Teyana Taylor - VII (Deluxe Version)

VII (Deluxe Edition) * Teyana Taylor * R&B * November 4, 2014

Teyana Taylor first became known to people when she appeared on My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV.  What most people don’t know is that, with her mother (who is her manager) at her side, she managed to get herself signed to Interscope Records via Pharrell Williams’ Star Trax Entertainment shortly before it aired.  She has spent most of her time since then floating around, seemingly aimlessly.  She headed a band for a brief moment, played basketball, was a skateboarder, a clothing designer, actor, and dancer all in the space of three years.  In that same time, she only released on commercial single, Google Me, whichpeaked at 90 on the charts and ultimately caused her album to be released as a mixtape.

Things did start looking up for Taylor musically when, in 2010, she managed to impress Kanye West and pursued him to feature her on his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album.  When she was released from Star Trax in 2012, West immediately signed her.  While he continued to builder her brand through side ventures, he made a more concerted effort to bring attention to her music, releasing another mixtape that garnered critical acclaim and wider attention, especially after she was featured on the G.O.O.D. Music compilation LP, Cruel Summer.

Now, after two years of near musical silence, she gives us her first official LP titled after the number of years in her journey thus far.  Has it been worth the wait?  Let’s take a listen.

1. Outta My League (Interlude) – This brief interlude calls on Taylor’s Trinidadian background mixed with an old-school R&B feel in it’s production as she sings about making a move on a man that doesn’t know she’s alive.  Taylor’s vocals are smoky and rich, creating a seductive air that might be hard for the object of her affection to pass up.  While there is a line towards the end that sounds like she sings ’cause boys like you/Never want a guy like me, she has you engaged from the start.  This is a good opener of an album but not the strongest as the fade-out leaves you aching for the rest of the track (more on that later).

2. Just Different – Starting off with a fluctuating production and rich, choral-styled harmonies that transition into a 70’s style R&B ballad that I think is about Taylor trying to justify her being the side piece of a man that she absolutely loves.  The reason I say “think” is because, despite the strength of her vocals, she doesn’t enunciate her lyrics well.  Half the lyrics just fall into a void of lovely sound.  While she does sound good and the production choice of what sounds like two separate Isley Brothers samples is nice, the fact that she can’t be understood makes it impossible to give this track a pass.

3. Request – Over a cascade of harp notes, violin strings, and electric keyboard chords, Taylor’s vocals shine on this sexy track about being her man’s fantasy.  This is a solid babymaker of a track with straightforward lyrics that, while not veiling what she’s talking about, aren’t so explicit that it doesn’t hold appeal for a larger R&B audience.  The enunciation issue from the previous track shows no signs here as her vocals performance is clear and crisp with her runs never veering into a range that breaks the mood but elevates the track to new heights.  A strong track even if the production is a little on the generic side.

4. Do Not Disturb – There is a reason why Chris Brown and Teyana Taylor are friends; they make beautiful together.  The production has a hint of a 90’s slow jam sample overlaid with throbbing bass and a rhythmic swishing that sells seduction.  There is the hint of at least three separate samples being used, one of which I’m sure is from an SWV song, that gives the beatwork complexity.  Vocally, Taylor and Brown play off one another well, each allowing the other to showcase while engaging in stellar harmonies together throughout.  It sounds like the audio equivalent of lovemaking.  The biggest issue some might have is with the breakdown near the end of the track where the production switches up and the lyrics get incredible raunchy.  I actually think that this works for the track, making the rest of it sound like a warning and that this is what’s going on behind that do not disturb sign.  A standout track.

5. Broken Hearted Girl – Even without seeing any liner notes, it’s impossible not to recognize the work of Eric Bellinger on this track.  From  the lyrical structure to the production, he is all over this song (I’m pretty sure I also hear him putting in some backing vocals).  The fact that Taylor vocally owns this song is a testament to her talent.  It would very easy for her to mimic Bellinger’s vocal style, but she switches it up well, adding depth in tone and emotion.  The lyrics here are interesting to say the least.  What seems to start off as a track about Taylor trying to hit up a guy she’s just met for a one-night stand, it becomes clear after a while that this is actually about a woman trying to get over a broken heart by getting under the next guy.  There’s even a hint of her thinking that sex is all she’s good for.  The verse laid down by Fabolous is an excellent fit, with him playing the guy who can see her desperation and has  trouble accepting her advances.  The only thing that kind of hills the vibe is the completely unneeded fade-out into Teena Marie’s Portuguese Lover adlibs.  While get the significance of the inclusion (her old lover was like the man described in the classic track), it throws the rest off the song off.  Despite that misstep though, this is a standout track for the writing alone but all aspects are on point.

6. It Could Just Be Love (Interlude) – A drum and bass driven interlude that’s about Taylor making a fool out of herself for love.  Nothing particularly noteworthy about it, lyrically or vocally.

