The last three years have been a crazy come up from the very bottom to the very top of the game for Octavian. But after enjoying an unrelenting trajectory up towards star status, the Anglo-French artist is adamant he’s just getting started.
Cooly gliding into Converse’s Creative All Star Series HQ in Hoxton, Octavian immediately begins tagging the place up with a Sharpie pen. “Octavian” and “Essie Gang” are now permanently etched on to the wall by Tik Tok’s pop-up at the space, with “IS MINE” also scrawled next to the social network’s logo in an oversized font. Two culprits not exuding the calm and collected nature of the 24-year-old are his two Blue French Bulldogs, Alpha and Rari, who are now off the leash and bounding around the set of our shoot before getting chased down by Alex Sossah, Octavian’s creative director.
Octavian is making a pretty good knack of bursting onto the scene with no prior warning. It all began back in 2017 when he dropped “Party Here”, one of the most original UK rap tracks of the last decade. Initially cooked up when waved while staying on his mate’s sofa, Octavian woke up to the track sounding better sober, and the spotlight has been swung onto the Lille-born, London-raised artist ever since.
The underlining message of the tune was “you’re gonna blow, it’s just timing”. Octavian has gone on to do just that.
Since then, the Essie Gang head honcho followed up by blessing us with a slew of sick singles and his debut mixtape, ‘SPACEMAN’, where he announced himself to the world in a project fuelled by vengeful lyrics and a breadth of leftfield sonics. Octavian would then follow up with ‘ENDORPHINS’ – a similarly diverse tape packed with features from his idol, Skepta and a host of the biggest names from across the pond like A$AP Ferg, Abra and Smokepurpp – which saw him enjoying himself while riding the wave of his breakout success.
Octavian’s next big undertaking is his debut album, which he describes as “offering the expected and unexepcted” while also being “packed with songs people will be pleased to hear”. We speak as he’s currently putting “the finishing touches” on his debut LP – his focus has shifted since crafting it, with Octavian understanding there’s much more responsibility on his shoulders now. Getting a hold of his dogs once more as we speak, it’s clear that they’re two small symbolic parts of this shift in his mentality: “I’ve got to rely on myself much more now, as more people are relying on me”.
Octavian’s new outlook and fearless style make him the perfect fit to lead Converse’s Creative All Star Series, which is encouraging the next generation to embrace their individuality and strengthen their talents. With Octavian one of the UK’s most resolutely independent artists, he’s helping London’s next generation of talent mobilise creativity and exchange ideas – something that he never had access to growing up broke in South East London.
We caught up with Octavian at the launch of Converse Creative All Star Series in London to talk through his rise from lining up for Supreme to becoming the brand’s main model, his game-changing link ups with mentors like Virgil Abloh, Travis Scott and Skepta, and the next chapter – and new outlook – of the life of one of the UK’s most exciting artists.
Photography by Todd Duncan.
VERSUS: We’re here today with Converse. Why did you decide to get involved with the Creative All Star Series and rep the Pro Leather?
Octavian: I got involved with Converse because I like what they’re doing with the kids here at this event. I like the fact that they’re pushing creativity on the kids and getting them involved – giving them a mindset of creativity. When I was younger, I wish I had that.
Obviously, I really rate Converse too. I used to watch a lot of Wiz Khalifa ‘Day To Day’ and they all used to wear Chuck Taylors – that’s why they called themselves ‘Taylor Gang’.
It’s a a silhouette synonymous with basketball – did you ever play any sports or kick ball growing up?
I did yeah. I was kicking ball in South East of course, and Lille as well, where I was born. It was always football before music growing up, as it is for anyone really I’d say.
We’ve seen you don a Manchester United shirt in the past – have you supported them all your life?
You know what, I don’t actually support United at all! A fan came in when I was in my dressing room one time, and just gave me a United shirt, with Octavian on the back. So after that I was just like, “I’ve got to wear it.” But no – I don’t support Manchester United, at all. I support Millwall, and then Lille is my French team.
