When rapper Oliver Godji, better known by his stage name Octavian, found out he had won the BBC Sound of 2019 award, he grinned and said: “Mum, I made it.” 

This simple admission of joy was made poignant by the fact that, while being kicked out of his family home for being an unruly teenager, his mother made a startling prediction: he would either become famous or end up behind bars. 

Born in Lille, Godji spent his childhood shuttling between France and London before landing a scholarship to the Brit school – the same performing arts academy which trained the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele. He quickly dropped out, believing you “can’t teach someone to be creative”, and became homeless aged 14 after tensions at home came to a head.

“The last thing my mum told me before I left was ‘You’re either going to be in prison or you’re going to make it big’,” the now 23-year-old recalled

With his mother’s warning ringing in his ears, Godji knew he only had one option and his passion for music helped keep his head above water through years of couch-surfing and living on the road. “I knew I’d be big because I didn’t want to be in prison,” he told Pitchfork in 2018. “I kept myself motivated through that.” 

Music was an outlet for Godji's adolescent frustration and he churned out mixtape after mixtape. “I was just a bad kid,” he explained. “I didn’t know how to harness my emotions. I didn’t like rules and I didn’t like to be contained. I took it out on teachers, I even took it out on my mum, on authorities … I hated everything to do with authority.”

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Despite, at one point, having a confessed £0.00 in his back account, Godji shrugged off the suggestion that he ever struggled to stay optimistic. “For me, poverty is not that bad,” he said. “You’re at the bottom, innit? The only way you’re looking is up.” 

He first began to find mainstream success in 2017 when Party Here – a single accompanied by a music video created with a £50 budget – attracted radio play and critical acclaim. Described as “raw” and “genre-defining”, the song’s lyrics foreshadowed the rapper’s skyrocketing reputation: “You’re going to blow, it’s just timing.” 

That timing turned out to be a celebrity endorsement courtesy of Drake, who shared lyrics to the song on Instagram. Weeks later, the buzz around Octavian reached fever pitch when Drake was filmed singing along to Party Here at the Golden Globes.

While admitting that the star's reaction to his music was “lit”, Octavian was quick to play down the celebrity endorsement – he made it so far on his own and said he intends to rise to the top that way too. “It proves that it’s all possible,” he said. “But I don’t want anything more from him.”

Now Godji is signed to Black Butter records, where he is labelmates with the likes of Clean Bandit and Rudimental. Last year he moved into his first flat and collaborated with peers Diplo and Mura Masa as he began work on his debut album. 

While Sound Of predecessors include the likes of current chart-pleasers like Adele, Sam Smith and Ellie Goulding, Octavian is only the second rap artist in the award’s 17-year history to scoop the prize – the first being 50 Cent, who won the inaugural award in 2003. 

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Octavian’s win could be regarded as a reflection of rap’s rise into the mainstream, coming as music streaming giants Spotify revealed the three most streamed artists of 2018 worldwide were Drake, Post Malone and XXXTentacion, but Godji didn’t expect to be a shoo-in for the top spot. “There were great some great artists on that list,” he said. “I was not expecting to come first.” 

The victory hasn’t made him any less ambitious either, as Godji admitted he will “always want more”. “I’ve lived both sides of the spectrum, from being a successful young boy and being very poor, going from no one looking at you to everyone wanting to be involved with you.

“All the materialistic stuff is great but it’s not what I dreamed of. I dream of being recognised as a great artist by as many people as possible. I don’t think I’ve reached that level yet, I don’t think I ever will - but that is the dream.”