Teyana Taylor has her hands full—literally. Her four-year-old daughter, Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr., or “Junie,” makes a few cameos during her phone call with CR (something all-too-familiar to multitasking parents during the global pandemic). With a second child on the way, motherhood is on Taylor’s mind. It’s a theme that’s explored heavily on her third studio album, The Album, which she calls “a celebration of my people, my culture, and my roots” and was aptly—albeit unintentionally—released a few days ago on Juneteenth.
Spanning themes of unconditional love, sexual desire, and self-love, the body of work is broken up into five separate chapters, or “studio rooms,” that contain tracks relevant to that specific emotion. “If you’re in a sexy mood, you don’t have to listen to the whole album,” she says. “You can literally go to Studio L and that will last you. If you’re feeling a type of way toward your boyfriend, you go to Studio B. You don’t have to feel pressured to listen to all 23 songs in one listen. That’s not the goal.” It’s a clever tactic, but listening to Taylor’s Album from start to finish is a delight, especially considering the impressive roster of collaborators. You’ll find ’90s greats Erykah Badhu, Missy Elliott, and Lauryn Hill on “Low Key,” “Boomin,” and “We Got Love,” respectively. Kehlani, Quavo, Rick Ross, and more also appear throughout.
Taylor, 29, isn’t shy about her love for the ’90s. Her colorful, forthcoming capsule with M.A.C. Cosmetics was directly inspired by the era, and many of her music videos and visuals, which she creates and directs herself, are chock-full of ’90s references. (“How You Want It?,” what with its L.L. Cool J and Toni Braxton nods, immediately comes to mind.) Naturally, The Album feels distinctly of that era with much of it falling into the R&B category. “It’s my favorite time,” she says. “It definitely plays a big part in the album.” Here, Taylor opens up about her first album in two years, why she could get used to this whole quarantine thing, and how she finally made peace with the leaked TMZ call that documented the birth of her daughter.
Can you tell us about the album cover?
“It’s one of my favorites I’ve ever done. I wanted it to be very strong and powerful and representative of my people, of strong women, of my culture. I wanted the cover to get straight to the point. My husband [Iman Shumpert] plays a big part in the inspiration with the hi-top [haircut] and Grace Jones, but it was more so digging into the roots, our African roots. That was most important. That’s why I had the clay dreads and stuff. I wanted the core of it to be about strong black women.”
The Album opens with the recording of your husband’s call with 911 when you unexpectedly gave birth to Junie in your home. Why did you decide to include that? Do you feel differently now than when you first discovered it was leaked?
“When I finally came to peace with the call, I realized how beautiful it was. It was originally going to be my intro for K.T.S.E. [Keep The Same Energy, Taylor’s previous record], but it ended up not making it. I had the beat and everything ready to go. I don’t even know how [TMZ] managed to get the 911 call [that she was going into labor], but I remember a day or two after the baby was born, I heard the call and felt like my privacy was invaded. It was like, two days after, postpartum. I thought, Yo, what the fuck, man? It was a lot. But when I really sat back and listened to it, I thought, Damn, this is actually really, really cool. This is a moment to remember. Had Junie not come a month early and we’d gone to the hospital, we would have been able to document it and really be set up for the moment. Even though I was a little upset about the phone call and TMZ, it was also a blessing because it gave me some type of memory. It’s a day I’ll never forget. Never in my life. It’s something that I have to remind myself of just how crazy and special that day was. And I wanted it on my album.
I remember when it first came out and my baby was still in the incubator. There were a lot of emotions and frustrations. I’m a first-time parent and I’d never experienced anything like that. Even though she turned out to be a completely healthy baby and everything turned out perfect, there are a lot of situations that don’t end up perfect. My mind was kind of just all over the place. I’m actually happy that it wound up not making the first project because I would have never had the gorgeous vocals from my daughter to follow up the record. To be able to have her join in was amazing. It’s crazy how God works. It’s emotional of course, and you get the feels, but it’s nothing like feeling your feelings, [hearing] that phone call, and then hearing her opening up the song singing. It’s such a dope blend.”
