FEATURE: A Meteoric Rise: Introducing Octavian: BBC’s Sound of 2019




A Meteoric Rise


IN THIS PHOTO: Octavian/PHOTO CREDIT: Ollie Adegboye  

Introducing Octavian: BBC’s Sound of 2019


EVERY time the longlist comes out...



regarding the BBC’s Sound of... I look at the artists and give them a spin. Previous winners of the poll include Adele and Sam Smith and, whether you like their music or not, it is clear the honour can help boost a career. Over the past few years, the winners have not made an instant impact but I feel like Octavian’s win could change that run. Artists such as Slowthai and King Princess were in the running to win the poll but it has gone to Octavian. It is rare to see a Rap/Drill artist get the nod so this makes it extra-special. I will quote a few articles to tell the story of Octavian and why his rise is unexpected and inspiring. The Guardian have documented the artist’s reaction:

 “On receiving the honour, Octavian said: “I knew that one day I was going to be successful. I get inspired and I try to make a new sound every day. It’s going to be a very loud year for me. Loads of music, loads of visuals, loads of albums.”

Rapping over genre-straddling production that touches on US trap, UK drill, grime and more, his rise has since been swift – Canadian superstar Drake was filmed rapping along to Octavian’s breakthrough track Party Here, and he was chosen by Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh to model for a collection. He released his debut mixtape, Spaceman, in September...

“Octavian is not in any genre – he is absolutely in his own lane,” said BBC Radio 1 DJ Benji B. “The first couple of tunes he released into the world [Party Here and Hands] were some of the most futuristic, forward thinking, raw and inspiring tunes to come out of the UK in the last two years.”

According to Guardian pop critic Alexis Petridis, “His music exists outside the security of a scene or sub-genre – it carves out a space of its own, somewhere between grime, drill and trap, drawing in influences from beyond their confines. For all the vulnerability in his lyrics – he left home at his mother’s behest aged 15, a state of affairs that clearly left its mark – there’s a poise and self-assurance about his work that goes beyond the standard rapper’s bluster”.

Octavian’s 2018 mixtape, SPACEMAN, is filled with original direction and personality. It is not a hard album to get behind and marries Drill, Hip-Hop and Rap. There are U.S. influences in there but sounds of London and a little bit from other parts of the world. The voice that drives the track is very much that of a man who wants to remain for many years and stand out. It is clear Octavian is not playing around and is already showing a lot more endeavour and ambition than his peers.

When speaking with The Guardian before the release of his mixtape last year Octavian talked about his humble start and the challenges he faced:

 “Moving house no longer fazes him. Born in Lille in north-east France, Octavian moved to south London with his mother when he was three, but their relationship became strained. When he was a teenager, she sent him back to France to live with his uncle. They fought a lot, often physically, and after two years he was sent back to his mother. Knowing he wanted to pursue music, Octavian landed a scholarship to the Brit school – previously attended by Adele and Amy Winehouse – but soon grew disillusioned. “There were literally people doing backflips and singing harmonies in the corridors … it was not my type of thing,” he says. “I just don’t believe that you can teach someone how to be creative. As soon as you start teaching someone, they lose their originality.”

Evicted by his mother, he dropped out of school before finishing his course. Several years of homelessness followed. He tried to get a council house, but he didn’t qualify because, on paper, he was from France. “That’s just how life works,” he shrugs. “There’s bare things that come with being poor. I didn’t have the money to be English, but I was English, I was raised here, I went to school here … then you have someone telling you you’re not English enough? I hated those authorities.” But he says hetook those turbulent teenage years in his stride. “When you’re young, it’s cool. I didn’t have no money, but I still managed to eat, to live ... it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Once you’re there, that is your life. You can only look up, because down there’s nothing left”.


IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for Octavian’s mixtape, SPACEMAN/PHOTO CREDIT: Spotify 

It is amazing to think that anyone who has experienced homelessness could overcome that low and rise to become a successful artist. It is early days for Octavian but you can see how much he wants it and the fact he does not want to be defined. He cites artists like James Blake as idols: those who cross genres and are never willing to settle. I am not sure what happens from now but Octavian will want to get his mixtape on the road and he will be keeping busy. Octavian has joked in interviews there will be loads of albums this year but I think he will need some time for the dust to settle and plan his next moves. Consider the fact a lot of his teenage years was spent poor and unable to get about; it is amazing that that determination and passion for music has seen him through. There are few songwriters and artists who can right about struggle and actually draw from their own life. Octavian knew that there was a chance of success in the dark times and he held that belief strong. He stayed on a clear and straight course and, rather than sell drugs or turn to crime, he had that focus and knew what he wanted from life. That story is inspirational for anyone in a similar position; the fact you can make it and to hold on to that belief.

Octavian has done a lot of interviews after the BBC announcement and spoke to NME about his next steps:

It’s crazy, my phone’s blown up”, he tells NME on the same day that his victory is announced.

“It was bare surprising, I felt undeserving but it was great, man.”

The accolade sees Octavian joining previous winners including Sam Smith and Adele – and he’s keen to follow in their footsteps.

“It’s gonna be a very good year – to have my music out there and know that people understand my craft is very special. It’s gonna be great”, he explains.

And while a release debut for his debut album is yet to be announced, Octavian says that fans can expect it “very soon.”

“I am delighted that UK rap music has got such great placement in the list – Octavian is a truly original and exciting artist, pushing the boundaries of the genre and it’s great to see such a progressive artist getting such a huge accolade”.

It is clear 2019 is going to be a huge one for Octavian and he is going to take every chance he can. He has come a long way and there is talking about that debut album – even though there is a mixtape out in the world. It is an exciting time for someone who, at one point in his life, wouldn’t have imagined he could ever get to this point. Or maybe he did. It is clear, when talking about Octavian, the man never loses sight and is always...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @OctavianEssie

REACHING for the sky.