Esquire (UK)

Started from the Bottom

By listening to no one, Octavian is making himself heard

- By Miranda Collinge Portraits by Charlotte Hadden

In the first century BC, Octavian, great-nephew of the recently assassinat­ed Julius Caesar, set out to avenge his great uncle and establish himself as Augustus, First Emperor of the Roman Empire. On a drizzly day last December, 22-year-old rapper Octavian from south London, born Octavian Oliver Godji and currently tipped to be one of the biggest artists on both sides of the Atlantic, displays similarly fierce intent.

“There’s no point doing this unless you get to the top,” he says, reclining in the classical mode on a sofa in a central London recording studio, the crotch of his low-slung Stüssy tracksuit bottoms (“these are literally my pyjamas”) stretched like a hammock between his legs.

It’s mid-afternoon but Octavian and his friends, who call themselves Essie Gang, are not long out of bed. They were up late recording for his debut album, his first output for Sony Records’ imprint Black Butter. Though Essie Gang are looking decidedly relaxed, there is already considerab­le weight on their de facto leader’s shoulders.

In late 2017, Octavian released a track called “Party Here”, an intriguing floor-filler that showcased his croaky, cracking voice, with which he sang and rapped, movingly, about the death of his father, which prompted his mother to move from Lille, where he was born, to Camberwell, and his difficult relationsh­ip with her thereafter. He moved out of home at 14 and was “homeless” until last year, and ended up “selling drugs and doing stupid shit”.

“It was a little song, 40,000 views or whatever,” he says. “That was the most I’d ever got, so I was still happy with that.” A couple of months later, a clip appeared of Drake singing along to “Party Here” at a Golden Globes after-party; the view tally is now more than 1.5m. He has struck up a friendship with Virgil Abloh, who designed the artwork for his recent 14-track mix-tape Spaceman, and he’s walked the runway for Louis Vuitton. He’s just spent a month in Los Angeles after Diplo got in touch. A month after we meet, he’ll top the BBC’s Sound of 2019 poll.

For Octavian, all this only confirms his belief that he was right to rebel “against everyone who told me what to do. That’s not how to live your life.” It’s why he quit performing arts hothouse the Brit School, and decided to make music on his own terms, conquering and assimilati­ng genres from grime to garage to house to drill in his own mercurial style.

“This is a ruthless, ruthless game,” he says, sleepily. “You’ve got to protect your energy.”

Octavian will play UK dates starting 27 February; his album is out later this year on Black Butter Records

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 ??  ?? Above: the rapper performs his debut headline show at Brunel Museum, south London, February 2018. Below: Octavian photograph­ed for Esquire in central London, December 2018
Above: the rapper performs his debut headline show at Brunel Museum, south London, February 2018. Below: Octavian photograph­ed for Esquire in central London, December 2018

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