Teyana Taylor is the multi-hyphenate on the tip of the R&B world’s tongue. Her Kanye West-produced sophomore LP, K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy), debuted at No. 2 on the Top R&B Albums charts. Still, its day-late album release caused mixed reception — from herself included.
The anticipated body of work Taylor played at her Los Angeles K.T.S.E. listening event streamed to the general public with one less track and an earful of vital samples scraped. “[What] I learned from this experience is I do not care what time it is. I do not care about the day and age. I will be listening to that album before that motherfucker drops,” she laughed from the artist lounge of the Billboard office in New York City.
Some online listeners have critiqued the Harlemite’s musical perfectionism as “ungrateful,” a title she would take to her Instagram account to clarify and dismantle. Amid the controversy surrounding her 23-minute album, luminaries such as Elton John, Diddy and Janet Jackson shined light upon an undeniable facet: Taylor’s star power.
While it’s been four years since her debut album, VII, the newfound vulnerability and sonic evolution etched through K.T.S.E.‘s songwriting was worth the wait. As G.O.O.D. Music’s first lady since 2012, Taylor recalls a passionate K.T.S.E. conversation with her team. “Technically, if none of you want to put out an album ever again, you don’t have to,” she recalls telling her G.O.O.D. peers. “Y’all already set your mark. But for me, that is different. I have a lot to prove.”
Showing and proving fueled the R&B starlet to do just that with K.T.S.E. Billboard connected with the singer and entrepreneur about how her marriage to NBA star Iman Shumpert has influenced her studio sessions, the honesty behind the song “3Way,” juggling businesses and why legacy means everything to her.
This is Teyana Taylor, up-close and personal.
K.T.S.E. opened at No. 2 on the Top R&B Albums chart, and you’ve received plenty of A-list praise. Still, describe your reaction after that Janet Jackson video dropped.
No, we opened at No. 1 on iTunes. [Laughs] Lord, I tell you, I went crazy. So I had already met her and got all my tears out. I got all my fangirl out. But then the fangirl came right back. You know when you meet somebody, you are kind of cured, you feel better. You might feel a little more relaxed when you see them the next time.
So, I looked [at my phone] like, “Oh, shit! She just did a video!” [Laughs] Like, what? It is one thing to meet somebody, and you are crying to them because you are a big fan. Then, they might be nice to you because you are in front of their face. She does meet and greets, [being friendly] is what they are supposed to do. But, for Janet Jackson to follow me and make me her [Instagram] Wednesday crush, and then do a whole video shout out, amidst her rough time, you know what she is going through right now — it really meant a lot.
It felt like, “Wow! You really believe in me. You really know I exist. This is wild. This is real. I just saw her at the Essence Festival. It was like, “Alright, girl. You know I love you.” She told me she loved me, too. [Laughs]
You and her looked like besties on Instagram. What offering has “Mother Petunia” given you that stuck?
As far as advice, she has given me a lot. When I talk to someone like Janet, I more so ask questions. Even when people ask me, “what kind of advice do you have,” [I am hesitant]. I like to ask questions, so it feels like your answers are the advice for me. But I think with someone like her, her advice is self-explanatory. She does not even really have to say anything.
You feel as though her legacy speaks for itself.
Yes, it is her legacy. You can see how hard she works, and how serious she takes her visuals. When you look at her showmanship, and different things like that — [it is inspiring]. So, when I finally get to see her, it really comes from us kiki-ing. I do not like nagging people. It is great just being around her. Her answers to my questions are always full of advice. You know, I am deliberate. I ask questions for a reason.
Fans have been adamant about the release of your sophomore project since VII. You’ve exemplified tremendous allegiance to G.O.O.D. Music. How necessary is patience during your creative process?
Girl, patience is so necessary. You will drive yourself insane if you do not have patience. I’ve had to learn patience from everything I have been through growing up. It helps to have a relationship with God, to know that his timing is the best timing.
I never question his timing. So, knowing that has helped me a lot with my patience. I’ve had moments where it was like, “Maybe it is not my time. Perhaps this is not what God had planned for me. Maybe things will come at another time.
The recent Pusha T interview at Beats 1 radio where he stamped K.T.S.E. as his favorite LP among the new releases on your roster went viral. Can you think of any artists that successfully barked on the president of their label?
I mean, it is different. I do not look at Pusha T or any of them at that level as [an executive]. We are all really like brothers. Yeah, I said brothers. Sometimes they all forget I am a lady. I am delicate. They treat like the little homie, and the little bro, too.
