By now, Octavian Oliver Godji has recounted his origin story to journalists more times than he cares to think about. It’s the plight of being one of the music industry’s most “hotly tipped” new artists.
It’s not something he’s particularly resistant to, but, given the pace at which life seems to be moving for the 23-year-old - who was born in Lille, France, and relocated to Camberwell, South London, at the age of three when his father passed away - there is a lot more on his mind than the Brit School scholarship that he dropped out of, a stint of homelessness, or even the now distant co-sign he received from Drake who played ‘Party Here’ on his Instagram story in January last year.
“I obviously appreciate everything that’s happened, and I am grateful,” he says, as he’s handed a lemonade by his publicist. “But I’m always a forward thinker. I’m never gloating in what it is, I’m always just kind of doing it.”
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It’s 10pm and we’re sat in the back corner of a dimly lit Hackney pub. Octavian has spent the past four hours posing for our photographer, but still seems energised. He admits that he’s adapted a nocturnal sleeping pattern lately anyway, splitting his time between touring Europe and late night studio sessions. “My method is kind of tunnel vision and ignore everything until I get to the spot I really want to be at,” he says, although it’s likely that the goal posts will be forever shifting. “I’m never one of them people that were like ‘I got an A star,’ back in the day. I need to keep getting A stars, otherwise you fall off. I’ve always been focused on the goal.”
While he says he tends to set his goals a decade into the future, Octavian plans to spend 2019 accelerating along the path that he set out on over the past 12 months. “That last year was a very big learning curve, because I [was] getting into money and girls and drugs and shit. This year’s like, no drugs and no drinking, really focusing. It’s so much different now. It’s just getting everything I learned from last year and just putting it into practice.”
His bigger picture goals vary from materialistic (a mansion in LA) to abstract (“to be on the same realms as the biggest artists in the world”), but ultimately he just never wants to be stagnant. “A lot of people are satisfied with what they have. They gloat and look around like, ‘Fuck it. I’m satisfied.’ But I just don’t think I’ll ever be,” he admits. “I always look at [life] like my glass is half full. And I appreciate it, but I’m just looking at the empty party like ‘Fuck!’”
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It’s apt then, that he describes success as looking like “P. Diddy on steroids,” qualifying that he means that partly regarding material success, but mainly Sean Combs’ mindset. “You’re P. Diddy man!” he imagines, grinning. “Your whole career must have been the littest thing in the world. You must have just made all the right decisions. That’s what I want. I bet you millions, I’ll be in that house and I’ll still be like, ‘I need a new house. I need another fucking house.’ Aim to be a billionaire. Why not? The music is my first route of getting into that max state. A smart guy that made it far - that’s what I want to be.”
Octavian isn’t limiting his ambitions. His breakthrough mixtape is called ‘SPACEMAN’ because he often allows his mind to zoom far out, imagining the Earth as a ball that he’s looking in on from afar.
This outsider perspective has allowed him to escape the confines of geography, and he’s focused on growing in mainland Europe and the US simultaneously, while his star continues to rise at home. It seems to be working so far. Virgil Abloh has been among his early supporters, inviting Octavian to walk for his Louis Vuitton SS19 show in Paris, and had a hand in designing the cover art for his mixtape. And he’s been racking up studio sessions around the world with names like Diplo, Take A Daytrip and London On Da Track.
Over the weekend before our conversation his music is played on Beats 1 radio shows hosted by New York’s Nadeska Alexis and LA rapper Vince Staples respectively, and it’s a natural fit alongside their primarily US rap-focused playlists. “My first thing was I didn’t want to fall into the category of being a ‘UK artist,’” he explains. “And now it’s got to the point where people don’t even consider me a UK artist, they just embrace my music and not where I’m from. Therefore I feel like I’m more fluid, I’m more adaptable, I can move better.”
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Fluidity is often referred to when it comes to talking about Octavian’s music: his vocals morph from mosh pit rap to ghostly ballads, and he applies his lyrics to canvases made up of trap, house, pop and anything else that sounds aptly dark and otherworldly.
Since the release of ‘SPACEMAN’ last year, he’s been keeping fans engaged with a string of singles and collaborations, which all appeal to different aspects of his sound. ‘Stressed’, a collaboration with Brooklyn producers Take A Daytrip (also responsible for Sheck Wes’ ‘Mo Bamba’ and YBN Cordae’s ‘Kung Fu’), is a trap meditation that sees Octavian delivering repetitive mantras over an ominous, riot starting instrumental. ‘New Shapes’ with Diplo, meanwhile, is a tender, melodic pop song about a broken relationship.
“‘New Shapes’ is for the musical appreciators. ‘Stressed’ is what I call a dumb tune, as in a very simple tune but I did it on purpose. I love tunes like that. I love Lil Pump so much,” he says. “But then I also want to be respected as a musician, so I don’t want to just do that. If I did just one realm it would be easier to blow. But I’m pleasing so many different audiences at once, I’m getting 50,000 views, and then going over there and getting 50,000 views - but it’s not 100,000 views [on one song], they’re separate. It’s like four separate artists trying to do it. So it takes longer, but the end goal is crazy!”
