Teyana Taylor – ‘The Album’ review: a celebration of family and a statement of self-love

It's been a long time coming, but the pop star's third record, which explores heady themes and skips between genres, was well worth the wait

The road to stardom has, for GOOD Music signee Teyana Taylor, been somewhat convoluted. After signing with her current imprint in 2012, she waited two years before her debut studio album, ‘VII’, saw the light of day. By this time she had already choreographed Beyoncé’s ‘Ring The Alarm’ and starred in a whole host of hit of movies, including the juggernaut 2007 dance drama ‘Stomp The Yard’.

GOOD Music label-founder Kanye West conceded on US radio show The Breakfast Club, months after ‘VII’’s release, that he felt he hadn’t supported Taylor enough during the campaign. ‘KTSE’, her second album, released in 2018, faced similar obstacles, as West sent an unfinished version to streaming outlets without her consent. “When the album dropped, I didn’t even know that [lots of] stuff wasn’t cleared,” Taylor explained on presenter Big Boy’s Neighbourhood radio show the day after its controversial premiere.

In 2020, it feels as though the multi-hyphenate entertainer is finally getting the roll-out she deserved all along. Boldly titled ‘The Album,’ the 29-year’s old third studio record was announced amid the April unveiling of her spectacular documentary Assembly Required: Teyana Taylor’s House of Petunia and she trailed its release with no fewer than six singles. She wasn’t about to allow her work to be fumbled this time.

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Released on Juneteenth (June 19th) — the celebration of the emancipation of slavery in 1865 — the record ushers Teyana Taylor into the spotlight, with no interruptions or restraints in length (the 23 tracks run to more than 77 minutes), granting listeners access to her candid perceptions of womanhood.

On ‘VII’, with its smooth and enchanting R&B, Taylor set the foundations for ‘The Album’. Now, though, she is more self-assured. She’s more candid too, departing from experiences that pertain solely to relationships. In the six years between these two projects she’s become a mother, married basketball player Iman Shumpert and acquired businesses, including her JunieBee nail salon in Harlem. She recently told Apple Music that ‘The Album’ is a kind-of acronym: A meaning romance, L sexuality, B value, U vulnerability and M triumph.

As with her debut, ‘The Album’ sees Taylor’s lean towards experimentation, especially with sounds assembled by the African diaspora. ‘Killa’ latches onto the percussion-led sonics of afrobeats, its hypnotic pulse strengthened by Nigerian pop star Davido’s refined but tantalising vocals. Crafted by hip-hop and R&B producers Tune Da Rula and Baruch Nembhard, ‘Killa’ cries out to be given the single treatment. The pair sound instantly organic together, quickly finding balance across the metrical production. ‘Killa’ easily stands as one of the best duets on the album as it sees Teyana take a risk, quickly mastering styles that are emerging in the American market. Elsewhere, ‘Bad’ sees Taylor take on reggae, her raspy runs complementing the genre’s buoyancy.

‘The Album’ is atypically intimate from the start. On ‘Intro’, Shumpert is heard delivering their first child, Junie — the pair were out of time to get to the hospital. “I have my daughter in my hands,” he whimpers. This call is true-to-form and reminds audiences of Teyana Taylor’s prioritisation of family life. From her reality TV beginnings on Sweet 16 and recent VH1 show Teyana and Iman – which documents her career and duties as a daughter, mother, wife and entertainer –  it’s clear that Taylor will always strive to address all areas of her life equally.

This ideal is further explored when Shumpert and Junie feature, respectively, on ‘Come Back to Me’ and ‘Wake Up Love’. The former sees Taylor’s first-born directing her mother at the beginning (“turn it up!“) and end of the song (“be quiet!“). When their voices meet elsewhere in the track, the harmonies feel sweet and innocent; the signature husk of Taylor’s vocals pacifies Junie’s lighter, airy notes. Overall, the singer’s experience of motherhood comes across as humorous and joyous; in this avenue of life, Taylor is tranquil.

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With Shumpert, however, the artist demands more. “I need you to hear me baby,” she asserts on the lovers’ duet ‘Wake Up Love’. Across the thumping soundscape created by producer Mike Snell (who’s worked with the likes of Kanye West, Dave East and Rick Ross), Taylor divulges her vulnerabilities — she needs reassurances in her relationship and to be caught when she falls. Across ‘The Album,’ it’s established that for Taylor marriage is partly about being able to express herself comfortably; she invites both herself and her husband to exercise commitment and accountability here. On the Quavo-assisted ‘Let’s Build’ she affirms that her relationship is “forever” to her.

Teyana Taylor’s personal life has been dragged into the public arena countless times and on ‘Wrong Bitch’ she insists she won’t tolerate the infidelity she’s reportedly experienced in the past: “I ain’t sticking ’round for the runaround… What the hell?” Taylor is firm in her approach on the minimalist, bass- and harp-heavy cut. She’s cognizant of her self-worth and willing to walk away if she’s betrayed. Here she implores the listener to acknowledge and practise self-worth with no exceptions.

Teyana Taylor
Teyana Taylor (Picture: Getty)

‘The Album’ is also a love-letter to vintage rhythm and blues. From her backing vocals on ‘Bare Wit Me’ – which resemble that of Whitney Houston and Brandy – to her sampling of Erykah Badu (on ‘Lowkey’), Musiq Soulchild (‘Friends’) and more, she is not only immersed in the genre’s past, but embodies these sounds in a way that constantly draws respect from its veterans. How else could she have achieved of coup of featuring Missy Elliott and Timbaland on the stuttering, Future-assisted ‘Boomin’?

Teyana Taylor has finally delivered a record that scratches far beneath the surface of her persona as she triumphantly prioritises herself, from her sexuality to her vulnerabilities. In fact, it feels as though, on ‘The Album’, her vulnerabilities are her biggest source of strength and clarity.

Details

Release date: June 19

Record label: GOOD Music

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