Vir­gil Abloh & Octa­vian in conversation

The designer and rising musician discuss what it means to be free from cultural barriers.

In late 2017, Octa­vian released Par­ty Here – a sleep­er hit which famous­ly caught Drake’s ear. Among Octavian’s new fans was Vir­gil Abloh, soon to be announced as the artis­tic direc­tor of Louis Vuit­ton menswear in March 2018. At Virgil’s first Vuit­ton run­way show in Paris, Octa­vian walked along­side the likes of Dev Hynes, Play­boi Car­ti, The Internet’s Steve Lacy and Kid Cudi, while cam­eras crowd­ed Vir­gil as he embraced his long­time friend Kanye West for a cel­e­bra­to­ry hug.

Octa­vian and Vir­gil have since main­tained both a friend­ship and a sense of mutu­al admi­ra­tion. In this con­ver­sa­tion, record­ed 15 April, the musi­cian and design­er dis­cuss how their inter­na­tion­al net­work is help­ing to devel­op con­tem­po­rary culture. 

Audio tran­scrip­tion:

Octa­vian: Yo.

Vir­gil:
Yo, what’s good? How goes it?

Octa­vian:
What’s good, homie?

Vir­gil:
My taste in music has always been informed by what’s hap­pen­ing in the British music scene. So since I was in col­lege, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to sort of two pri­ma­ry places to sort of, like, get edu­cat­ed on music. Because in Amer­i­ca, pop cul­ture on the radio isn’t cur­rent cul­ture, you know? It’s sort of Amer­i­can radio. So I was lis­ten­ing to Gilles Petersen and Ben­ji B, you know, over 10, it’s got to be, like, 15 years now. And I first heard the tune Par­ty Here from Ben­ji play­ing it a bunch. And I was like, you know, through all of these dif­fer­ent years of want­i­ng UK music to sort of find its home in Amer­i­can pop cul­ture – there were moments in the past when I thought it was gonna hap­pen, but it nev­er did. Then Par­ty Here, obvi­ous­ly, is a spe­cial track that embod­ies the best of a cer­tain time in the past, but obvi­ous­ly it’s brand new and new artist. I was like, this track is fire, who­ev­er it is has to be fire. And then I just sort of fol­lowed you, Octa­vian, on Insta­gram and I’m like imme­di­ate­ly, like, you know, this is artistry that I want to get behind. And we just met dig­i­tal­ly, you know? It’s 2019, no need to phys­i­cal­ly inter­act.

Octa­vian:
That is true. In Paris it was one of the mad­dest days of my life because it was like, fam, I came from the Lon­don roads. Oppor­tu­ni­ties like this wasn’t real­ly giv­en to Lon­don rap­pers. The only per­son that got that far was Skep­ta, do you know what I’m say­ing? Skep­ta went far in the fash­ion ting, he was very much in the fash­ion ting. And he changed the whole cul­ture of Lon­don. That’s when Lon­don start­ed to real­ly pop. Amer­i­can artists start­ed to come through to Lon­don for this cul­ture that was there. But the cul­ture actu­al­ly real­ly start­ed with Skep­ta. And that’s what peo­ple need to know. That Skep­ta is the one that for­mu­lat­ed and pol­ished this cul­ture and made it so gold. Being from the roads but yet being fash­ion­able, and no one had that. Do you know what I’m saying?

It was the idea that kids from the bot­tom or kids from the left of cen­tre – we can make a T-shirt like a cer­tain sense of pride, that it can sort of be our ver­sion of cou­ture in a way.”

Vir­gil: For me it goes back to like me sort of, like, fol­low­ing the scene. You know, I’m just an Amer­i­can kid and trust, when JME, when the whole Boy Bet­ter Know T-shirts move­ment was hap­pen­ing, that almost gave me the esteem to do Pyrex Vision which became Off-White which became Louis Vuit­ton. You know, it was the idea that kids from the bot­tom or kids from the left of cen­tre – we can make a T-shirt like a cer­tain sense of pride, that it can sort of be our ver­sion of cou­ture in a way. And I think the con­fi­dence that you see now is if it’s Skep­ta pol­ish­ing it up, if it’s a young kid like Octa­vian sort of know­ing the right cham­bers that came just before him and push­ing it for­ward, it’s like we’re all on the play­ing field at the same time. So let’s ele­vate all of our cul­tures and, you know, that’s what you see. Like that run­way show moment, it was the end of the era in sort of my book about look­ing for some­one to be in the show. You know, it’s like organ­i­cal­ly who’s around me – that should be the show that rep­re­sents me. Octavian’s music, the way he car­ries him­self, Skep­ta and the way he car­ries him­self, the way, you know, our mutu­al friends – that’s our tribe. You know, it’s not even fash­ion any­more. It’s just the inter­na­tion­al net­work of kids.

