octavian is the most original and exciting musician to emerge from london’s genre-defying rap scene
He went from living on the streets to conquering the charts, walking for Louis Vuitton and collaborating with Skepta.
Photography Oliver Hadlee Pearch. Styling Carlos Nazario. All clothing Saint Laurent By Anthony Vaccarello. Glasses No.21. Earring Emanuele Bicocchi. Shoes Sankuanz.
"What star sign are you?” Octavian asks, in between sips of hot chocolate at the bar of a Kings Cross restaurant one rainy afternoon. “I’m Aquarius. It’s the most original, kooky, stubborn, pioneering star sign. But I’m half Capricorn, too... I’m on the cusp, so I’m like, half cult leader too?” It was Octavian’s girlfriend, who is currently sitting on his other side, head resting on his shoulder, who got him into astrology. “It’s all so true!” he exclaims in his gravelly voice. “It helps you to know and understand people better, to move and strategise. If you know what sign someone is, it’s easier to know how to deal with them.”
The musician – currently spinning around on his bar stool with an agitated energy — is 23, but says that he feels more like 73. His life has been pretty hectic. He was “an angry kid”, and after being sent to live with his uncle in Lille for two years (where he was the only black kid in his school), his mum kicked him out aged just 15. The rest of his teens involved periods of homelessness; a brief spell in council housing soon gave way to sofa surfing across London, Brighton, Southampton, anywhere and everywhere. “Swear down,” he says, “I feel like I’ve seen everything. I speak to adults, people over 30 or whatever, and they don’t know what they want to do, don’t know where they want to go, and they ask me for advice. I feel like when I’m 30 I’ll already be 155 in my head, you know what I’m saying?” This lifestyle, he reasons, has made him adaptable to all kinds of people, music and cultures. “It’s shaped me into a melange of loads of different people,” he explains.
Octavian’s luck changed when, during those difficult years, knowing he wanted to pursue music, he bagged a spot on The BRIT School’s community arts course. Musical theatre wasn’t for him, it transpired, and he eventually dropped out, but it was there he met Jordan Christie, and the two of them began making music together. It was Jordan, or J Rick, who produced Octavian’s break-out single Party Here in 2017. The track showcased Octavian as an exciting lyricist, sure, but also how effortlessly he was able to shift between rapping and singing, dancehall and R&B, grime and rave. “You’re gonna blow, it’s just timing,” the lyrics prophesied, big dreams that have manifested in his present reality. The accompanying music video starred and was shot by his friends on a £50 budget. It caught the eye of Drake, though, who was filmed singing along to the track at a Golden Globes afterparty in early 2018, deservedly buoying Octavian’s rise and rise.
Part of a wavy new school of UK hip-hop, Octavian had dreamt up a musical project encompassing all elements of London thrown together in harmony and bound by his good intentions. This past year, his life has evolved almost beyond recognition. “For a start, I don’t live with the boys anymore, I live by myself. Back then we used to have parties all the time, get fucked up. I’ve calmed down a lot now, I’m drinking a lot of water... hot chocolate. Before, it was just mad, this rockstar lifestyle. Now I’m concentrating on the music. It’s more consistent, it’s good.”
In September 2018, Octavian released his incendiary debut album SPACEMAN on Black Butter, swiftly going on to be named winner of BBC Sound of 2019. Showing zero sign of stopping, he just dropped a frustratingly catchy new single called Bet, featuring Skepta and Michael Phantom. “I was 14 when I first met Skepta,” Octavian recalls. “We were outside the Supreme store and I had my speaker on me so I went up to him like, ‘Can I show you a song?’ He said no. He was always one of my idols though. When we made Bet, I went into his mind. He’s a genius, so caring, the opposite of what he portrays outside.”
Octavian is currently working on his second album, one he describes as “very weird”. This could be down to the fact that he made part of it on magic mushrooms last year in LA, a city he’s keen to settle down in. “It was crazy. My friends and bare producers would come to my house and do shrooms and make the biggest tracks. Like woah, crazy tracks.” He’s noticed something interesting in that “everyone from LA wishes they were from London. I go over there and I’m the coolest kid there!” He’s not sure how people are going to react to the record though. “It’s just so weird. Bare weird. Some of it will be hip-hop and rap tunes, some R&B, some weird James Blake piano things, I’ll even be playing guitar.” He’s feeling very inspired right now, basically — by everything from his feelings to “the 80s, old school films like Goodfellas and the old school way of living... dressing in suits and shit.”
Last season Octavian was asked by Virgil Abloh to walk in his Louis Vuitton show. What was going through his head at the time? “Uh, that Kanye West was right there… that the whole fucking Kardashian family and Travis Scott and the baby were watching. Do you know what I’m saying? Everyone was there.” In Virgil, Octavian has found a fellow dreamer on a mission. “Virgil is very mad, a crazy guy,” he says earnestly. “You’ll speak to him but not understand what he’s saying because he’s so advanced. He’s from the future. He’s tapped into another thing. Like, when he gets his thoughts, they’re probably coming from another place. It’s some Matrix shit, but I feel like when you’re more connected to the universe that happens all the time. People like Virgil are like that. It’s magic.”
It might not surprise you to hear that Octavian doesn’t get imposter syndrome. He has an admirably strong belief that he can do whatever he wants; that anybody is capable of using what’s inside them to make it out of any situation. “I deserve to be here,” he says. “I went to BRIT School and failed at everything, which means that I have a qualification from the universe. God gave me this qualification.” He’s proud, he says, of having a house, a bed, love. And he’s grateful for not being satisfied with just that. “I’m always looking at my cup like it’s both half-full and half-empty,” he explains. “Be grateful, but know that it’s not enough. Stay hungry.” Octavian touches his gold grill, custom made to fit the gap between his two front teeth. “I’ve always been told that a tooth gap gives you good luck, and that I’m gonna be rich because of it,” he smiles. “And I’m like, ‘I know.’”
“I’m going to be a billionaire, 100%,” he says. “I know it. I knew I was gonna be a rapper. I knew I was gonna do this. I know that I’m gonna be a billionaire. It does seem ambitious and my subconscious is going, ‘shut up, Octavian’. But this is exactly what happened before, when I was on the street... and if I keep saying it, then it’ll happen.” And you know what — it probably will, won’t it.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.