Conversations get like, “N—a, anybody is bound to get it,” if I am feeling some type of way. Especially with Pusha T & I, we have been through it all together. You know, he and I were on Pharrell’s label together. Now we are on G.O.O.D. Music. We were cool before he became president. I have always been known to voice my opinions, things like that.
We are a family before anything. Any curse out that I may give, anybody who has ever received that call from me, it is always out of love. As he explained, I am just passionate about my shit. You know, because I have been through so much, I am a little bit more nervous or hands on. And, I call like, “Yo! This has to go right because I [worked hard on this].” I do take this seriously.
I have to tell them, “Y’all n—as already have a legacy. Y’all already where you wanna be in life. Y’all really only put out these albums ‘just because’ type shit. Technically, if none of you want to put out an album ever again, you don’t have to. Y’all already set your mark.” But for me, that is different. I have a lot to prove. So, I was explaining, “N—a, my shit has to be right.” You know what I am saying?
So, my outburst comes more from passion and hurt. It is my “demo-itis” or whatever. So, Pusha T and they are susceptible towards my feelings. They do not take it as, “Oh! We beefin’,” or anything harsh. They take it as “I understand what you have been through. They know a bitch is just passionate. They see a bitch just want to put out quality music. They know.
How much of your love life with Iman do you incorporate into your music as far as subject matter?
As you can hear, he has been subject matter since the VII album. He was up and throughout that whole Goddamn album, shit. [Laughs]
The Internet was also buzzing over your record “3Way.” How vital is spontaneity in your marriage?
See, the thing that confused me about the “3Way” [song controversy following] my interview with Big Boy was [platforms misconstruing my words]. I think it happened when blogs began picking it up, especially this one blog in particular, but I will not give it promotion. There are specific blogs that you can tell are not used to getting clicks. So they have to use certain headlines to get the click. A [headline read], “Teyana Taylor says that the key to a happy marriage is by giving your man threesomes.” And I felt like, “I never said that.”
My personal adventures, and what I want to do, has nothing to do with the next person. Like I also said to Big Boy, I do not think anyone should ever do anything that you do not want to do. I am Dora the Explorer. I am Curious George. I want to explore everything. I feel like, as boyfriend and girlfriend, you explore everything. Then, you get engaged, the sex is still crazy. The sex has always been crazy. So when the sex is spicy, and then you get to the next level, which is marriage, and saying your vows, at some point you want to try other things.
So I am not saying it is always the guy. I hate the fact you hear things like, “Yeah, you’re doing this to keep him,” or “women give guys threesomes to keep their man.” It’s like, “Girl, [don’t assume] because you may have done it, and it did not work out for you,” don’t compare our relationship to yours. I am not doing anything of that sort to keep my man. It is something that was my idea. I think my husband is extremely sexy. I’d like to explore with my husband. I am not saying we just ménage à trois-ing every single fucking day.
However, if we are out having a good time, or we are drunk, and that is how we are feeling, that is simply how we feel. We are not just doing it with anybody. I am not sharing anything. We are not kiki-ing with anybody after we do it. I am not doing it with homegirls. So, although that is something I enjoy doing from time to time, I am also crazy. So, if you think that I am doing this without a set of rules, or I do not have this shit under control, then you do not really know me. You are not really a fan. Some girls were online like, “I had so much respect for Teyana until I seen this.”
If you were really a fan, then you know Petunia is crazy as fuck. You have to understand that if it is going down, my shit is all the way under control. No, it is not an everyday thing. No, it is not something anyone should make you feel like you have to do. The way to keep your man is always to be willing to be a better you.
When can fans anticipate the release of your forthcoming project with Ty Dolla $ign?
Yeah, let me clear that up now. I said we are working on an album. I said we would create together. I did not say we were putting out an album next week. Let’s get these songs straight and get the project out. I am done with promises. I am not making any more God-damn promises. It won’t be me. I do my part. When whoever drops the ball, that is not on me.
Absolutely, with anything in entertainment, whatever you’re working on has to go through so many channels.
So many channels! That is what I mean when I say drop the ball. I am not saying, one person, in particular, said, “Fuck it! I am dropping this ball.” Stuff happens. When shit on your record doesn’t get cleared, that in itself is a ball drop. Somebody done bounced that motherfucking ball. It is what it is.
Not only are you the highlight of Teyana & Iman on VH1, but you’ve also now joined the cast of season 4 of BET’s Hit the Floor. How did you prepare for this role?
One thing about me, when I get a role, I just study the character even as you’ve seen with my Medea role, I go all the way in. I can’t half-ass anything. With this character, I had to study it really. They gave me a list of words, saying, “She is this and this.” So, I studied every word. Even if you think you know what a word means, you never really fully understand it until you live with its definition. Like, unless you read dictionaries every day. I like to have an over-standing of what is going on in my role.
