In case you can’t tell by the cover of the magazine, Teyana Taylor was an easy pick for the face of our Hot 100 issue, and the No. 1 spot on the list. A graceful choreographer-dancer, actor-director and top ten recording star, she has brains, talent and, well, the photos show the rest.
“I’ve followed Maxim for a long time and I’ve always felt like I should be on the cover,” she tells us from her home in Atlanta, where she lives with her husband, professional basketball player Iman Shumpert. “So to actually get the call saying they want me on the cover really meant a lot. I was like, what? They want me on the cover? Okay!”
Thirty and loving it, Teyana is turning a corner in her career, focusing more on film work, like her show-stopping number “Gett Off” in Coming 2 America. In a barely PG-13-rated dance sequence, she is presented as a prospective bride to Lavelle Junson (Jermaine Fowler), long lost son of Prince Akeem, played by Eddie Murphy.
“It was like a dream come true, especially to be a part of something so iconic and so legendary, everything’s so surreal,” Teyana says of the movie, a sequel to 1988’s Coming to America, one of Murphy’s biggest hits, which garnered roughly $290 million at the box office. “He’s from New York, so it was a lot of New York energy. So we could talk our s--t, and I love that.”
In the days leading up to the shoot, she was so eager to get started she found herself doing things to make time fly faster. “I was just soaking everything in,” she says of her days on set. “Not only enjoying myself, but learning and collecting more wisdom, things I can collect that I know will make me better at what I do.”
She’s hoping to apply that knowledge in what could be a breakthrough project, a series about baby-boomer pop star and recent Queen of Twitter, Dionne Warwick, known in the Sixties for such hits as “Walk On By,” “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose.”
Warwick recently set Twitter afire as she wondered if rapper DaBaby’s mother was called DaMama. To Chance the Rapper she tweeted: “If you are very obviously a rapper why did you put it in your stage name? I cannot stop thinking about this.” And in another tweet, she suggested Teyana should play her in her life story. Netflix was listening.
“It was crazy ‘cause once I responded, she and her son immediately reached out and we got on the phone and got straight to it. And now we’re at the development stage and it’s so exciting,” she says.
“I want to make sure she approves everything and is comfortable with everything before we move forward,” she says of her meetings with Warwick. “That was the most important thing for me, to really learn one another and know what it is that she wants, and make sure her story is coming from her own mouth, rather than bringing people in to change her narrative.”
Teyana’s been thinking a lot about personal narrative lately, and her own journey from humble roots in Harlem as the only child of Nikki Taylor, who raised her and manages her career. She bowed before her first audience at the age of nine, performing in any talent show her mom could find. Her break came a few years later when Beyoncé hired her to choreograph her video, “Ring the Alarm,” in 2006.
It represented a huge break for the 15-year-old, who a year later danced and popped her way through the music video for Jay-Z’s single “Blue Magic.” Her debut single, “Google Me,” reached No. 90 on U.S. Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. It’s from her album, From a Planet Called Harlem, featuring artists like Pharrell, Jazze Pha, Mad Scientist, Hit-Boy, Shondre and Frost.
She raised eyebrows on Kanye’s fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, composing an intro and chorus for “Dark Fantasy,” and adding her touch to “Hell of a Life”; later choreographing and performing solo in Kanye’s steamy “Fade” video.
In 2011, Teyana amicably split with Interscope and Pharrell’s Williams’ Star Trak, and signed with Kanye’s label GOOD Music and The Island Def Jam Music Group, where she produced her debut studio album VII. It landed at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 with singles like “Maybe” with Pusha T and Yo Gotti, and “Do Not Disturb” with Chris Brown.
Dropping in 2018, her follow-up album, K.T.S.E. (Keep That Same Energy), received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with the London Guardian calling it “a record that melds new and old R&B with such flair.”
What happened in the meantime was life, just more of it—marrying Shumpert, having two baby girls, including her second, Rue, with whom she was pregnant during the pandemic while assembling her latest album titled, The Album, which landed number one on Billboard’s R&B charts when it came out last year. In a rave review, Entertainment Weekly described her voice as, “nimble, capable of simmering, deep-toned seduction, flirtatious wisps, and soaring balladry in turns.”
And while hip-hop is all good, in the true Hollywood tradition, what Teyana really wants to do is direct. And direct she does—music videos, under her alter ego, Spike Tey/Tee. Some of them feature herself with guest stars like Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Raekwon on “Gonna Love Me (Remix),” and others feature artists like Macy Gray.
“Honestly, directing is one of the best things that I’ve ever done, and one of my favorite things in my career that I’m doing, ‘cause I kind of always had that eye,” she says about working with her all-female production company on videos. “Sometimes what you see, the world may not see. So, once I started following my gut and following my intuition and doing what made me happy, and doing what I feel like I do best, is when I got the best results.”
Her focus behind the camera comes just as Teyana is turning a corner in life, becoming a self-described soccer mom. Granted, you don’t know many soccer moms that look like her in a bikini, but if you don’t believe it, just tune into their reality series on E! Entertainment Television.
E! calls We Got Love Iman & Teyana, which premieres this fall, a "refreshingly authentic and completely unfiltered new docu-series" that follows the couple "as they take the world by storm, all while juggling music, fashion, business and family. With their tight entourage of family and friends, Teyana and Iman are ready to continue building their empire, despite the whirlwind chaos and drama that goes along with it."
“I can’t just get up and go to Target,” she says about life in the bubble of a reality TV series. “I have to get up and know that there’s three cameras and a whole production team, and they got to go and get it approved and all that other stuff that comes with it.”
Then why do it? Because it brings unexpected joys, like capturing all your family’s most cherished moments, especially the ones you’re too busy to be there for. “My baby, Rue, she took her first crawl on camera. And Junie, her first day back to school,” Teyana grins at the thought of it.
“Usually my lens is on everybody else. It feels good for the lens to be on me and my family so I can look back and know I did a good job as a mom, I did a good job as a director, I did a good job balancing careers, balance your love, things that are important and good,” she pauses, nodding with satisfaction. “Life happens, and no regret in that. I love every bit of it.”