Octa­vian: Exact­ly. It’s the whole wave, it’s like a gen­er­a­tion. It’s weird, like, it’s right now that it’s hap­pen­ing: the shift between every­one being sep­a­rat­ed and every­one being sort of togeth­er, and that’s the mad thing. And you know what I feel like? Vir­gil, you had a mas­sive, mas­sive, mas­sive part in me being recog­nised in Amer­i­ca and me being recog­nised into fash­ion and me being recog­nised into a lot of things. So like, first and fore­most, I need to thank you for that. And do you know what? To be that tastemak­er, to recog­nise the path of that, I don’t know, the path of every­one and to bring every­one togeth­er, I feel that’s such a crazy thing to do.

Vir­gil:
Well, you know what it is? It’s like all of us at one point were those kids that couldn’t get into the night­club, you know? So it’s like, I would be in Lon­don, I would be run­ning around in dif­fer­ent spots and what I think we did is the cama­raderie amongst all the dif­fer­ent crews, whether its in Paris with Sos­sah or New York with, who­ev­er, like Know Wave kids or LA with Zack Bia or what­ev­er. It’s like, we’ve all decid­ed that the gen­er­a­tion is now and it’s us. You’re mak­ing the sound­track to it, I’m try­ing to make some clothes that go along next to it, and we’re just doing our thing, you know?

Octa­vian: I just feel like the next thing is, for me per­son­al­ly, even though I’m in a very com­pet­i­tive game, I feel like here in Amer­i­ca and LA, it’s not as com­pet­i­tive but more appre­cia­tive, do you know what I’m try­ing to say to you? But it’s very spe­cif­ic, Vir­gil, we have to under­stand that, it’s very spe­cif­ic. You’re the per­son that just brought all the peo­ple that were artists kind of togeth­er and then made a mas­sive crew of, like, the same type of peo­ple. Do you know what I’m try­ing to say?

Vir­gil:
What you’re hit­ting on is like, it’s not even just our time. Since the dawn of human­i­ty, we’re hack­ing the sys­tem. Why did UK music nev­er cross over before? Why is it like, oh, I lis­ten to this, I don’t lis­ten to that’? If you rap like this, that’s not even rap, or that beat isn’t even hip-hop or, that’s not garage, or that’s not tech­no. That was a sys­tem long before we were born, to sub­di­vide peo­ple to sort of hate on each oth­er. And I think we’re the first gen­er­a­tion to sort of like call the bluff on those things that divide up each oth­er. As long as we can all sort of make a name for our­selves and sort of ascend in our what­ev­er, eco­nom­ic class or sort of cre­ative abil­i­ty, that inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty you’re talk­ing about – we’re straight. You know there’s no com­pe­ti­tion amongst us because we decid­ed that that isn’t going to keep us down.

Octa­vian:
Do you know what I’m say­ing? I grew up in Lon­don in pover­ty. No one liked me. I had to push my way through into where I am now. I had to real­ly push. And now, like, see­ing the lev­el two, being in LA and see­ing how many artists there are and how much atten­tion one per­son gets. How much atten­tion we need as a cul­ture, because I feel like this cul­ture around and my friends around, it needs to be recog­nised as the best peo­ple that have ever done it. All I’m gonna do is bring peo­ple through and that’s what I want­ed to do from when I was young. Right now it’s about, obvi­ous­ly like, focus and get­ting to be as big as I can be. But the way I’m doing that is I’m just kind of adapt­ing to what­ev­er is there, do you know what I’m say­ing? BET, for exam­ple, and Par­ty Here are com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent songs, but BET is the song that made me even big­ger. It’s weird. And my album is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. I’ve got an ulte­ri­or per­son inside of me. I play the gui­tar and I’m a rock­star. I don’t know, I have no idea what I’m doing. So I have to real­ly con­trol my mind with fash­ion, with fash­ion cul­ture and that’s why I respect you so much. Because I feel like we’re the same in the way that we’re so cre­ative. That we use the rules of aes­thet­ic to con­trol and to kind of make it, make sense. I don’t know.

Vir­gil:
Yeah, nah. We bend real­i­ty, you know?

Octa­vian:
You know what I’m say­ing?

Vir­gil:
And it’s sort of refresh­ing that it actu­al­ly works, you know?

Octa­vian:
Yeah, yeah! Alright say no more, bro. Love, man.


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