Drake’s music taste can move the needle for a new artist. The minute Aubrey Graham started singing Octavian’s “Party Here” at a Golden Globes afterparty, the 22-year-old rapper and singer’s fate was sealed: The Londoner was now, officially, a thing. Since then, he’s walked in Virgil Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton show, collaborated with electronic hitmaker Mura Masa, yet somehow remained relatively elusive. Every Drake co-sign isn’t created equal — for every Weeknd or Bryson Tiller, there’s a iLoveMakonnen or Ramriddlz — and Octavian seems aware of that, acknowledging the shoutout from the biggest rapper in the world, but also shunning it in an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year. “It proves that it’s all possible, but I don’t want anything more from him,” he said. True to his word, Octavian’s new mixtape, SPACEMAN, which came out Monday morning, doesn’t come with a Drake feature. It does, though, make it immediately clear why he would be attracted to the young rapper from across the pond.
Octavian sounds tortured and ominous on SPACEMAN, reveling in a melodic dread. On songs like “Stand Down,” his voice travels through the pockets of an airy instrumental, filling space with heavily processed vocals. The mixtape hits its stride as it nears its conclusion: “If I buy a car I’ll shoot you in your face,” a line on “Revenge,”is delivered with counterintuitive, infectious glee that distracts from the brutality of the line. Similarly, “Lighting” is a surging moment of sinister bliss. It’s what happens when you let Megatron take a turn on the turntables at the Autobots’ weekend turn-up.
Despite the long-running difficulty for grime to cross over to the States, Octavian is well-positioned to be the rare English rapper to break through here. The genreless music of SPACEMAN points to a future where the distinctions of rap, grime, UK drill, R&B, and dancehall are beside the point. Octavian is creating a unique atmosphere here; attempting to categorize that feels futile.