Octavian’s voice is wet clay, and he holds the ability to mold it into whatever tool he needs. His 2018 mixtape SPACEMAN was characterized by adventure and a wizard’s wand which transformed his rap into shapes both standard and unexpected. For his new project Endorphins, his voice is the portkey to places unknown. That land of fresh, fearful, and troubled love, along with a fragile relationship with newfound power may sound somewhat familiar. But trust me, you’ve never heard it like this before.
The striking of bells. Moaning voices, masculine and feminine. Slight electro synths that invite you deeper into the music’s peaceful atmosphere. Endorphins is a massive sound-trek, each of its songs are planets in Octavian’s solar system. It’s almost impossible to classify but frighteningly easy to get sucked into. The London rapper sounds at his most vulnerable on opener “Gangster Love,” characterized by a ghostly lament from a supporting cast while he pleads for a woman’s touch. As quickly as he establishes a sound, he casts it away. He shreds love to pieces with a cuttingly smooth description of his day-to-day on “King Essie,” characterized by “smoking doobies” and only caring about money.
SPACEMAN was a trip through the underbelly of London through the eyes of a recent BRIT school dropout – the prestigious school attended by Amy Winehouse and King Krule – a self-produced mixtape with a foundational story in between the bars. Endorphins finds Octavian enjoying the newfound understanding and acceptance of his new role, searching for love while maintaining his daily routine. He still rules over his gang as “King Essie,” but he’s not a Don Corleone-esque figure pulling the strings while reclining in an expensive chair. He’s in the field, on the ground, cunningly hissing that he has “real killers.”
It’s not what Octavian says – he’s not setting out to break the rap wheel – but how he says it. You could roll a die with six of the rapper’s flows and you’d be wrong guessing the number every single time. SPACEMAN was defined by this constant switching of styles, and Endorphins lives or dies by it. From song to song, he’s singing in high and low voices or whispering like he’s telling you a secret, or draining “UHHH’s” with such an exaggeration that you’d think he’s suffering from typhoid fever. It’s a madman’s technique that artists often use to show creativity, but there’s typically a base that this “creativity” seldom steps away from. With Octavian there’s no center, and this ping-pong effect works largely to his benefit. Except on “No Weakness” that is, where the repeated drawn out vocals grow repetitive with each bar. You appreciate the notion, but it’ll elicit a yawn or two.
Half of Endorphins devotes itself to the feelings we get when close enough to smell a lover’s breath. The summery “Feel It” is about gripping a “pom-pom” or “bum-bum” while convincing someone not to listen to their friends, and “My Head,” with the ethereal ABRA, is about post-relationship craziness, being both the angel and heaven itself inside someone’s head. Its multi-sided depiction of love feels deeper and more galactic than the origin story of SPACEMAN due to its newfound depth. When Octavian explores a subject, he mines it until there’s nothing left. The other side of the mixtape, more traditional, feels a bit weaker by comparison since its excavation of love is so direct. Drugs, guns, and glory aren’t quite as mineable.
Octavian’s world of Endorphins pulls you in and keeps you invested in the rapper’s dual narrative. His vast array of sounds has expanded considerably since SPACEMAN, and it looks like, with the exception of one or two flows that grow stale, he’ll continue compounding onto the styles established on his first body of work. Endorphins provides a rushing feeling that continuously builds through its 12 tracks thanks to its unpredictable globe-jumping, keeping it fresh throughout. If SPACEMAN felt unstable, Endorphins is the cement in the foundation. Even if we don’t know what the full building will look like, what’s been established so far may just be alien enough to stand out in a crowded, expansive landscape.