While not packing the immediate throat-punch of repeated trap-banger-influenced grime tracks which some may have expected upon hearing the simple yet drastically effective single ‘Bet’, French-born London rapper Octavian’s latest mixtape, Endorphins, is subtly versatile with complex instrumentation and darkling consistency in theme and plot which makes a powerful and lingering impact. The effect is convincing enough to leave a sweet yet bitter taste in the mouth akin to the pills Godji tells us he swallows to mask his hidden demons behind the glossy façade of a rapper lifestyle.
The mixtape opens with the grand, auto-tune smeared gospel medley ‘Gangster Love’, before transitioning into the audacious, catchily confident and visceral ‘King Essie’ which utilises starry synth melodies alongside driving, steady high-hats to create a feeling of neon grandeur, matched with ease by Octavian’s punchy flow and bragging lyrics. This lofty and grandiose introductory emotion is matched by tracks such as the Travis Scott-esque ‘Molly Go Down’ and ‘Risking Our Lives’, which shoots us into space alongside Octavian as he drearily comes up on drugs; ‘I’m going to the staaaaaaars…’ These tracks all work as a lustrous idealisation of the typical rapper lifestyle, cycling through women, drugs and banknotes with about as much eagerness as Mark E. Smith in an interview seat.
These are contrasted with more heavy and aggressive cuts such as ‘Take it Easy’, ‘Bet’ and ‘Lit’, all of which feature big names such as Smokepurpp, Skepta and A$AP Ferg to a high degree of success. Newcomer Michael Phantom also appears on ‘Bet’ to match Godji’s dreary intonation and lazily bragidocious attitude. The most savage of these cuts, however, is ‘My Head’, which displays the fury accompanied by the loss of love in a manner somewhat akin to Lil Peep, and is intercut with ABRA’s haunting and almost mocking feature which sounds as if she is taking the role of the voice Octavian is demanding to ‘Get the fuck outta [his] head’.
What’s most fascinating about the mixtape, however, is the pit of insecurity and vulnerability we see it descend into as the mask of testosterone and drug-fuelled self-assurance begins to slip. Octavian’s delivery becomes rawer and more dishevelled as his hazy attention is drawn to a singular girl across ‘Risking Our Lives’ (‘Girl you’ll be just fine//Follow me, follow me to space’) and ‘No Weakness’ (‘Is this your love? ‘Cause it’s mine’), before doubts arise in the dancehall inspired ‘World’ (‘She said I got P’s, she wanna be around now’) and he is left ‘Walking Alone’. This last track notes a particularly acute sense of vulnerability as it ends with Octavian apparently exposed in front of a large concert crowd, singing waveringly over a deliberately shoddy guitar track in a lucrative display of exposure and its relation to fame. This unstable façade is finalised in the aforementioned ‘My Head’, which sees every false tower built earlier in the mixtape crashing down around Octavian in a dramatic climax.
Notwithstanding its success, the mixtape has a few flaws: ‘Feel It’, despite its interesting pop-style hook in a style not dissimilar to Carly-Rae Jepson or Charli XCX, carries a fairly embarrassing feature by Theophilus London, and the verses don’t seem to bring anything new to the table in discussion with the rest of the mixtape. Not only this, but confident trap banger ‘Lit’ seems in an odd place on the track list, as its precursor wraps up the story-arc of the mixtape in a far more conclusive manner. The project could also have done with another track or two which captured a vaster and more awe-inspiring sound in the same way that ‘King Essie’ does.
Overall, this project is emotive, visceral and fresh. It’s distinct style and versatility alongside its clever directions in narrative bring a brilliant new batch of ideas to the ever-expanding table of UK rap, which Octavian has safely planted himself a prominent seat beside with the release of this new record.
Editor’s Rating: 8.2/10
HIGHLIGHTS: Gangster Love, King Essie, Bet, Risking Our Lives, My Head