Besides the scandals and the extra TV stuff, I have a lot of similarities to London Scott. I relate to her almost being willing to say, “F it all!” I feel her wanting to give up. I myself overcame those situations. London was able to fight off whatever deep rooted issues she had. She did not let the devil get the best of her, and stood true to who she is.
How has motherhood and marriage shifted your ambitions within your music?
As you can it see, it changed a lot. K.T.S.E. was different from VII. That LP was fresh out of heartbreak and then finding love again. VII album was very sexual as well. It was lovey-dovey. I feel like with K.T.S.E., having the four-year music gap and then becoming a mother and wife definitely took a turn. I have more to talk about. I have more to live for.
There is a lot more vulnerability on K.T.S.E. There were more emotions, pain, love, happiness, all of those things. That is kind of the big turn for me. That was with all the records, even with “3Way,” I felt it was time to give more lyrical content. I had those conversations with myself like, “What is going to make this different than everything else?” So, you do not have to take every song on K.T.S.E. so fucking literal. But, I do get straight to the point, though.
No, I believe this album did have more layers to it.
You can hear your evolution as a woman. Where you are mentally at 22 years old versus what you’ve become as a woman in present day are entirely different.
Right. It’s like seeing a little kid, and then you do not see them for five years. They are grown as hell. And, then they become almost taller than you are. Now they are all the way speaking up for themselves. Even though it has been five years, it feels like, “No, I thought you were still [little].” I think the album because there was such a long gap, technically, a sophomore album from me should have been like another VII. It should have been young, sexual, and sensual. Things like that. I think K.T.S.E. caught a lot of my fans off-guard because you [ordinarily] step from one to two. Instead, my shit went from one to five. [Laughs]
In that gap, people grow — I fell in love. Life happens. That is the most important thing when life happens. We were able to talk about it on the album. There is transparency.
You first paid homage to ball culture in the “Fade” audiovisual, but the song “WTP” sonically took it to the next level. Describe your love for the underground LGBT subculture.
Everybody that knows me knows that I live for that. I’ve been in that scene since I was a 15-year-old. They have been sneaking me into the balls. I have been honorary in their house. It began at a young age. So, I have always appreciated the culture. I am really just a gay boy in a woman’s boy, for sure. [Laughs]
I really have been loving it and celebrating it since before it was a matter of popularity. I was around before it became a thing to be like, “Oh, yes!” You know how ball culture is so mainstream [now]. Shit, I damn-near had a mini-ball during my sweet sixteen. It did not make the televised episode. I had voguing in my “Google Me” video. I had all the queer [dancers] who were in my video voguing down. There were categories and everything that did not make the video. Now we are in a generation where all love is winning. But, for me, all love has been winning!
R&B is your passion — who in the game do you believe is handling their art responsibly?
SZA, H.E.R., Kehlani and Solange — I love Solange. Actually, a whole bunch of artists. I can go on and on. But they are handling that motherfucker, for sure. You know I am an R&B head. I do not care who is who. I do not care who gets mad at me for it. So, I would be honest if I felt like no one was taking care of their business. But, them bitches are taking care of their business. I am talking about like, I literally just went to sleep to H.E.R.’s project. It is just soothing and relaxing. Afterward, I woke up, and my phone was just dead. I had that album on repeat. It was crazy.
Alongside your plethora of businesses like #Fade2Fit, you opened a Harlem nail salon named after your daughter. What does legacy mean to you?
Legacy means everything to me, especially with everything that I and her father do. We want her to be the same way. We want her to multitask. He and I are molding her now, to feel like, not even the sky’s the limit. You can do anything you want to do. You can follow any dream in your heart.
There is no pressure for her to become who we see her as. No one wants to go through that. So, I definitely want her to lead her own way, and do what she wants to do. I will be there to support her one hundred percent. I will put a couple of businesses in her name. So, even if she does not make up her mind, or know what it is she wants to do immediately, she will automatically be a business owner.
That is one thing… you always have to be, business-minded. She will be smart. She needs to get to her bag and be secure consistently. You have to provide for you, your kids coming, and the kid’s kids, and everything else.
I want her to be independent no matter what. She does not need to feel like she ever needs a man. There is no need to depend on a man to do anything for you. Now when you get married, if they do nice things for you, that is fine. But, God forbid, your relationship doesn’t work out, you need to be good. You have to do things on your own and in return, you will be able to do things for him.