Maverick, genre-defying rapper Octavian has won BBC Music’s Sound of 2019.
Endorsed by Drake, but entirely self-made, the 23-year-old has perked ears with a series of unpredictable EPs that juggle grime, house, pop and gospel.
He beat pop singer King Princess and balladeer Grace Carter to take the title, which has previously gone to Adele, Sam Smith, Haim and Sigrid.
“That’s lit,” the Southeast Londoner told the BBC. “I don’t even know how to feel right now… Mum, I made it!”
Octavian is the first rapper to win the Sound Of… since 50 Cent topped the inaugural list in 2003.
He was chosen by a panel of 136 critics, broadcasters and DJs, including former nominees Ellie Goulding and Stormzy – who were each asked to name three of their favourite new acts.
Among the voters was Anna Karatziva, head of music at MTV UK, who called Octavian “a unique and exciting talent with an incredible vision and passion”.
“From the very first moment I heard his music I was hooked,” said Benji B, who was the first DJ to play Octavian on Radio 1 and 1Xtra.
“The first couple of tunes he released – Party Here and Hands – were some of the most futuristic, forward thinking, raw and inspiring tunes to come out of the UK in the last two years.”
However, the star has not had an easy route to fame, spending most of his teenage years homeless after being thrown out of school and, later, his family home.
“A year ago I was poor, I had no money,” he told the BBC.
“But I was never depressed. I was never in the mode to give up. Around me it was bad, but I kept motivated.”
On winning the Sound of 2019, he added: “If I can get this, I can get anything. 2019 is going to be a great year.”
BBC Sound of 2019 – the top five
Born in France and raised in London, Octavian is committed to broadening the sound of UK hip-hop – which he says is often oversimplified as grime or drill. His debut single, Party Here, moves from ominous verses to euphoric, arms-aloft choruses – earning him a shout-out from Drake.
- From the streets to the charts: Meet Octavian
- Listen to a mix of Octavian’s influences on BBC Sounds
2) King Princess
King Princess, aka teen prodigy Mikaela Straus, only released her first single 1950 in February – but it’s already been streamed 183 million times on Spotify. Part of a new wave of LGBTQ pop, her songs are liberating, free-spirited explorations of love, sex and queer identity. With massive choruses.
- King Princess: ‘I’m cool with being a queer icon’
- Listen to King Princess’s influences on BBC Sounds
3) Grace Carter
A self-professed “angry child”, Grace Carter turned to songwriting to help her confront the anger she felt towards the father that left her. Her heartfelt ballads have the emotional force to break hearts in two – and even she isn’t immune. “I have to stop myself from crying sometimes,” she told the BBC.
Representing Northampton, slowthai whips up the fury and disillusionment of Generation Z into a thrillingly compelling blend of grime, punk and hip-hop. He raps about inner city poverty, hard knocks, drug dealing and toxic masculinity – with an aesthetic that’s somehow both dark and playful.
- slowthai: ‘Telling the story of the people for the people’
- Listen to slowthai’s influences on BBC Sounds
Dragging flamenco into the 21st Century, Rosalía fuses traditional flamenco melodies and palmas (hand-clapping) with the crisp beats and electronic basslines of trap. Her second album, El Mal Querer, won two Latin Grammys at the end of last year – and she looks set for crossover success in the UK this year.
- Rosalía discusses ‘toxic love’ and falling for flamenco
- Listen to Rosalía’s inspirations on BBC Sounds
The full Sound of 2019 longlist also included rock group Seagirls, singer-songwriter Demot Kennedy, rapper Flohop and R&B singers Mahalia and Ella Mai
Last year’s winner was Norwegian pop star Sigrid, who’s gone on to score success with the singles Strangers and Sucker Punch, and releases her debut album in March.
She passed on some advice to Octavian, saying: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
“You win the prize because you’re you – and it’s really important that you’re comfortable in your career because you’re the one at the front of it and you’re the one that’s going to be on the posters – so you have to like it and love it.”