celebrity. We were soon introduced to her as a singer with the abysmal “Google Me” that was aimless in execution and aesthetic. She reinvented herself by showing love to her past influences, and through her highly lauded debut VII, she made a new career for herself by way of 90s nostalgia that spotlighted an intriguing, yet familiar sound.
Her latest album, Keep That Same Energy, isn’t about changing the formula — it lives and breathes this aesthetic while spritzing in elements of where she could go, if she were to deviate from her style. It’s suave, icy, and tantalizing with a hint of spiciness towards the tail end. Isn’t that what made us fall in love with Teyana Taylor in the first place?
The wait for Keep That Same Energy was long — even when it was scheduled to release on June 22, it didn’t arrive for another day for some inexplicable reason. It also didn’t adhere to the G.O.O.D. Music seven-track album rule of recent. Something about this album was determined to be special, the only Kanye West-produced project by a female artist of the batch, so expectations were high. On top of that, VII was a sneak hit for album of the year in 2014. Teyana Taylor’s transmutation of ’90s R&B trappings felt like genuine appreciation instead of lifeless reimagining. The pressure was dialled to ten.
Even with everything riding on her album to be the stunning conclusion to G.O.O.D. Music’s experiment, and to offer a sound that makes sense to fans without retreading old ground, Keep That Same Energy feels unapologetic, just like Teyana herself. It immediately establishes a sense of intimacy on “No Manners” with loving violin strings, quiet drums, and a spit-fire vocal performance that would make Twista clutch his hat that come together for a brilliant, if subtle, opener — even if it clocks in at just over a minute and thirty seconds. “Gonna Love Me” follows behind with a heartfelt Delfonics sample injected with ’90s sentiment and urban flair, being deliciously saccharine while it deals with the shitshow of relationship turmoil. Her songwriting here is a marked improvement over VII’s often vague or jejune wordplay. She sings “I’m sorry if I made you feel less than who you are / A little insecure, oh, you’s a shining star,” and it gets right to the point; you can feel her sliding the back of her finger down your face as she gently caters to you.
Towards the album’s middle, it starts to bleed together, just a smidge. “Issues/Hold On” and “Hurry” are sound different enough, but something about them thematically ties them together. Maybe it’s the similar tempo of the album’s beginning in relation to the two tracks, and the inevitable switch up comes too late. But that smooth, club-like, classic atmosphere makes the eyes glaze over a little while we search for the break in the pattern. Kanye West’s verse on the latter track sounds as if he’s reading off a teleprompter without a care for vocal inflection. Take that how you want.
Things get a surge of electricity on the album’s standout, “Rose In Harlem.” The booming horns cut through the track and Taylor’s perfectly functional, if not truly special, performance here. She sings of blooming from Harlem’s cold, harsh concrete streets, dealing with haters and trauma with thrilling detail. It’s such an iconic moment for how it eschews pretty much everything we’ve ever known about Taylor as an artist — the ’90s bearings are gone and she sings like she’s a new age rapper here, giving enough melodies to cater to the Lil Pumps and Lil Skies of the world while reflecting on the past, showing that the older folks can do the new school thing just as well.
Keep That Same Energy’s cornerstone is Kanye West’s amenable production. When you think of Kanye West producing a project, the soulful, bombastic beats that comprise his catalog are expected to be what he brings to the table. If the listening parties were any indicator, West took special pride in creating works that would get the crowds entranced. But it seems like he actually examined the essence of each artist when crafting these beats. He knew that Pusha-T’s manifesto was well-placed with damn near anything that was vast enough for him to play with his drawn-out, flowing style. Nas could be a little more flexible with applying his socio-political jargon to production, so ‘Ye gave him beats that were obsessive, even if the veteran emcee’s lyrics and performance were uninspired. He brings some classic flavor to the proceedings here, studying the smoothness of VII and providing a logical sequel palette that Taylor could take advantage of.
“WTP” is a booming, pompous club track that snaps you to your senses, even if it feels out of place. Featuring none other than Mykki Blanco (?!), Taylor reaches to contemporary fans with an EDM-inspired romp that, through its wild sample, will undoubtedly become the soundtrack to Friday night club shenanigans in New Orleans. There’s a hint of ’90s nostalgia from MC Hammer-esque horn placement at the beginning and vogue-inducing production, but it feels like more of a modern-day jam then others.
That speaks to Keep That Same Energy as a whole. While the majority of the album seems to be in direct creative conversation with VII — it’s more concerned with maintaining what’s going on instead of going in a new direction — there are a few indicators that Taylor can thrive outside of the sound she’s set for herself. It’s interesting that “WTP” was included as the eighth track because of this. Without it, nearly all of it would have been nostalgic. Its inclusion adds a little more balance to the equation; maybe, they thought that Keep That Same Energy would be harder to stomach without more spice.
Don’t go in expecting a radical departure from what we know about Taylor. If you do, you’ll hang your head in defeat on your way out. But if you think about her obsession with the classics like Janet Jackson, you won’t be surprised at her penchant for showing love to classic R&B music. The album’s spiciness comes from its two cuts that attack today’s sharp sound and make use of some of its tendencies to cater to larger crowds. But, by design, K.T.S.E. as a whole feels like a celebration for her core fanbase. Teyana Taylor can rejoice, the wait was worth it.
- Text: Trey Alston