You grew up in South East London in Camberwell, where Jadon Sancho also grew up. Do you think there’s a certain attitude in South East and getting to the top of the game that exists there?
I really wanna represent my culture, and represent where I come from to the fullest. For me, my area was poor growing up – it wasn’t a celebrated place – so I put it at the heart of everything I do.
South East is maybe somewhere people wouldn’t expect you to be from when you’re doing so well and prospering. But it’s the mentality you grab from places like that, the traits you get when you’re living in places like that, and those traits can lead to your success.
What do you think on the convergence between the worlds of football, music and style that exist right now? It’s something you’re friend Virgil has obviously been a big part of in recent years…
There’s always been a mix between a convergence and joint venture between those worlds. Music and style go hand in hand, of course. Since everything started, that’s been the case. It runs hand in hand with hip-hop for example – there was always this flamboyant way in which people carry themselves, and how they dress.
Football has now begun to influence that. You see it on social media, the way players are now is the same as musicians, really. It’s 2020 now, so these worlds are evolving more and more, and linking up in new ways. Right now, I feel like the more flamboyant you are – the more fearless you are with your style – the more you’re appreciated as a result.
You’ve gone from being homeless to being the leading model for Supreme and having full size mannequins of you in Louis Vuitton stores. You’re now also a Converse ambassador. Did you ever think you’d be in this position three years ago?
I never thought I’d be in this position, but I feel like the law of attraction lead me to it. That’s what I believe in now – the law of attraction. I used to line up for Supreme as a kid! I used to be there at 5am, not quite one of the guys in a tent, but I always, always had to get their first drops.
I’ve always been into fashion growing up, so to be one of the faces of the brand now is just crazy to me. It’s really the law of attraction – just thinking about it all the time and always being passionate about something drew me towards becoming that.
Do you like mixing up streetwear pieces with high-fashion items?
That collision is good! Every boy from the hood who couldn’t afford Gucci, they love wearing higher class brands. They love it, and so did I. Even doing Louis Vuitton and being involved with Virgil, it’s a huge, huge privilege for me. It’s a higher class of life – something that you wouldn’t normally wear, it’s always been aspirational for me to wear.
I think the first guy to introduce the world to “Party Here” was DJ Oneman, who put a tweet out about the track at the end of 2017. Obviously that got re-released and it blew up with support from Benji, and then Virgil. Did you know once you’d made that track that it would blow up like it did?
I feel like with anything you do, it’s always just really personal to you at first. It was really just by chance that it became relatable to so many people, from that moment. At first, I remember being in the studio with my people, I was living on my friend’s sofa at this point…
We were just drunk or whatever, and we made this tune, and then we listened to it back and were like, “yeah this is a great tune, let’s put it out” – it still sounded good sober! Even then we could tell that it was a very unique track – and it went on to start everything for me.
That track captured a completely unique sound for the time – that and your first mixtape ‘SPACEMAN’ sounded like it was more inspired by the UK’s electronic scene than it did by any other UK rap going on at the time. Would you say that’s true?
Definitely, man. When I was younger, I was around all types of music, and around all different types of people. I was around a lot of very poor people too, and just loads of different backgrounds and lifestyles.
Being around all that variety introduced me to so many varieties of music. ‘SPACEMAN’ was inspired by so many different scenes that I’d listened to growing up, which is why it was quite broad in its sonics.
You carried on a consistent roll of dropping sick tracks like “100 Degrees” with Sam Wise – a mad under appreciated artist – which was hard…
Wait, did we announce who was supporting me for the show? He’s actually supporting me for this! He’s a mad, crazy artist – insanely talented. I even said it on my Snap the other day actually – it’s crazy that there’s so many London artists out there that haven’t blown yet. It’s such a diverse place where we can appreciate all types of music. There are so many musicians like Sam that haven’t seen enough light of day. He really deserves his shine.
I decided I have to bring him out for the show and show people what he’s all about. He’s so sick live! He was actually one of my main inspirations to get into music properly. I was watching him while he was gigging, and I was like “wow, this is sick”. That’s why I really wanted to bring him out and commemorate that with him on stage together.
