Every once in a while you notice a character in a movie or television program who steals the show. Of course that means that you are as impressed with them or more than some of the leading actors. Back in 2011, my wife suggested we see a new Tyler Perry movie at the time called “Madea’s Big Happy Family”. As the title suggests, Tyler Perry’s over the top character Madea is the one the large audience of moviegoers, including my wife, are going to see. However, this time a young lady with a supporting role caught the attention of both me and my wife. Playing the role of Sabrina in the film, aptly referred to as the baby-mama from Hell, was none other than this weeks’ featured artist Teyana Taylor. Her portrayal in the comedy made for many more laughs. My wife and I did not know that Teyana’s excellent film performance was parallel to her burgeoning music career. It appears that her preparation in music is paying off.
Teyana Taylor was born and raised in Harlem, New York City. The first time Taylor stepped into a recording studio, she was seven. She started out singing on the train to make money. It was then that she realized that she wanted to pursue music as a career and slowly started to enjoy it more. At age 9, she reportedly picked up a microphone in front of a crowd and began performing. Teyana was enrolled in many different talent competitions, including the Apollo Theater National All-Stars talent search, although she never won. She first came into the public’s awareness via her episode on MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen, a show depicting over-the-top 16th birthday parties of rich teenagers. Before Sweet 16 aired, Taylor signed to American recording artist and super producer Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak Entertainment imprint, through Interscope Records.
At this point in her career, most expected her to release singles and in time a successful album. However, after six years the album never came to be. When asked if she was frustrated with the way she was handled by Star Trak Entertainment she said, “I wouldn’t say it was frustration. It’s just that I was signed to Star Trak for six years. And I was not working. People don’t know the politics behind being signed to a label. So they just blame me like, “She doesn’t do anything” not knowing that if the label doesn’t move, nothing happens. So I eventually asked for a release. I wanted some time to find myself as an artist and to release a mixtape and to just be a free agent. And they gave it to me. I deserved it. It was a blessing. What if I had peeked at 15, 16?”
That is the million dollar question. The music industry of today is so different than previous years. Record companies used to nurture young talent and develop artists for several years. Now there is an expectation of immediate production or nothing at all. I remember years ago I worked for an independent label that looked to develop very young artists, feeling that such work and time would lead to a mature musician before twenty years of age. Today there are some artists who have years of experience by the time they leave their teen years. Teyana seems to view the big picture of her musical career, viewing her time spent at Star Trak as a “blessing”.
It was not that Teyana did absolutely no recording while signed at Star Trak. Taylor released her commercial debut single “Google Me”, in February 2008. The song was released as the lead single from her debut full-length project, a mixtape titled From a Planet Called Harlem. “Google Me” peaked at number 90 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. From a Planet Called Harlem was ultimately released on August 16, 2009, online for free download.
As an independent artist at the time of her release from Star Trak, she had begun preparing her second release, a mixtape titled The Misunderstanding of Teyana Taylor in early 2012. After some time as an independent artist and taking time to find herself as an artist, Taylor signed a joint-venture deal with Kanye West’s label GOOD Music and The Island Def Jam Music Group, on June 14, 2012. Finally, last month Taylor released her first studio album VII, which debuted at number one on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop album chart.
Upon listening to the album several times, and going back and comparing “Google Me”, I could easily hear the difference of eight years of a young woman’s life. VII is complete with adult-oriented material, and it seems this is Teyana’s musical comfort zone. With her talent in music and film, I expect to see and hear a lot more from Taylor in the future. Like she said regarding her work with Kanye West and GOOD Music, Now is the time.