TT is suffering too much and music is too influential to release more negative songs into the world. That is why Nathan “NVTE” Bullen’s recent focus is on conscious music with clean lyrics.
Bullen said the country is already moving downhill with crime and violence increasing every year. Knowing that music can influence people and affect them psychologically, he refuses to sing about violence and vulgarity. Instead, through his themes of crime, poverty, corruption, love, resilience, spirituality, Christianity, oppression, liberation, and even the environment, he hopes to impact people positively and uplift them with his music.
However, his music was not always conscious lyrics with afro beats and new age reggae sounds. The 25-year-old singer and songwriter started writing calypso at the age of seven and entered calypso competitions at Diego Martin Boys RC School. “I’ll never forget, in standard one, the first time I entered a calypso competition I came last. But I loved it so much I went back and tried again the next year and came first. Then I came first again.”
He wrote calypso and soca songs for himself and others up until third form at Belmont Boys’ Intermediate Secondary School, now known as St Francis Boys’ College. Around that time he was leaning towards urban American culture and listening to hip hop and rap. Even then he preferred lyricists and gave examples of artists he appreciated including Tupac, The Notorious BIG and Drake.
He wanted to evolve as an artist and did some research into songwriting and poetry. He said his biggest influences were Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and American poet Saul Williams. Eventually he became more “conscious” of societal issues and his Belmont Boys Intermediate English teacher, Christopher Mc Master, encouraged him. He said Mc Master made him aware that lyrics have power, that artists plant seeds in the minds of youths that germinate over time and could affect the social fabric of the country.
From 2014 through 2017, he recorded a lot of original R and B and hip hop music. During that time he searched for his own musical identity, exploring and experimented with his music. He recorded with a friend, his first producer, at Milner Hall at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. They shared the music with their UWI friends and from 2016 released several singles on the streaming platform SoundCloud.
In 2018, he recorded his first EP called Diary Lost in Tropic Waters. He released the first song, Commitment and Trust, in November 2018 and the other six in March of this year through DistroKid, an independent digital music distribution service that uploads music to various streaming sites including Spotify, SoundCloud, Napster and others.
Bullen recalled when he gave his co-worker, Kylene Dowden, the album to listen to she said she liked it but pointed out that he often spoke about helping society. She asked him why he did not try to “be the change” and make the music he wanted to make.
“She doesn’t know it, but that really stuck with me. She made me realise I was not chained to a label telling me what to do. I had nothing holding me back and I could do what I want. She’s also very supportive. She and her husband even came to my Carifesta performance (at the Queen’s Park Savannah on August 24) and I really appreciate that.”
His music reflects his thoughts and ideas and speak about love in a “clean manner,” social issues, and suggest cures for society’s ills. He said he is glad he made the change while his music was still “underground” because if his music was more mainstream he would have felt pressured to continue.
His second EP of five songs, NVTHY I, was released on July 22. He said the music encouraged life, freedom, spirituality, justice, and love, and that it was about a young man gearing up to challenge the status quo and its effects on TT.
“In these dark and dubious days where the once celebrated hell-raisers who carried the torch of rebellion and change, they are either gone or immobile leaving their successors, us, with their fiery characteristics. I believe we are failing. Because for the most part there exists the fickle-minded and the slothful-minded.”
While he previously only released singles, Bullen said he now wants to focus on bodies of work. “I believed it was time to start showcasing my artistry, that I can create projects. Music legends and people I look up to didn’t release singles but full bodies of work. I believe people remember you more when you release stories of your art, or paint a factual story about what’s going on in life.”
Bullen said he would love to make music as a full-time career and step away from his “formal hustle.” It took him a while to come to that decision because he grew up around the traditional mindset of going to university and working in an office, and that going into music would be wasting his education.
He said it was a mental struggle for many years as music was an “inherent quality” in him – he was always listening to, thinking about, or writing music. With that decision made he considers himself a bit of a rebel. “I just don’t like to follow the crowd. I want to take my own path... I understand you need to do what you have to do to make ends meet, but why not also push for what you want? Why imprison that talent God embedded in you?
“I’m just trying my best to explore the talent God gave me, live the life I know he wants me to live and do what He wants me to do... I want to spread positive messages and get the chance to uplift deprived and depressed communities on an international level.”
He said in the future he would like to tour as much as possible and visit places like India, Trenchtown, Jamaica and Senegal. His hope is to inspire other local, regional and international artistes to do their own thing instead of following the trend or bending to others’ opinion.
He also hopes to one day create a studio called ECHA (Enhancing and Caring for Hampered Adolescents) Sounds where youths from “deprived” communities who aspire to be musicians can record for free.
NVTE, pronounced “nate” as the A was stylised by flipping it upside down for better “Googleability,” can be found on YouTube at NVTE Official, on Instagram at akhenvte_212, and on SoundCloud at nvte212.