You divided the album into five chapters, or “studios.” What was the significance behind that and what’s the theme of each?
“I wanted to capture literally every single emotion. I wanted to explore and have fun with the subjects. I didn’t want people to feel like, ‘Oh, she’s happily married so she can’t relate.’ At the end of the day, I’m still a female first, and there’s no female in this world that hasn’t been through every single emotion. I wanted people to be able to listen to it in sections: Studio A is assembling the pieces of love. That’s family, unity of love. Studio L is about strong sexual desires. The moving emotions that females go through. Studio B is about bad bitch behavior. Don’t play with me. I’m a bad bitch and I ain’t got time for the games. My patience is real short. You gotta remember who you are. Sometimes, when you’re not in the happiest relationship, you forget who you are. So that’s where Studio B hits. Studio U is when you’re in a space of unconditionally fighting for love at any cost. That’s a studio room we’ve all been through before. Studio M kind of breaks down a little bit of each room. It’s a mood for unconditionally fighting for love in a world where a bad bitch lives and lusts. I grabbed a little from each chapter and concluded it with Studio M.”
You’ve collaborated with some really incredible artists, like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliott. How did you select such a lineup?
“I go by how the song makes me feel. Sometimes you might have a beat and you hear a person on it before you’ve even started writing it. That’s just how I work. I’m very selective about who I choose to be on my records. Any person that I’ve ever wanted to be on my records is perfect—I just heard them on there. Almost like how you can close your eyes, listen to a song, and you can damn near see your future. That’s how I work. I follow my heart.”
You said that you recorded the bulk of the album while under quarantine at home.
“About 80 percent of it. Some songs I had already created for K.T.S.E. and they didn’t make it. But a lot of the record was [created] in quarantine, pregnant, getting it popping.”
Was that challenging or did you find it helpful in allowing you to focus?
“It was really dope. It was also something that was very much needed. People didn’t really know what do do with themselves under quarantine. I think that staying in one spot and not having anything to do is what stressed everybody out. But me being quarantined and really just locking in, gave me time. I almost enjoyed working more than I do on a regular basis. There’s nothing like being able to just get up, go downstairs, and record an album in the comfort of your own home. That’s what it was for me anyway. I was really able to stick my foot in it—no distractions, no invites nowhere. That’s how it happens, too: ‘Teyana, what are you doing? What are you up to? You at the studio? We’re about to go here!’ It’s always work or play. And of course I always chose work, but in the back of your head, all your friends are out partying and you’re missing out.”
A lot of the songs on The Album are about marriage and motherhood. What’s the biggest lessons you’ve learned about each so far?
“There’s not one set thing you learn. You learn as you go. The most important thing about marriage and motherhood is working on being a better you every single day you wake up. Working on being a better mom and wife very single day. Being a wife and a mom has taught me tremendous growth within myself. Trusting. I’ve learned so much from Junie [about] being fearless. I’m still learning every single day.”
You recently announced that you’re expecting your second child. Considering the current climate in America, do you feel an obligation to talk to your children about inequality and racism in America?
“Absolutely. This is the best time and the best age to really start having those uncomfortable conversations. I haven’t really gotten into the Black or White as far as the racism standpoint with her yet because she’s only four, but what I am teaching her early is to embrace her skin, embrace her color, embrace her hair, embrace her coils. Another thing is teaching her love from hate. Who are the good people and who are the bad people? Racism is something that is taught. That is not anything that anyone is born with. You have to be taught that, the same way that there are a lot of bad cops but there are also a lot of good cops. We’re all old enough to understand good from bad and love from hate. With her, I have to have these conversations, like, These are the good people, these are the bad people. There’s people who love and people who hate. I’m getting her to understand that early. And I think because she’s starting to get that, by the time she’s old enough to really start learning about the depth of racism, she’ll be fully aware and will know how to handle people. The most important thing—how to handle people.”
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