Two summers ago, Teyana Taylor dropped K.T.S.E. Although the record was initially marred by a messy release (thanks, Kanye!), the pristine collection of songs ultimately made my list of the Top 40 Albums of 2018 and the Top 75 Albums of 2010s. Just two years later, Teyana has returned with The Album, a sprawling hourlong collection of 23 tracks that are bursting with love and growth.
A constant criticism that has plagued Teyana for most of her music career is that, while the music is objectively good and enjoyable, it doesn’t do much to individualize her in a crowd of rising R&B starlets. In terms of visuals and choreography, Teyana is in a class of her own. In her music, however, it always felt like she hadn’t fully come into her own yet. On The Album, Teyana comes closer than she ever has before. Throughout the record, her raspy tone wraps every lyric in the warmth of her love. She’s all about love. The Album explores the love of a mother, the love of a wife, the intricacies of love in long term relationships, fleeting love, and the love of being alive. The record’s gut-wrenching intro immediately situates the record in this deep multilayered rumination on love. The intro is a highly emotional recording of a 911 call from Iman Shumpert, Teyana’s husband, as she gives birth to their first daughter, Junie, on the bathroom floor. The power of childbirth heightens the feeling of love in ways that few events can, and this inherently sets up The Album to be one of Teyana’s more personal works.
Some of the more personal songs on the album, “Come Back to Me,” “Wake Up Love,” and “Let’s Build,” are also the tracks that differentiate the record from a run of the mill R&B project. “Come Back to Me,” feature surprise vocals from Junie as Teyana sings about the age old saying “If you truly love something, you’ll let it go, and if it’s meant to be it’ll come back to you.” Hearing Junie’s voice croon in the background of the track taps into a long history of musical mothers including their children’s vocals like Beyoncé with “Blue,” for example. The only issue with “Come Back,” it’s truly a beautiful track, is that Rick Ross’ verse is placed at the beginning of the song which oddly lengthens the amount of time it takes to hear Teyana say anything on her own album. “Wake Up Love,” on the other hand, balances soft piano and strings with a bouncy drum pattern. Out of the album’s 23 tracks, this will likely be the song that sticks in your head, even with Iman’s unnecessary verse. In that vein, a few of The Album‘s tracks suffer from unnecessary features. Quavo offers absolutely nothing on “Let’s Build,” and the same is true with Big Sean on “Shoot It Up” and Future on “Boomin.” The album’s best collaborations, however, come from the black women that Teyana tapped to be a part of the project.
Erykah Badu (“Lowkey”), Missy Elliott (“Boomin”), Kehlani (“Morning”), and Lauryn Hill (“We Got Love”) all feature on The Album. “Lowkey” is built around an interpolation of Badu’s own “Next Lifetime,” and it’s a wonderful moment of two generations of R&B stars coming together on a song that bridges the gap and expands on the blueprint that Erykah set. Admittedly, the song, which is about having feelings for someone but understanding the timing is wrong, feels awkwardly placed after “Wake Up Love.” “Boomin” is a standout track that is also built around a sample, this time it’s Blaque’s “808.” Missy Ellitott’s ad-libs are nothing short of legendary and her intro alone lifts the song higher than it could have ever been before. Along with Missy’s inimitable energy, Teyana’s vocal layering and Timbaland’s percussion make this track an instant winner. Kehlani dropped one of the best albums of the year just a few weeks ago with It Was Good Until It Wasn’t, and her 2019 duet with Teyana makes a reappearance on The Album. Between the punchy production and staccato vocal delivery, “Morning” actually sounds better in the context of the record than when it was first released. The song details an extramarital love affair between Teyana and another woman which gives the album’s general theme yet another layer. Finally, Lauryn Hill appears on the album closer, “We Got Love,” a track that first surfaced and was performed during the K.T.S.E. album cycle. This should have been The Album‘s title track as it quite literally summarizes and anchors the mission of the record.
For all of its enjoyable songs, The Album suffers greatly because of its overwhelming length and amount of tracks. The album runs a little over seventy minutes with 23 tracks. Unfortunately, Teyana left too much room for songs that are filler or are simply not up to par with the more impressive tracks. She also tacked on a bunch of loose singles, like “How You Want It,” that don’t necessarily add anything to the album. “Ever Ever,” “Try Again,” “69,” and “Friends,” are just a few examples of songs that are fine, but not incredible. If 23 songs were deemed worthy enough to be on the album, they all have to serve a purpose. On the other hand, there are songs like “1-800-One-Night” and “Bad,” that tap into interesting sensual moments, but ultimately are too short and sound like unfinished interludes. At best, The Album does a good job at spreading the higher quality tracks across the record. Even on the back half, the record houses a gorgeous ballad in “Lose Each Other,” a brutally honest mid-tempo in “Concrete,” and a gritty rumination on fear and love with “Still.” One other issue the record has is its general tempo. For the vast majority of The Album‘s runtime, the record stays in a mid-tempo groove that gifts gorgeous tracks, but ultimately causes the album to drag. It doesn’t help that the more uptempo songs (“We Got Love,” “Made It,” etc.) are stuffed towards the very back of the record.
Ultimately, there are really two albums in The Album. The first is an intensely sensual record and the second is a soul-baring look at what love and emotional connections mean to Teyana outside of a sexual connotation. This lack of focus dampens the project. The beauty of K.T.S.E. was that, at just eight songs, there simply was no room or opportunity for Teyana to lose focus and put any song on the record. While the shortness of K.T.S.E. did hinder it, The Album shows that Teyana is still yet to strike the balance between length and vision with her albums. All in all, there is something for everyone on The Album. The album unabashedly explores the evolution of R&B with soulful ballads, trap-inspired bangers, electro-R&B tunes, and songs that sit at the intersection of rock, reggae, afrobeats, and R&B. Teyana’s voice is as crisp as ever and her tone is buttered with love. The Album is ultimately another win for Teyana, but there is still so much more that she has left to give.
Key Tracks: “Lowkey” | “Lose Each Other” | “Concrete” | “Wake Up Love” | “Wrong Bitch”