In January 2012, it was announced Taylor would be granted her release from the contract with Interscope and Star Trak. Taylor stated that she and Star Trak founder Pharrell Williams, have remained amicable since the end of their business relationship. She has credited him as a “big brother” and sees her early signing to Star Trak as a “blessing.” Taylor has stated on many occasions that her release from the label was necessary because she wanted to have a level of independence in the music industry. In an interview with DJ Skee, Taylor mentioned that “when [she] was signed for six years, [she] felt like she couldn’t do [anything],” and that she “couldn’t prove to [her] fans that [she] had the talent” and “couldn’t sing from [her] heart.”
As an independent artist at the time of her release, she had begun preparing her second release, a mixtape titled The Misunderstanding of Teyana Taylor. The mixtape drew influences from 1990s R&B legends like Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige. The tape was released in the first half of 2012, and was preceded by the release of “Make Your Move” (feat. Wale) and “D.U.I.” (feat. Jadakiss & Fabolous), which was released on February 25, 2012. More positive reviews of the latter track note that “The Harlem songstress channels Janet Jackson as she glides over the smooth Hit-Boy-produced beat with her airy vocals, while fellow New Yorkers Fabolous and Jadakiss ride shotgun”.
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. As part of GOOD Music, Taylor appears on the GOOD Music compilation album Cruel Summer, released September 18, 2012. She provides vocals for the opening track “To the World”, with Kanye West and R. Kelly, provides the hook and chorus for “Sin City”, which also features John Legend, Cyhi the Prynce, Malik Yusef and Travis Scott, and also duets with John Legend on a song titled “Bliss”. Taylor and Legend’s duet on the album was highly praised, Erika Ramirez of Billboard.com notes that “Teyana Taylor’s beautifully brash voice … illuminates in the electric-guitar heavy, Hudson Mohawke-produced ‘Bliss’.”
In addition to being featured on the GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer, Taylor soon began the process of recording her major-label debut album, to be released eventually through GOOD Music and The Island Def Jam Music Group. On July 27, 2014, via Twitter, Taylor announced the title of her debut studio album to be VII and revealed it would be released on November 4, through Def Jam and GOOD Music. The album debuted at number 19 on the Billboard 200, selling 16,000 copies in the United States in its first week. In its second week, the album dropped to number 78 on the chart, selling 5,000 copies. In its third, the album dropped to number 160 on the chart, selling 3,000 copies, bringing its total album sales to 24,000 copies at that time.
Taylor was set to be a judge on the eighth season of the American competitive dance reality television series, America’s Best Dance Crew, which aired its first episode on July 29, 2015 on MTV. On August 25, Taylor released her first extended play (EP), titled The Cassette Tape 1994. The EP pays tribute to the iconic 90s sound and includes many samples from 90s hits.
On June 17, 2016, Taylor released her single “Freak On”, featuring guest vocals from Chris Brown and production by DJ Mustard. It samples “Freak Like Me” by Adina Howard. Taylor announced that it will be the lead single from her upcoming second studio album. On August 28, 2016, at the MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West released the world premiere of the music video for his single, “FADE”, which features Taylor performing a dance routine, in a likeness to the 1983 film Flashdance. The video, directed by Eli Russell Linnetz, features Taylor dancing throughout a gymnasium and there is also an appearance by her husband, Iman Shumpert.