In the years it’s taken Octavian to rise to the upper echelons of rap, much has been written about his story, so the endless dissection of his tough upbringing in France, and then in London, don’t bear mentioning. And yes: he is signed, but he’s done a lot of the groundwork himself, on his own terms, and his career is thriving because of it.
Sitting in a single-minded lane all his own, Octavian’s sound treads the intersection between the French and UK rap that raised him—blended together with drill, house, and trap music—and by the sounds of it, his label, Black Butter, have let him find that all by himself. To the untrained eye, Octavian’s rise to the top may seem meteoric, but the truth is that he’s been grinding for years and he’s learned some important lessons, especially in the recent acceleration of his success. Since the 2017 release of his Drake-approved breakout track “Party Here”, the South London spitter has jetted far and wide across the planet, earned the respect of the heavyweights on both sides of the Atlantic, put out two full-length projects and a string of singles and videos, and earlier this year won the BBC’s Sound of 2019 poll.
Fortunately, although things have been crazy, he’s also benefited from having a tight-knit circle of friends and collaborators by his side. With Essie Gang, he has friends like J.Rick (producer and tour DJ) who knew him when times were the toughest, and then there’s Courtney MC: as Rocko & Riot—alongside his business partner and visual artist Courtney MC (whom Octavian worked closely on Endorphins with), the pair customise and design garments, from tees and hoodies, to now: UGG boots.
We caught up with Octavian to talk about his latest collaboration, the road to the top, and what he plans on doing when he reaches OG status.
How did the customisation project with UGG come about?
With UGG, they’re a really cool brand. Courtney MC, my business partner, she really loves UGG so we were just like, “You know what? Let’s bring it back.” So we customised it—as Rocko & Riot, we customised some UGGs.
So what was the customisation process like? What were you actually doing?
To be honest, it was actually all Courtney; Courtney knows more than me. I was just kind of there throughout the process, but I wasn’t there for the actual customisation process.
I’m sure you’ve been approached by a lot of footwear brands to do a collab, so what was it about UGG that drew you in?
It depends on the situation and it depends on the brand. I liked UGG because it was unexpected. No one really thought about that and then bang! I like it when it’s unexpected, with a bang, making everyone wear something they would never wear before. That’s real special.
I guess that’s you all over, in a way: if everyone expects you to go one way, you’re going to go the opposite. But you had quite a quick—or, at least from my perspective, it looks like it was a quick rise from when we first heard your name to seeing you touring the world, working with people from all over the world. Did it feel quick to you?
No, not really. Obviously, I’ve been on this shit for so long, you know what I’m saying? About four years. So even though the rise seems quick to everyone else, I’ve been doing this thing for ages. There’s still people in the world that don’t know who the fuck I am, probably about 80% of the world, maybe like 98% of the world, and they’re going to see me rise and they’re gonna be like, “That was quick! How the fuck does he know all these people?” And that’s because they didn’t see the backstory.
I feel like there aren’t any casual Octavian fans; either you’re obsessed with Octavian or, like you say, you don’t know who he is.
Yes, exactly! Sort of a cult following.
Having a lot of attention from America, the UK and Europe, do you feel any pressure, like the world’s watching?
I used to feel pressure, but now I’ve got used to dealing with it in a weird way. That’s through working hard and using it to motivate me.
Do you engage much with what people are saying about you? Do you look at that at all or do you try and ignore it?
For some reason, I do. I’m on that shit. I’m on what they think about me and what they put out, because I know what I deserve. At the end of the day, everyone can say they don’t care what people think, but bruv, you won’t go out in your boxers. You won’t go out into the streets naked, so you do care! At the end of the day, you keep your shoes real clean, and then they go out and say “I don’t care about it.” Yeah, you do. You’re a liar.
So I say: yes, I do care what other people think. Especially being an artist, you have to do that. That’s actually your currency. If they stop caring about you, that’s it—bang!—you’re done out here. Everyone’s the same: everyone cares. I do care what people say about me and I hope it’s always in the best light, because I work hard for that shit. Unfortunately, for the music, and especially being in fashion and music, you’re in the midst of judgement.
Absolutely. I think anyone who says they don’t care, does care, but they’re afraid of what they’ll read or hear.
I look at everything. I look at all of the reviews—everything! I need to see that, or how do you know where to improve? It’s not like I’m doing it for other people; I do it for myself. But in the same way as a business, there’s a strategy, and there’s a strategy to get to as many people as possible and you have to know what they want and what they don’t want. Then you work your marketing off that—not your actual craft though. Your craft stays the same. Fuck everyone and what they think about your craft, because at the end of the day, your craft is you, your soul—it’s just about your marketing. You can have the shittest song in the world, and it can touch millions of people, billions of people, depending on your marketing and how they react to it. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about them judging my craft—I’m talking about them judging my business.
I do care what people say about me and I hope it’s always in the best light, because I work hard for that shit.
So how did you feel about the aftermath of Endorphins?
I felt like Endorphins was too—and this is the first time I’ve actually explained this in an interview, so this is a good time to say it—Endorphins was me saying, I’ve got all of these songs in the back of my computer, like, in this file, yeah? But I don’t actually know what to do with them; I can actually dash them, or I can just put them out in a great way. What’s unfortunate is that Endorphins was coming out at the same time all of these new, great creatives were joining the team, so I feel like we were just trying out different creative shit around something that wasn’t supposed to be that big.
