Just five years ago, a teenage Octavian was left homeless in South East London’s Camberwell after being kicked out by his mother. In a recent interview with The FADER, the now 22-year-old admitted: “My mum is one of those parents that doesn’t believe in the music thing, really.” But with Drake seen mouthing the lyrics to breakout single “Party Here” at a Golden Globes party, even mum can no longer deny the musical impact of Octavian.
With a style that effortlessly blends rap, drill, and house, Octavian’s half-rapped, half-sung delivery is mercurial in nature; a welcome tonic to the predictable quick-fire flows of more traditional grime artists. And SPACEMAN, his first full-length release, feels like the birth of an artist destined to dominate the UK rap scene for a long, long time.
You can hear the Drake influence on “Don’t Cry,” an atmospheric soundscape that could easily have been lifted from Drizzy’s brooding If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late sessions. In fact, many of the moody, minimalist beats on SPACEMAN sound similar to Drake producers Boi-1da and Noah “40” Shebib. Subsequently, Octavian’s genre-splicing production, which breezily moves from electronic to trap and grime, feels a lot more likely to crossover into the American market than some of his more one-tone UK rap peers.
“Build” is further proof of the UK artist being inspired by what’s happening across the pond, with the ‘skeet skeet’s in the background reminiscent of vintage Migos. But while Migos and Drake’s street bangers tend to be dominated by endless boasts, Octavian spits with a sobering introspection that makes him a lot more relatable. On “This Is My World” he raps: “Still ain’t seen my mum / but this evil world changed me / I ain’t the same me / tell her I ain’t seen her son!,” heartening bars that reveal how the streets have forced her abandoned boy to turn into a man.
When Octavian later says “love is an inside job,” he communicates a sense of emotional isolation that surely resonates with many in a post-Brexit world. His lyrics suggest a lack of love and opportunity that is often given physical form in his surroundings, such as the knife crime epidemic in his native south east London. What makes SPACEMAN so thrilling to listen to is just when this introspection – several tracks begin with motivational sermons – threatens to become too preachy, Octavian flips the switch.
“Break That,” an ode to murdering enemies, is proud to be aggressive, the demented beat sounding like something Klashnekoff might have rapped on about shanking someone back in the day. “54321,” meanwhile, wears its misogyny and ignorance unabashedly, with a repetitive hook about possessing “1 bitch / 2 bitch / 3 bitch / 4 bitch / 5 bitch” destined to ring out in the clubs. Octavian is aware that embracing these contradictions is important as it makes him more human, with young black men needing to wear many different masks in order to survive.
That’s not to say every song works. The autotune-heavy “Stand Down” is fairly forgettable, while the uptempo “Lightning” – although undeniably catchy – sounds like a predictable attempt to bring in the garage crowds. Yet these misses don’t detract from this record’s consistently engaging atmosphere, sounding much more like an album than a mixtape in terms of its scope and ambition.
SPACEMAN actually sounds like driving through South-East London at night — the woozy basslines of “Scared” and “Here Is Not Safe” proudly representing the area’s electronic rave scene, while the eerie, threatening piano keys on “Sleep” hint at the violence that bubbles just under the surface. Much like Sampha’s Process, this is a record that sounds intentionally nocturnal, something to blast out the car stereo while driving through the city in the early hours.
Over recent years, the likes of Giggs, Skepta, and Stormzy have become much more recognizable names across the pond, each capable of packing out stages at Coachella. The anthems that fill SPACEMAN suggest Octavian is ready to do the same, with the artwork (designed by fashion mogul Virgil Abloh) also serving as proof of his star quality. “Move Faster” contains the plea to “stop sleeping on the underdogs” – now that SPACEMAN has dropped, it’s doubtful Octavian will have that problem.
Revisit our interview with Octavian from earlier this year right here.