You said you were in album mode back in September – are we going to see one from you this year?
The album is coming out very shortly, actually. I’m putting the finishing touches to it now. You’ll be getting a lot of tracks that will please people, I think, as well as some completely unexpected bits.
You’ve been making it out in LA. Do you think the energy there gives you a different creative process to how you make music in London?
I get a lot of inspiration from the world, man – just like anyone that makes music. In LA, and America, they’re English speakers as well, so they can understand and listen to the vibe of what you’re doing even though you’re from a completely different part of the world. Everyone should be inspired by America, as Americans do it so well. We did hip-hop later on.
The first thing that we [the UK] did that was rap-oriented was grime. Wiley, the originator, is still dropping hits. And now we’re doing our own versions of drill from Chicago, and we’ve not got Pop Smoke coming in and jumping on UK drill beats.
It’s now UK drill artists and people like yourself who are now being looked up to in the US. How do you feel about that?
It’s good that it’s transitioned to a stage that that’s happened, that we – the UK – are on those levels now. We’re at the very early stages of being a country like America when it comes to leading the way in our sonics. We’ve got to pave the way for certain, real, talent to take the lead, instead of it being the same monotonous shit.
Certain sounds do get washed, quickly…
You know what I’m saying? It gets washed even quicker here because we’re the UK – we’re so much smaller than somewhere like the US.
You’ve linked up with Travis Scott in LA recently and supported him while he was on tour, as well as being sampled on “Charades”… have you cooked up any music with Travis and Headie?
Travis just came into my studio, it was cool. We talked a bit, we just conversed as friends. We’re just really good friends. As for “Charades”, Fred Again used my vocals as a sample in that track they did together, which was hard. But yeah, boy…we’ve got some heaters together. Free Headie One, by the way – hopefully he’s coming out soon.
You’ve gone on to drop a track with one of your biggest idols growing up, Skepta. You’ve got a good relationship with him now – how inspiring is it counting him as a close friend now?
Yeah man we’re good friends – Skep is like a full mentor to me. He really is an older me in so many ways. He’s more experienced, he’s done absolutely legendary things. When I grew up, I only ever listened to Skepta, so it’s just crazy now even having him as friend. I can relate to everything that he says, because I love his music, and I love his style, and everything about him. Every time he enters a room it’s still like an accomplishment in itself for me. Going from looking up to him on Channel U to taking over America, to having tracks with Drake and A$AP Rocky…he’s really the first UK rapper to cross over into the US on those levels.
It’s clear that revenge has driven you to achieve your goals in the past. If there was one feeling that drives you on more than any other to go and make shit happen and elevate yourself to where you now are, what is it?
You know what, it’s actually gone full circle for me now. At first, it was a revenge thing. I was in a real “fuck everyone” type of mood. But I was poor then, and now everyone’s on my side. The ‘Endorphins’ period was me really riding the wave of my initial success, enjoying life or whatever. And now, shit is very serious. I’ve got tunnel vision now.
I’m looking at what I’ve achieved so far, and how fickle everything is. If you don’t work hard, then you’ll fall off, completely. If you fall off, people don’t care about you. It’s not their life. It’s a very real situation that I’m in – and a very real job for me. People rely on me now; they’ve got kids, they’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed.
So you’re taking on more responsibility – and more feelings – into consideration now?
Yeah. It’s taking those feelings into consideration, and taking that expectancy, and the weight of it, and using it to drive me and push me forward. People rely on me, and I rely on myself more now. Even with my two little dogs now, Alpha and Rari, I’ve got to take care of them – there’s more on the line in every sense. I’ve got to be on my A-game all the time now.
What’s up next for you in 2020? The album obviously…is there anything you can talk to us about there?
Sonically, it’s a real mixture of stuff. I really feel like this album is gonna please everyone. There’s gonna be some expected tracks from me, some completely unexpected shit. Some energies will be like “Bet”, some energies like “Party Here”…it’s gonna be lit!
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