Teyana Taylor Releases Grand and Gratuitous Kanye West-Produced ‘K.T.S.E.’

Kanye West’s five-in-a-row album streak has finally reached its climax, with an album from R&B starlet Teyana Taylor. It marks a departure for Kanye, as the other four of his spree were quite strictly hip-hop. Yet, he pulls it off swimmingly, tailoring his beats to suit Taylor’s aesthetic. Titled “K.T.S.E,” the album’s acronym expands to “Keep that same energy,” and Taylor and Kanye together certainly make due on this promise, cramming a surfeit on energy into the record’s 22 minutes.

The album begins with a short, cinematic overture, and Taylor picks up the mic with the distinctively hip-hop triplet R&B delivery employed by the likes of Frank Ocean. Her most conspicuous line is the repeated, “I got a man, but aint got no manners.” Let’s hear it for wordplay. Kanye West picks up with his legendary, soul-sampling craft, bringin the track to larger proportions, but stopping short, for Taylor to drop another a few lines with the samples receding into the background. And then the track ends, making it more of an intro than an actual song. Perhaps this explains Kanye’s choice to deviate from the plan of five seven-track albums, and include an extra song on this record. Then again, there’s no telling with West, so it all just seems about right.

“Gonna Love Me” begins with a soul sample, and is an example of how hip-hop excels at transporting you to another era momentarily, then suddenly shifting gears, and creating a musical gestalt from the shuffling of era-specific emotional signifiers. Taylor echoes Lauren Hill in her voicing and inflections here. The guitar-based track adds a human touch, something largely lacking in contemporary R&B, and it certainly makes a difference. There’s a very “warm” feel, informed by ‘70s soul stylings, and the chosen samples mesh impeccably with Taylor’s melismatic flow.

“Issues / Hold On” begins with yet another soul sample, and then suddenly, there’s an outrageous, jarring burst of siren sounds. This is Kanye, all right — in his latest, most boisterous iteration. As laughable as all of that might be, it’s actually touches like this that make all the difference, setting these songs apart from countless others. The sirens come at a moment when the song changes tone, and the ridiculousness of their timbre serves as a bold, playful, tongue-in-cheek call out, infusing the music with a certain, say, “realness.” Even if it doesn’t quite strike a chord with you, you’ve got to hand it to Ye for taking risks. The song continues with a motown feel of the production that adds a winsome richness, and Taylor sounds impeccable.

“Hurry” begins with the same tune as the opening line of Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote.” It could be a homage, or maybe it just seeped in from the subconscious. West makes his first, inevitable vocal appearance on this track, and it makes for a playful, raunchy back-and-forth with Taylor, who ends up going way out and wild before the end of the track. She does a rapid rapping segment, some scat singing, and then some extremely sensual moaning, leaving very little to the imagination. The song might actually make a good case for censorship, as it forces artists to be more creative with their expression than let it all hang out in a gaudy display. On the other hand, hip-hop has never been about discretion and subtlety, so songs like this are, in a way, a proud continuance of heritage.

And on this note, the album segues into “3Way,” which proves to be exactly what you would expect from the title. Things get very overtly sexy very fast. Taylor’s melismatic, free-flowing vibrato is expertly executed, and establishes the vibe properly. The song might arguably be better without Ty Dolla $ign’s verse, as he brings an already over-the-top number to downright ludicrous heights, seeming like a guy just chiming in to show his overzealous enthusiasm about the titular “3Way.” At any rate, it’s an interesting, and decidedly steamy track. Next up, “A Rose In Harlem” showcases Taylor exploring the more hip-hop end of the R&B lexicon, straddling the line between rapping and singing, and pulling it off remarkably well. Kanye’s sampling can get a bit silly at times, but songs like this are a reminder of how he really has a knack for picking bits that work. Chord changes midway catapult the song into a new emotional terrain, and strings add a richness that makes the song especially memorable. The feistiness of Taylor’s vocals, seemingly built up from the overt sexuality of the few previous numbers, also makes the song a standout.

“Never Would Have Made It” is a luscious cut, traditional R&B, with some late ‘80s / early ‘90s flavor. It takes a surprising turn midway, stopping for interjections by male choirs, and then synths that strike completely out of the blue. It’s quite obvious Kanye is having a bit of fun, with his perennial wide grin — which brings us to the closer — and a hell of a closer it is. It’s a total early ‘90s throwback, flat tops, baggy attire and Jordans, hoop earrings, neon squiggles in the music videos, etc. The most prominent lyrics are from the repeated sample, “this pussy.” The song might seem slightly exploitative in a sexist way, for the exceptionally touchy and sensitive, but this charge is dismissed by the presence of gay rapper Mykki Blanco, whose hypeman contributions make the track. At one point, he calls, “Allow Ms. Taylor to sing the blues,” prompting a litany of particularly graphic lines. It’s all very ridiculous, and pretty fun.

And so, this brings Kanye West’s bizarre latest musical endeavor / publicity stunt to closure. At this point, one undeniable fact is that West has a remarkably adaptable skill set. Last week, he went full fitted cap, head-nodding New York hip head for Nas’ record, and has now turned lush, sultry, cheeky R&B for Teyana’s. He still always puts his stamp on the production, usually in the most hilarious, outlandish ways possible — and it adds a lot of character. As for Taylor, the short running time of this record seems to suit her well, as she clearly crams as much sensuality into it as one could hope for. She’s certainly on top of her singing, and “K.T.S.E.” is a fun, playful, and promising release.

K.T.S.E.” is available June 23 on Apple Music.