As I was flying from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for work, I found it difficult to calm myself as the turbulence plagued my 2,400-mile trip.
Fatigue could not save me, nor did the book that I carried as a safety net. So, I decided to scroll through my infinite playlist and there hidden in the myriad of music was an album entitled Attire, a collective body of work from independent UK label Cachet, whose roster includes the likes of The MMNT, KVN, and producer Drew Kwame.
Their sound is incendiary, emotive, ethereal and honest; a feeling that is void in today’s “catchy” music wave. My focus of attention a few weeks ago was to speak with alternative R&B singer-songwriter KVN (pronounced as each individual letter).
Officially known as Kevin Obatolu, KVN which stands for “Keep Vibes Near,” KVN is a 22-year-old from East London. His parents are of African origin; his dad is from Nigeria where is “mum” is from Nigeria and Sierra Leone. While KVN was born in the UK, Nigeria occupies a profound space in terms of the onset of his musical genius. When speaking of his earliest childhood experiences with sound, it becomes easier to understand the global perspective that is infused in his music.
“My earliest memories are probably in the car listening to my dad play some Nigeria songs he likes. A Nigerian artist I’ll never forget is Lagbaja. His songs would be infectious. Would find myself singing it every car journey over 10 mins.”
With over 17K plays on Soundcloud, 2K streams on Apple Music and over 1K follows on Instagram, KVN’s infectious musical aura is resonating further than he probably realizes. Like all the greats, his sound permeates the soul and allows you to feel something greater than yourself; transporting the listener into an alternate universe that is blissfully difficult to describe. With a fine-tuned affinity for alternative, soul-infused blend of smooth R&B, I would not necessarily place him in a specific genre.
“I always call it Alternative Rnb because it’s an easy label to put on it for most people. Plus a lot of my influences would claim that genre but I see my music as a vibe. The only way to describe it haha.
And it’s his limitless approach to music that makes his sound so compelling and emotive for listeners. You can hear the array of musical influences with every nuanced note that he sings. From Lauryn Hill, John Mayer to Frank Ocean, his scope is expansive and diverse, making his music a dynamic journey into the abyss of musical taste.
Take for example, “Cherie Amor,” an effervescent ode to love that provides a glimpse into the genre-bending, multi-layered sonic expression that translates so effortlessly. It provides a dynamic musical experience that is unparalleled. His voice is sultry, gritty, yet soothing with the experiences of a seasoned crooner. But, let’s be clear, KVN did not always see his music as such.
“Before I started tryna create music I always appreciated other people’s. I used to do street dance and I have a love for Literature. So listening to music in depth and analyzing it and tryna come up with ideas and interpretations was always something I did and then I started doing it for myself and I realized I was capable.”
KVN’s musical identity can be best described as an “intimate bedroom vibe.” With romance and relationships at the forefront of his lyrical content, KVN is no helpless romantic either. Rather, music is the medium used to express his intention and perception of romance and love alike. While most singers use art as a medium to portray a gimmick and swoon a potential lover, KVN has pure intent. In his words, he’s always “kinda been that character.” He grew up loving songs like Robin Thicke’s super hit “Lost Without You” and thinking it was the best thing ever; just like the rest of us! In his eyes, romantic music is relatable to everyone. He also stresses the fact that he is not detached from his emotions as a man, regardless if it is deemed cool or not. He actually advocates for me to be more open, referencing the “dons” that he grew up respecting who wasn’t afraid to tell a woman how they felt. Plus, as he states “women love it. So why wouldn’t you wanna tell them how you feel?”
His dreamy, 2017 four-track EP debut Before We Touched Vibeland is the perfect example of the latter. Released as a 4 Track EP that dropped in January 2018, the body of work exemplifies his emotive nature. From tracks like “I Miss The Rain” to “4Fours,” one can understand the organic romance and alluring nature of his music. Unlike other artists, his music focuses on meeting a frequency, rather than likes and hits. His music means something, which is evident not just through his singing, but his songwriting.
“The process is really organic. I don’t really have a set way of making songs. Songs come to me from freestyles, they come to me from the best sometimes. Or sometimes I’ll just get a melody in my head and run with it. I feel like the vibe makes itself. I think pressure brings out good qualities in my music. Some of my best ideas or song have come when I’m stressed out and under press. Keeps you on your toes.
Although KVN presents an organic, stripped-back quality and approach to creating music, he also shares an honest perspective on the journey to creating from the organic state despite the growing pains of an artist. For KVN, part of his evolution was the production process. For him, communicating with producers provided a task, like many creatives. But like anything with the pain, KVN found a solution.
One of the biggest pains I had to start was communicating with producers. Haha, it’s a really hard thing trying to express your ideas from thought to product with someone who has their own ideas and habits. But in the year I’ve started recording it’s definitely something I’ve become better at and I think that cause now I can count the producers I work with on 2 fingers.
And he’s absolutely right in this regard. Take for example the two producers Since Westbrook and Drew Kwame, both who are responsible for a plethora of his work, notably the latter for lush singles “Lakshmi Lullaby”, “Take It From Me” and “Cherie Amor” from Attire.
While listening to their symbiotic relationship manifest in sonic form, it is almost impossible to not question whether UK artists posit quality at the forefront of their creative process (in my opinion) compared to American artists. The quality of UK artists seems to be much more profound and progressive. Inherently I am biased in more ways than one and KVN thinks differently.
I wouldn’t say there is much of a difference in terms of quality. But yeah I mean lyrical content-wise, I think the reality in both places is slightly different. It kinda transfers differently. In terms of sound, I think it’s very easy as a musician no matter where your from really to sound “American” I think British artists are becoming better at having a unique vibe these days.
Although I still disagreed but knew nothing of the British music scene, I was still more intrigued about how music was shaping him as a person through evolution. From titles like “I Miss The Rain” and “Reach For Me,” to “Lakshmi Lullaby” and “Off The Water,” I was curious about the trajectory of his personal journey; how music has shaped his character and artistry. He uses music as a medium for sure, but how much of himself is affected through the process? The answer was simple.
I feel like making music has helped me become more comfortable in my own character. I have always been confident but now, I feel like I establish myself as a person more every time I make a new song. Sometimes writing a song or freestyling some lyrics is a realization for me of how I’m feeling. Rather than a conscious decision.
And with the arrival of his forthcoming EP When Will We Realise this month, he alluded to the evolution of his artistry which will be slated to be a 10 track release of guess what? Ethereal love songs!
Erm, you can expect 10 tracks that will take you on a journey of vibes. I’m really proud of the aura the project has a feel like it’s a good showing for me. But more love songs haha.
In terms of the cryptic, yet the poignant title, KVN is using his platform to speak to both our subconscious and conscious method of processing linguistics. The title, When Will We Realise serves a dual purpose.
When Will We Realise kinda has two meanings. When will We Realise that I’m the man for you? When will the world Realise that I’m capable of making amazing music?
And before, our interview came to a close, KVN shared his final words for aspiring artists looking to forge a professional career in the music industry:
1. Don’t doubt yourself if you think it’s lit. Push!
2. Don’t waste time; try to be as productive as possible.
3. Some of the songs I made that I hate, people around me love. Build a strong team and listen.
Stay tuned for the official release of When Will We Realise this month!