Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. LP is another great R&B offering in 2018. So why don’t I love it as much as I should?

“You can be real with me/ That’s why you’re still with me…”

Of all the projects planned in Kanye West & the G.O.O.D. Music imprint’s so-called “Surgical Summer,” Teyana Taylor’s was the album I MOST looked forward to.

Nearly every other artist, I had been satisfied with in some capacity. Pusha T had gifted listeners with two mixtapes that might as well have been albums; one album; and an album that was supposed to be an appetizer for THE album. I was never wholly invested in Kid Cudi. Kanye, I had all but given up on. And Nas had redeemed himself in my eyes with ‘Life Is Good,’ so I didn’t NEED a new Nas album… even though the Queensbridge emcee and DJ Khaled swore the album was done two years ago (in fairness, THAT album is not ‘Nasir.’).

Teyana Taylor, however, was a more curious case. Taylor was the girl who took advantage of a chance appearance on MTV’s then-fledging “My Super Sweet 16” series, to springboard herself into a music career. She had spunk. She was cocky. She was gorgeous. But she also would not be denied. On one of her earliest singles, Teyana had the audacity to tell anyone who asked to “Google Me, Baby.”

Taylor’s signing to G.O.O.D. Music following her departure from Def Jam suggested that someone saw potential in the Harlem girl beyond her model-worthy good looks. The problem was that Teyana was on the label… she was appearing on “G.O.O.D. Friday” records… she was even on the label compilation Cruel SummerBut she didn’t have an album of her own. Whether that was because her creative process was stalled, or because the label wasn’t giving her the support she needed was anyone’s guess. In 2014, two years after her appearance on Cruel Summer, Taylor’s debut album, VII (fittingly titled after the number that symbolizes “completion”) touched down. VII was good, but maybe not two years’ worth of wait good. In fact, Taylor would produce a project that was of a higher quality and substantially shorter when she shared her The Cassette Tape: 1994 mixtape.

Which brings us to the present-day “Surgical Summer” and the “calendar” of sorts that Kanye West tweeted out that would rollout G.O.O.D. Music’s entire release schedule for late May and the month of June. Teyana Taylor’s name was at the very end of that list. While some questioned whether West was trolling, there appeared to be some truth to the schedule when Pusha T’s DAYTONA LP arrived as promised on May 25th.

DAYTONA would set the bar very high for every release that came after it, with its rich soul samples and Kanye finding the appropriate pockets for President Push to rhyme atop. In the weeks that followed, the “schedule” would remain on course, though interrupted by an unconventional (at times disastrous) rollout for each album after DAYTONA. The G.O.O.D. Music camp insisted on streaming listening parties for each album on release night, which in turn delayed the actual releases of each album on streaming platforms for a day or two. West was the sole producer on every project and emphasized quality in brevity by limiting each artist to seven songs on their respective LPs.

For what it was, the experiment worked best at showing Kanye’s grand talent on the boards. He created beats that played to the strengths of every artist, and this worked far better for some than others. In essence, Kanye was pushing every artist to do the best work they could do, in line with the way he wanted to make them sound. Pusha T revealed as much in his interview with Vulture Magazine

It’s the gift and the curse of myself and Kanye. Kanye likes to hear me one way. One way. I mean, he’s made some great melodic records in his day. Pusha-T will probably never get one of them. And, I be pissed about it sometimes. But, you know, when he’s in that zone and he feels like he’s making … A zone like this, where he’s like, “Yo, I’m gonna do all the records.” You sort of let him steer the ship.

“Kanye likes to hear me one way.” That one sentence alone sums up the basis of the Surgical Summer. We get a production style that only Kanye West himself can deliver – a style that, thankfully, isn’t the “poop scoop” listeners were trolled with prior to the summer – and that, in theory, translates to quality albums.

Kids See Ghosts emphasizes the rock leanings of Kid Cudi’s Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ and Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven on records like “Free” and “Reborn,” for example. It also makes Cudi’s personality more digestible when things are slowed down, like they are on the title track “Kids See Ghosts.” The soulful cuts on Nasir allow Nas’s pro-Black musings to shine on “Cops Shot the Kid,” and also allow Nas to reflect honestly on “Bonjour” and “Simple Things.” Even DAYTONA plays up the idea of Pusha T as Frank Lucas with cornrows by using jazz-like flourishes (the Rick Ross-assisted “Hard Piano”), homages to hard living in the era of the blues (“Come Back Baby”), and transforming chirps and whistles into a villain’s theme music (“Infrared”). The execution of it all led Houston rapper Jay-Von to boldly suggest that G.O.O.D. Music was comparable to The Wu-Tang Clan in their peak.


All of this built up to the finale of the Surgical Summer – to Teyana Taylor’s album. It was preceded by four albums of chopped up soul and new school takes on old-school instrumentals. What would Teyana reap from what Kanye was sowing?

K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy) is not a bad album. Certainly, it’s the most vibrant of the Surgical Summer releases. It may not have the hype that DAYTONA or Nasir have, but it literally keeps the same level of energy across its eight-track length. Kanye West succeeds in turning Teyana Taylor into a balladeer. Teyana can make a dance record easily, she can make a pop record in her sleep. K.T.S.E. is an attempt to give Teyana Taylor another dimension by having her mimic a classic R&B sound.

In places, the album is magical. A record like “Gonna Love Me” throws listeners off-guard because you’d never expect that from Taylor. Kanye transforms her into one of The Supremes, letting her vocals do the work. She tiptoes into Mary J. Blige territory on “Hurry,” owner of the LP’s foremost stumble when Kanye feels himself a little too much on an awkwardly-placed feature verse. “3 Way” is spectacularly done, as is “Issues/Hold On.” And “Never Would Have Made It” turns Teyana Taylor into the girl on the church choir who you didn’t know was capable of solo’ing until she finally got the OPPORTUNITY to solo.

”You tell me you love me/ Well tell me again/ I need that reassurance now and again…”

The issue with K.T.S.E., is the issue Pusha T mentioned: Kanye wants to hear Teyana Taylor one way… and, by extension, he wants listeners to hear Teyana that one way, too. The presence of soul is nice, but it doesn’t FEEL like Teyana Taylor. It FEELS like Kanye featuring Teyana Taylor, and Kanye attempting to reel Teyana back in whenever she deviates from that “one way.”

That’s why “No Manners” – a bold declaration to start the LP – abruptly cuts off with no real transition into “Gonna Love Me.” It’s why “WTP” feels like an afterthought, an eighth song tacked onto the end of K.Y.S.E. whose unapologetic vulgarity (especially following “Never Would Have Made It”) doesn’t fit the songs before… yet it DOES fit as a traditional Teyana Taylor record. “Rose in Harlem” is the one place Kanye couldn’t tailor Teyana (no pun), because her sing-rapping and the raw emotion of it all is simply too good NOT to keep. Maybe Kanye should have focused on amplifying the voice Teyana Taylor already had, rather than trying to curate her into something else.

At some point in the near future, Teyana Taylor promised in a recent interview, we’re going to get a “reissue” of sorts of K.T.S.E. It’s expected that we’ll get a more polished, more refined project, a new track or even a track that replaces one that was already on the album. We might even get the presence of a Lauryn Hill feature whose existence was teased but which wasn’t actually present on the released project. We’ll accept it – or at least, I will, because I’m actively rooting for Teyana Taylor’s success.

But it just won’t be the same as getting it right the FIRST time. What if, for all the “G.O.O.D” of the Surgical Summer experiment, the biggest casualty of Kanye West’s ambition, is the breakout Teyana Taylor album that many of us are still waiting for?

K.T.S.E. is out now on iTunes.

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