But the “Fade” music video wasn’t an arrival so much as it was an anointing. In the years preceding Kanye’s cosign on the MTV stage, Taylor had been steadily grinding: In 2012, she signed with West’s G.O.O.D. Music under Def Jam; in 2014, she released VII, her debut studio album; in 2015, she dropped an EP, The Cassette Tape 1994. She appeared on West’s 2010 “Christmas in Harlem” with Cyhi the Prynce; a month earlier, she lent background vocals to West’s tortured My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
The dissonance of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy haunts Taylor’s latest release, K.T.S.E., or Keep That Same Energy. The new record is the last in the series of consecutive albums West announced in April. K.T.S.E. follows Ye, West’s solo full-length; Kids See Ghosts, a collaborative project with Kid Cudi; and two West-produced albums, one each from his protégé Pusha T (Daytona) and New York heavyweight Nas (Nasir). Even for Kanye, the workaholic super-producer who infamously locked himself in a room to do five beats a day for three summers, rolling out five albums in five weeks is a lofty goal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, these efforts faltered as the summer continued. But Taylor’s positioning at the end of the release wave—and her status as the least established of the G.O.O.D. artists—made her uniquely vulnerable to West’s missteps. In the two months that transpired between Kanye’s announcement of Teyana’s album and the belated K.T.S.E. release, the G.O.O.D. Music team sidelined its most prominent female artist not just by neglecting her work, but also through the dizzying maelstrom of its male stars’ antics.
In the lead-up to the Ye release, West bungled the label’s PR at every turn by drawing the ire of myriad audiences: He tweeted a photo of himself wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, then aligned himself with Donald Trump and his “dragon energy,” then posted screenshots of famous friends attempting to steer him away from the proverbial sunken place; he said that 400 years of slavery “sounds like a choice.” For his part, Pusha T accepted Kanye’s suggestion to use a garish, $85,000 photo of the late Whitney Houston’s drug-strewn bathroom sink as the cover of Daytona; he also reignited a longstanding feud with Drake, dominating headlines with dispatches from his sojourn into the archives of Aubrey’s alleged indiscretions.
Meanwhile, the vacuous Nasir, Nas’s first album since his 2012 post-divorce record, Life Is Good, neglected to address the fact that his ex-wife, Kelis, had recounted details of Nas’s alleged abuse just weeks prior to the album’s release. Taylor’s K.T.S.E. arrived at the tail end of these missteps, after the G.O.O.D. team had cemented its reputation as a home for artists lazily labeled “problematic.” Her work, like that of countless other female artists, thus became collateral damage in the ongoing circus of masculine misdeeds.
But the record itself, a compact eight-track albumette, buzzes with promise. Taylor’s voice is alternately husky and high-pitched. She lilts over slinky production, belts over the sound of high-powered lasers. Taylor, now the 27-year-old mother of Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., wife of Iman Shumpert Sr., and proprietor of Junie Bee nail salon, sounds far more self-assured than she has on any prior records. She delves into personal insecurities and emerges confident, allows herself to be vulnerable while remaining steadfast in who she is.