With her second album, the multihyphenate Teyana Taylor proves her ferocious gifts on the mike. But is the world ready to accept her as a pop star?
“Everybody knows, as far as the music side, it’s been a long journey for me—which it has been for any person who’s great in the industry,” Taylor says, shaking out her popsicle-red hair as she unself-consciously strips and steps into some sweats. Up close, her face is as sculptural and her skin as flawless as photos depict, but everybody else seems to care about her looks more than she does. She’s still no-nonsense, but with her tummy full and her Playboy shoot wrapped, she’s smiling more easily. The more she talks, the clearer the sense that she still has something to prove—and that music is how she’ll prove it. “I definitely feel overwhelmed sometimes because I’m doing so much to occupy my mind from the things that are not quite happening the way I want or need them to happen,” she says. “The other 100 things that I do are just until it comes to fruition.”
An hour earlier, wearing skyscraper Lucite heels and edging dangerously close to the pool, Taylor is arching into a backbend. Her friends-assistants gasp as images of sopping red hair and ruined makeup flash before their eyes. Taylor, on the other hand, seems unconcerned about any possible catastrophe. That’s the way she’s been her whole life.
“I have a leader vibe about me,” she says. “Because I was homeschooled, I had no choice but to raise my hand even if I didn’t want to. But I was fearless—pure, raw. I would see groups of people dancing, and instead of joining in, I would actually want to make up the moves. I’ve always been a person that wants not just to do it; I want to be it.”
“I wasn’t one of those kids that was in the studio 24/7,” she says. “Harlem is so small and has so many talented people that we’d all just sing and dance and rap. I never looked at it as a way to get signed.” But an industry friend of her mom’s did. Catching Taylor riding by herself one day, he swept her up and took her to a recording studio. “I didn’t have no bio, no demo, no nothing. I just went with my skateboard,” she says, chuckling. “Sassy, just sassy.”
As she sang and rapped her heart out, she suspected she was serious about making music her career. When she later met Pharrell Williams, who was curious to meet the Harlem kid everybody kept telling him was the “female version” of him, he instructed her to stop skating for fear of broken bones. Acquiescing, she knew she was serious.
Been through more than a lil’ bit…
Niggas ain’t even really down for ya
Oh no, what a shame Ten years in the game
Niggas like, “You ain’t hot? You ain’t pop yet?
What’s up with you and Ye?”
Ultimately, it was Junie, her two-year-old with Shumpert, who lifted her out of the slump. “She’d be like, ‘Mommy, what’s wrong? Don’t cry.’ And I’m like, ‘You right. I’m happy. I got you. I have my wonderful husband. Life could be much worse,’ ” she says. Still, the stalling vexed her.
No wonder. Although it was the least hyped installment in West’s so-called “Wyoming sessions”—a series of five Ye-produced albums by G.O.O.D. signees—the sensuous K.T.S.E. is in the top two. Taylor’s voice drips luxuriously over West’s sunset-hued soul samples. (The exception is the electro-twerked “WTP,” which takes its inspiration from the drag-ball culture birthed in Harlem.) Ripe for late-night, between-the-sheets spins, K.T.S.E.’s main problem is that there isn’t enough of it.
But Taylor made sure all eight songs say exactly what she intended. “That’s the beauty of working with someone like Kanye: He gets how creative people work. I would never let someone tell me, ‘This is what you’re going to sing today.’ ” She laughs. “That’s the Karl Lagerfeld in me. I got to grab the camera myself, because you don’t see what I see, baby. I need you to be able to feel me. I need you to be able to touch me.”
“I’m going to have self-respect. I’m going to be a strong woman all across the board whether you like it or not. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to get where I wanted to be. I was never willing to be what someone else wanted.” Her face takes on a mischievous cast. “Hey, if we don’t bust it wide open, there ain’t gonna be no you! So put some respect on that capital W in Woman. Wo-man.”
The day of this interview, Taylor seems flush with giddiness over finally letting K.T.S.E. loose into the world, but its release, one week after our interview, is marred. Not only is it dropped a day late, it’s also apparently not the project she hoped to share. As she explains on a subsequent press run, an updated version with various missing samples and interpolations will arrive a week later. When a fan on Twitter asks where the promised update is, Taylor’s response sounds exasperated: “I guess we ain’t getting one. Shit takes time. At this point I will leave album the way it is & will just debut the extended record thru my visuals.”
Exasperated, that is, but not resigned. After all, Teyana Taylor has waited long enough.