In 24 hours, Octavian will release the official version of his latest single ‘Bet’, which has taken on a life of its own thanks to some subtle strategising and rogue practice from Octavian and his team. The track first began to gain notoriety via Instagram, with previews on his Stories leading to the #OKBetChallenge which had fans bopping their heads along to the song’s hook.
“I was thinking about the video, and I was like we could do a massive mosh pit video, but things are more effective when you only give a little bit,” he explains. “You give someone one sweet, they want more right? If you give them bare sweets they’ll get sick of it. If you give them a little bit of movement that they can do - everybody can do it, it’s almost hypnotising - you watch the video and you don’t even know you’re doing it.”
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The phenomenon created a demand for the track, a rarity amongst the immediate accessibility and excess that music fans have grown used to. To partake in the challenge, people would have to use Octavian’s original Instagram clip before the track was even available. This pushed Octavian and his team to jump the gun, leaking the video on YouTube without the permission of their label Black Butter.
“I wanted to make it like a Supreme drop,” Octavian qualifies. “You see the lines and the fans, people are so addicted to this one brand and the lifestyle that comes with it. That’s what I grew up on. The experiences I had with them showed me how to market, how to be cool, how to be left and how to be on your own thing.”
The original upload of the track was just shy of two minutes in length and saw Octavian joined by his long-time friend and Essie Gang affiliate Michael Phantom. Despite moving against Black Butter’s wishes, the label reacted quickly to the undeniable demand for the track, uploading it to streaming services as fans and artists alike began to show their support for the track.
One of these artists was Skepta, who Octavian describes as an idol (“I started dis music ting because of a freestyle on [Tim Westwood],” reads one of his Instagram posts). The Tottenham veteran left a comment on the video, which led to a feature on the official version of the track. The pair first met while shooting some additional scenes for the video, and Octavian quickly related to his individual outlook: “He’s a fucking genius,” he declares. “I’ve met a lot of people through this ting that are billionaires and shit, like crazy minds, and Skepta is one of them. He’s a mad guy.”
Much like Skepta, Octavian thinks deeply about marketing, perception and the strategy around releasing music. Rather than the creation or performance of his music, building a strategy and seeing it come into fruition is the part of the process that Octavian says he gets the most enjoyment out of (at the time of printing, ‘Bet’ is his fastest growing single and his first to chart). “I’m very strategic. When I’m making my music at first it’s from the soul, but then it’s very strategic,” he clarifies. “When a plan goes exactly the way I thought it would, that’s the best thing. What I want is for my music to be heard by the world.”
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While he has a supportive team around him, he’s ensured that he retains full creative control and doesn’t want to give the fun of planning away. “I know more than anyone how to get myself where I’m going,” he says. “I’ve got the best team. They just know my determination is going to get me there. I do believe in the law of attraction and my mind is bare strong. If I want something to happen it will, because I know how to think of something and believe in it 100%.”
It’s unsurprising to hear Octavian declare a disdain for authority, although he believes the best results come when he can disobey the rules but ultimately benefit everyone involved. Even since his early teens he’s pulled destiny into his own hands, leaving home at the age of 14 and disconnecting with his family. He recalls the anger he felt when he left home, and his mum’s reaction (“She didn’t care about me. She was just like, ‘Go, I’m through with you’”), and remembers the last thing she said to him before he left: “You’re either gonna be big, or you’re gonna be in prison.”
Leaving so young is something that he now admits he regrets. “You don’t actually realise how important family is until you ain’t got them,” he confesses. “Biggest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life: love fucks off bare of your problems. It sounds so mad but love is a realm thing in the universe. That is one of the things we are alive for - the reason why you’re here today is because someone loves you. They protected you and loved you.”
When he went off on his own as a teenager he felt unloved and attempted to replicate what he believed love to be through his crew Essie Gang. While those bonds remain strong to this day, he learned that nothing compares to the love of his blood relatives when he reconnected with his family recently. Sadly, the catalyst for his reconnection happened three weeks ago when his mother passed away while he was on tour in Europe. On returning from Amsterdam, he found his whole family together. “And love came back,” he says. “As soon as that happened I felt myself healing.”
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A few nights after our conversation, in front of a sold-out O2 Forum, he will dedicate mixtape track ‘This Is My World’ to “the one that gave me life.” His mum was a fan of his music in the end, and after signing his deal he’d began to slowly make amends, visiting her on birthdays and special occasions. “In a way though, I know that she’s still here,” he says. “And now because of that my whole family are together and we know to stick together. We were all like never seeing her, and now we’re like fuck that! We need to see her. We need to see each other. Need to feel her. That’s what she would have wanted for us.”
For the past two days Octavian has been hanging out with his brother, who he hasn’t seen for five years. And he quickly realised that the success he’s been striving for all of these years is irrelevant to those that truly love him. “He comes to my house - I have a penthouse now, but last time he saw me I was living at my mum’s in a block, ready to move out - he walks in there and he’s the first person who doesn’t say ‘This is a nice house.’ He doesn’t care about that,” he illustrates. “He cares about me. He cares about how I feel.”
The experience was a reminder of the importance of switching off from work, and to separate himself from his business, something he’s been unable to do for so long. “I was myself,” he says. “There was not Octavian [the artist], there was just normal Octavian, the Octavian that they know. There was none of that; it was weird
Photography: Adama Jalloh
Fashion: Harry Clements
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
Octavian wears jacket, trousers and bag by Dior.
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