7. Put Your Love On – A short track about Taylor craving the loving of her man.  Her vocals are bombastic and fit the production and mood well.  The production itself is probably the most interesting to this point on the album with its island-styled rhythms.  The one MAJOR issue; the audio watermark right after the start of the second verse.  It has the unfortunate effect of making the listener feel like this is a preview track from a mixtape.  Without the watermark this track would have been a nice listen, even if it’s a little forgettable.  With it, it becomes skippable.

8. Maybe – The first official single from this album, this is a fun track.  The production thumps with bass and sensuality from beginning to end with Taylor’s vocal adding that extra spice that puts it over the top.  About the singer being completely sprung after a one-nighter with a new man, this track’s appeal far exceeds its parts.  From appropriate but mediocre Yo Gotti and Pusha T verses to mildly explicit but somewhat generic lyrics, everything about this song says it should be highly forgettable, but listeners will find themselves putting it on repeat.  Not the deepest track on the album, but a strong one nonetheless.

9. Dreams – This is a remix of the freebie track Dreams of Fuckin’ A R&B Bitch that Taylor releases in response a song that Tory Lanez wrote about his fantasies of her earlier this year.  If you heard the original track, you will notice two key differences between the versions.  The first is the huge shift in production, which is understandable if her team couldn’t clear the sample.  It actually sounds a little better the original, though.  It adds a softness to the braggadocios lyrics that gives it a more distinct feminine quality that works better with her vocals, which are lovely and sweet despite subject matter.  The second and more inexplicable change is in the full title of the song.  She edits herself by switching the more crass dreams of fuckin’ you a R&B bitch to a more tame dreams of sleepin’ with an R&B chick.  That would be fine if the rest of the song was similarly edit; but it’s not.  Everything else is exactly the same.  While people who haven’t heard the original might not have an issue with the change, those who have will be thrown and curious as to why.  Despite that, this is a fun track that will garner quite a few relistens.

10. Sorry – This is a track that leaked to little fanfare right around the time that Taylor dropped Maybe.  It’s a shame, too, because this is a beautiful track.  A ballad that is said to be inspired by her breakup with her fiancé of about two years, this turns the tables on the man that wants her back by telling him that she’s sorry there’s no place in her life for him anymore.  The piano-driven ballad highlights Taylor’s pain-tinged vocals, allowing her to almost bring you to tears.  There are few singers that can handle single-instrument production like this without boring their audience to death, but she manages to do so expertly.  Even the abrupt cutoff works as it sounds like she is so overcome with emotion she can’t take speaking to him anymore.  A standout track.

11. Business – Taylor released a video clip of this song not to long before dropping the album.  Taking the theme from Ginuwine’s None of Your Friends’ Business, she sings about she and her lover keeping the internals of their relationship to themselves.  In the era of Instagram love, this is probably a foreign concept to some,  but she makes a good case for loving out loud but with discretion.  The production sounds like another twisted sample that I can’t quite place and is a little on the repetitive side.  Still, Taylor’s vocals manage to add the perfect amount of texture to make the song interesting.  The biggest downside is that the song just ends, leaving the listener feeling like there should have been another verse coming.  A nice track, but not particularly memorable.

12. In The Air – With hints of a Theremin beneath bumping bass, the last track of the standard edition sounds like it might have been written by or for Chris Brown.  It has elements of his track X mixed with his hit Deuces.  In the track, Taylor declares that she is tired of her man cheating on her and has decided to move on.  Her vocals are good but she sounds like she’s imitating Brown at times and that makes the song seem like it is less her own.  While not a particularly memorable song, it is worth a few listens.

13. Outta My League [Bonus Track] – This is the full version of the opening interlude; which begs the question, why wasn’t it used in its entirety in the first place?  Taylor’s vocals are gorgeous with that initial smokiness playing throughout to great effect.  The lyrical switch-up that happens halfway through the song adds a fun and flirty element that keeps you engaged.  While the girl/guy lyric issue still comes on at the end, this is one of the better tracks on the album.

14. It Could Just Be Love [Bonus Track] – The full version of the album’s second interlude.  Unfortunately, expanding the track to full length doesn’t make it any more interesting.  Most listeners will find their attention going elsewhere as there really much here to grab on to.  Taylor’s vocals are strong but somewhat disinterested sounding.  The production has some life in it, but the generic lyrics and subpar vocals bring it crashing do.  A highly skippabble track.

What the listener is left with is a better than average first LP from a fledgling artist.  Taylor demonstrates that she has more than enough talent to have a sustainable career, but the production choices keep many of the tracks from fully taking off.  There were times that I felt like I was listening to a well-produced mixtape, not an official release from production perfectionist Kanye West’s imprint.  The good thing is that the attention that this project gets might garner her enough juice in the industry to be able to up her game the second time around.  That would be a good thing because, with the right hand guiding her, I feel Taylor could be the next big thing in R&B.

Rating:  3.0