So we oversold it, marketing-wise: we oversold it for something that was just me saying, you know, “Here’s 10 tracks that I don’t even want to throw away but I didn’t really want to put out, but I don’t want to waste. So fuck it, let me just put this in a fucking 10-track mixtape and give it up.” But it was sold as the biggest thing, do you know what I mean? So when it was sold like that, I feel like the music underplayed what was being sold, but it wasn’t supposed to be that. Now that I’m looking at everything and now that I’ve gauged it, it was an album-worthy promotion for a mixtape. That’s why some people I saw in the comments were like, “I think SPACEMAN was better”. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t supposed to even be like SPACEMAN. It was supposed to just be like, “Here’s some music, because I don’t want to throw these songs away.”
People were judging it, and when it came out, people were reviewing every fucking song about it, and I was just thinking about how much of a pedestal I’m on. I didn’t clock that. Now everything has to be so, so, so sick! I learnt from that experience. Don’t get me wrong: obviously, I got so many good things out of that mixtape. I got beautiful shows, like in Poland, everywhere I did the tours. I met fucking Travis Scott through that mixtape. But it was just a mixtape; it was just songs that I didn’t even want. Even SPACEMAN, that was like my first mixtape—it was like an album—I put my soul into that, but I still think Endorphins is better than some albums out there. At the end of the day, when my album comes out, it’s different. I’m working on that now... Anyway, I’m just being honest.
I appreciate the honesty, man. It’s interesting how the hype and the build-up and everything can really affect a piece of art.
Exactly. If you undersell something and it’s massive, then it’s… But if you oversell something that wasn’t supposed to be that big, then it’s so different.
Did I hear that you’re working on a proper debut album?
Yeah, it’s very, very nearly finished. It’s going to be massive, man, I can’t lie. This one I don’t mind overselling—it’s going to be crazy! I’m not gonna lie to you—I’m an honest person—I don’t care about looking a certain way, but my album is going to be massive. With everything I’ve learnt, and everything I’ve learnt in music, I’ve put everything into this album to make it. It’s not like Endorphins at all, where I literally put tracks in a playlist and it was tracks that I’d done two, three years ago. It’s not like that: this is proper, real music.
Is that album coming out on Black Butter?
Yeah, it is.
What’s it been like working with them?
They’re cool, man. Labels are alright, man. Obviously, they’re not gonna do the work for you.
I was a bit surprised when they started working with J Hus, because I was like, “Hang on: don’t you do house music?” [Laughs]
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying—they do like Rudimental and shit like that, but they’re not bad. I’m just saying, most of these labels, they come from a rock background, they don’t come from a rap background. Obviously, with that being said, anyone on a label that’s like us that’s in our generation, is the leader of their craft. They’re the leader of their business. They’re not told anything from their label—nothing, not one thing, not even when to release. So that’s why we’re blessed that rap is now at the forefront, because the labels can’t tell you nothing. You’re the boss—you do whatever you want to do. They can’t even keep up with the music, especially if the music’s good. It always changes, and there’s no one thing I do: I play guitar, I play piano, I do fucking bare shit. They can’t catch up to that and then tell me “oh yeah, we need a song like this”, because they don’t know what’s coming next. They just kind of wait and go, “yep, cool, next.” It’s always been cool working with Black Butter though, because it’s never a power thing.
Music is a young man’s sport, so as soon as I’m an OG, I am out!
So what are your long-term career goals now? Is it just music, or are you going to do fashion, acting, maybe?
I wanna be the best artist in the world! I want be top of the world, better than any and everyone. A bit pretentious, but I might as well. I just want to be the best in the world. At one stage in my life, maybe in like five years when I’m sick of being the best, then I’ll go and do something else—maybe not acting, though. Probably like fashion, labels, like, business. Then you can do what you want. Music is a young man’s sport, so as soon as I’m an OG, I am out! I don’t need to respect Instagram anymore. Oh my god! I can’t wait to rip that fucking thing out.
And there’s nothing sadder than someone who was at the top and now they’re like 35, 40, and they’re trying to reclaim those days. You’ve got to finish on top.
Yeah, it’s sad. The thing is, that’s what’s wrong with people nowadays. They get to a certain point and then they don’t know anything else—they don’t know how to adapt to the world. What’s good about Jay-Z and Dr. Dre is that they adapted so quickly, and now look at the big business they do. They don’t need the praise anymore; they don’t need no one anymore. They go into the corner of the world and build a house, have their kids, and money just comes in. Most people still want to be in front of the camera, but that’s a young man’s game. Obviously, when you’re this age, it’s still dumb—it’s still ridiculous. Instagram and shit like that is so ridiculous! To be compared and put next to certain people is such a disrespect but it’s just how the internet is. As soon as I’ve proved that I’m not part of these stupid people, and then move away, that’s when I’m OG. That’s when I’m successful: when I’m not on this Instagram, living on a boat, sailing the world, travelling and doing whatever I want.
Honestly, I would give anything for that—that sounds perfect [laughs]. But I bet it’s hard for people to quit that.
They just constantly want the the praise. It’s not about that though, man. Life is not about that, especially knowing that it’s not about that. Have you heard of an artist called Spooky Black?
I think he’s the best artist in the world, but he doesn’t have things. He has Instagram, but he don’t care. He doesn’t even have an email address. When I got his number, I had to get his email address, and he lives in the woods! Have you heard of Bon Iver?
He lives in the fucking woods, but he don’t give a fuck! These men are the biggest legends.
I’m so envious of that.
You see what fame does to other people, the greats, the legends that just didn’t break? They were always in front of the camera, but you have to separate yourself from that, like bye! Look at Jay-Z: he’s gone. That’s it! Fuck that shit.