From Risky Roadz To Louis Vuitton: The Rise (And Rise) Of Octavian

Words: Yemi Abiade
Photography: Hyperfrank

It’s taken only nine months for Octavian to take UK black music by storm. The South London rapper is on the lips of fans and tastemakers alike, following a whirlwind month in which he shared new mixtape SPACEMAN and lit up Link Up TV with a scintillating Behind Barz freestyle. This comes after the success of initial smash “Party Here” late last year and a string of non-mixtape tracks that gained considerable traction and fans from lofty positions—namely the Champagne Papi himself, Drake, who cited “Party Here”’s memorable hook in an appreciative Instagram post. In an age where clout and who’s perceivably backing you are as important outliers of success than actual talent, this is a massive stroke achieved at such an early stage in the 22-year-old’s career. Most artists don’t even scratch the surface of relevance in a similar or shorter timeframe, but Octavian has demonstrated his unique qualities to the game at large, and now stands as one of the scene’s best and most important artists.

The young man, born in France, is simply an anomaly, with his off-kilter, unorthodox lyrical style and husky, confident and ear-catching vocals that cut through the myriad of sonics he traverses. Mixing genres these days is nothing new but, with rap, house and drill on the mixing menu for the MC, he merges each with intricate detail to create near-timeless bops despite being steeped in the sounds of his generation. They’re timeless because of how futuristic in scope they sound; most MCs should have no right making light work out of sonically jarring and jittery tracks like “Party Here” and “Hands”, but his skills in taming a wild beast of a beat is unmatched, adding further to his overall mystique.

This aura is helped even further by his independence. Before his recent Behind Barz freestyle, Octavian had only a Risky Roadz collaboration to speak of in terms of the conventional mediums through which UK artists can be seen and heard. Instead, he has very much let his music do all the exclamations which, combined with entrancing live performances and a striking look, has already generated a cult following. It also hasn’t hurt Octavian to form relationships outside of music and become associated with one of pop culture’s newest heavyweights, Virgil Abloh, who enlisted him to work the catwalk as one of his models at the recent Louis Vuitton fashion show in Paris. This has catapulted him into a new arena altogether, sowing the seeds for what could become a successful crossover.

Octavian’s is the story of overcoming adversity; thrown out of the house by his mother by the age of 15, he was homeless, hopping from friend’s sofa to friend’s sofa and relying on selling drugs to earn a little bit of money. Music was a release and, in it, he found a voice to communicate his struggle, which is an incredibly relatable one. Listeners can identify with his story, not only because they can catch a dance to it, but it represents a wider symbolism of the possibilities of life. The idea that, in order to strive with something, you just have to do it.

Octavian is a post-millennial star in a social media-driven age of image and style over substance—he has the look and fashion sense of the hippest twenty-somethings on London’s streets these days—but he continues to offer bundles of substance through his music. Not only can he hold a tune and croon his heart out, he’s also adept at barring a riddim to submission, commanding in both departments without losing an ounce of credibility. And this can be heard all throughout his Spaceman mixtape, on poignant cuts such as “Think Twice” or rowdier ones like “Break That” featuring Suspect, and the encouraging aspect is he can only get better.

The advantage Octavian has in cultivating such a futuristic sound is that it continues to have longevity, as it isn’t pinned down too hard to a particular flavour of the day, meaning his scope for experimentation can always be open and vast. And though more conventional rap-sounding tracks such as “Little” and “This Is My World” filter through his arsenal, he’ll always have forward-thinking bangers like “Here Is Not Safe” and, seemingly, his next track to shine, “Lightning”, on deck to keep fans on the edge of their seat. Restless is one word to describe his music, in that is it frantic and constantly transforming, and his musical palette can only get bigger and bolder, ingesting the most arduous sounds and melodies and making them sound fresh and novel.

Whether Octavian can make a full transition to pop star remains to be seen, but in many ways, he has created a blueprint for artists in 2018 to really test themselves musically, rather than playing it safe with popular sounds, but by also building their own personal brand rather than relying on a platform to shine their clout on them; a grassroots, started-from-the-bottom type approach that is yielding more results as his short career lengthens. This artist represents what black British music should be in 2018: unabashed, vibrant, and wholly unpredictable. But at the end of the day, when assessing Octavian’s early impact, the future will only get brighter, as his now-memorable hook on “Party Here” prophesises: “You’re gonna blow, it’s just timing.”

Posted on September 21, 2018