A really good left-field pop album that introduces an exciting new singer.
Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E. is already destined to be the least-discussed of the five albums from Kanye’s Wyoming sessions that have come out this past May and June. This is in part because Taylor isn’t as big a star as the veteran male rappers that dominate the sessions and in part because the album isn’t already attached to an ignominious public narrative. Pusha-T’s Daytona is probably less-discussed at this point than his hideous beef with Drake. Kanye’s brainless flatulations of “dragon energy” threaten to overshadow both his recent records for all history. And Nas’s Nasir comes on the heels of allegations of abuse against his ex-wife Kelis.
K.T.S.E. carves out its own rarified space away from this toxicity. Alongside Daytona, it’s the best of the Wyoming records. However, it’s not a culture-stopping event but a hidden pearl fans can call their own. Fewer people will listen to K.T.S.E. than the other records or even know it exists, but those who hear it will establish deeper bonds with it. It’s easy to admire the artistry of Daytona or Ye or Nasir even while abhorring the reprehensible shit the artists do or say both in and out of the studio. K.T.S.E. is benevolent and inclusive. It doesn’t confront or troll listeners—except perhaps to piss off the prudes with some good old-fashioned orgasm noises.
Teyana Taylor is a Harlem singer signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint. This is her second album, following the uncertain if intermittently brilliant VII from 2014. Her husband is NBA star Iman Shumpert; they have a reality show, Teyana & Iman, together. It’s tempting to conflate “Issues/Hold On,” a Lemonade-like narrative in which Taylor pieces together evidence of her husband’s infidelity, with her very public if not exactly globally-followed personal life. But maybe it’s not a glimpse of a sordid life, but just an album—which is more than you could say about any of the other Wyoming records, and that is what makes K.T.S.E. such a breath of fresh air.
It’s a lot to ask a mostly unproven artist to send off the year’s biggest music industry event, but Taylor navigates the high stakes with grace and ease. Though her identity as an artist is hard to pin down, no one really gets in her way, even though the half-song, half-beat “No Manners” feels like a last-minute Yeezy caprice. In fact, she benefits from the constraints of the 22-minute bauble format in which all the Wyoming albums have been packaged. With so little room to roam around, she’s forced to be consistent, so instead of the searching of VII, K.T.S.E. sticks to languid, light-footed funk. She feels comfortable, singing mostly about sex.
There’ve been many better-written R&B songs about the subject than here, but Taylor doesn’t reduce sex to a bunch of cringe-y come-ons; she’s more interested in the mechanics of it. “Hurry” brings back the extended orgasm-noise breakdown, so shocking in the days of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je t’aime… moi non plus” and Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby.” It’s amazing how a well-done coital moan can still rouse unwholesome feelings of voyeurism in the listener. And “3way” starts with Taylor working to satisfy her man’s request for a threesome before she flips the power dynamic and lets the other woman go down on her too.
Taylor has been dogged by gay rumors since before she even released an album. “3way” might be an acknowledgement of that—and perhaps “WTP” is as well. With its Paris Is Burning soundbite, “work that pussy” refrain, and commentary from queer rapper Mykki Blanco, it’s hard not to read “WTP” as a nod to the LGBT community. It’s worth wondering why there’s a vogue track on a record produced by a friend of Donald Trump, who epitomizes the oppression to which ballroom culture is a reaction. But it’s inspiring against our better judgment. Nothing so queer has ever appeared on a mainstream R&B record made by someone not named Frank.
The rest of the album is lower-stakes. “Rose In Harlem” feels both bitter and triumphant, the verses railing against backstabbers and haters as the titular soul sample lets her pick herself up off her feet. Taylor’s voice has some of the same huskiness as Jazmine Sullivan’s, but only “Rose” steps to that songwriter’s wicked cleverness (“all these fake smiles/these chicks must have just been to the dentist,” Taylor sings). “Never Would Have Made It” is a bit cheesy, dedicated to a “sunshine in my night” that’s unspecified until her 2-year-old daughter Junie starts cooing. It’s saved by its production, featuring subtle birdsong and massive Kanye choirs.
But that’s the only time West really needs to step in and save the day. In fact, the best thing he does here is stay out of Taylor’s way, and even his obligatory eight bars on “Hurry” are kind of charming (“bad Trinidadian/come on let Daddy in,” he goofs). As good as the beats are throughout, we’re not really thinking about West here except in his absence, and it’s easy to find yourself wondering: where’s all the right-wing conspiracy theorizing? Where’s the inane trolling? Divorced from the Wyoming media circus, what we’re left with is a really good left-field pop album that introduces an exciting new singer to the world with all the fanfare she deserves.