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Octavian: why we can’t separate art from the artist

Trigger Warning: physical assault and domestic violence

Last night, physical and verbal abuse allegations against British grime rapper Octavian resurfaced all over social media. Octavian’s former partner and artist EmoBaby took to twitter and instagram to raise awareness about her ordeal in an attempt to dissuade fans from listening to his music, which glorifies his abuse. As his debut album is scheduled for release in just two days, it’s clear that amplifying these allegations is urgent.

Amongst the array of evidence comprising screenshots and videos on her socials, the scope of Octavian’s abuse stretches widely. Over the course of their three year relationship, the first instance of abuse began during her pregnancy with their child. After pressuring her to have an abortion, he attacked her on the day of the abortion by kicking her in the stomach. Hereafter, the instances of battery became routine. This includes attacking with items like screwdrivers and furniture, pushing her down the stairs, dragging her out of the house by her hair and clothing. Since filing police reports, she currently resides in another country for her own “safety and wellbeing”. All the above is evidenced by elaborate screenshots and videos on her instagram account.

To reduce these allegations to mere isolated incidents omits the precedent of numerous allegations of sexual and gender based violence from male artists within the music industry. In hip-hop, Octavian isn’t the exception but the latest example of the impunity men in the genre have cultivated. In 2017, upcoming rapper CEONRPG was notorious for plying his girlfriends with drugs and recording their overdose for his satisfaction. His conviction for the manslaughter of Louella Fletcher-Michie who overdosed under his care has recently been overturned by the court of appeal. Another example is rapper Andy Anokye aka Solo 45. Solo has been accused of beating and waterboarding survivors and has since been convicted of “21 rapes, five counts of false imprisonment, two counts of assault by penetration, and two of assault occasioning actual bodily harm”.

It is impossible for abusers to thrive on their own, and hip-hop and it’s sub-genres have created a network of spectators who continue to enable this abuse. Journalist Elizabeth Mendes Berry writes that “ that’s the people who work in the industry and turn a blind eye, or who actively make the case that some women don’t deserve respect, either on record or in the flesh”. To corroborate, one twitter user pointed out that industry giant Skepta has a longstanding history of co-signing and working with abusers within the industry. He produced CEONRPG’s song Duracell. He also remixed rapper Ambush Buzzworl single Jumpy in 2018, who RayBlk accused of assault earlier this year. He is yet to publicly denounce either of their actions.

Like clockwork, the discourse around “separating the art from the artist” involuntarily emerges. Revisiting the evidence above, coupled by Octavian’s disturbing behaviour exemplifies that any ethical consumer shouldn’t find it impossible to divorce “good” art from “bad” men. In the promotion leading up to his release, his single Rari is akin to a disturbing horror flick poster with a shirtless Octavian clothed in nothing but blood. This visual representation is complementary to the accompanying lyrics that drip with violence. EmoBaby explains “[Octavian] has an entire song about violently killing me with a machete called My Head, which in a (since deleted) interview with DJ Semtex, Octavian admits to the song being about me and proudly laughs calling it ‘art'”. In a twisted fashion, it’s almost like Octavian is telling us we don’t need to make a concerted effort of reading in between the lines when his abuse and his entire aesthetic are inextricably linked.

This leaves us with the question: “where do we go from here?” In the wake of this aftermath, it’s crucial to reconcile why we need to de-platform abusers like Octavian. Saying “cancel culture” isn’t real not only contributes to discourse that de-legitimizes any criticism against him, but underestimates the currency we consumers hold. To echo Berry again,“You need regular people to care because they make the careers of these abusers possible.”

In an attempt to discuss how we can go about it, we’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list.

1. Share EmoBaby’s posts on your socials.

According to EmoBaby, this isn’t her first attempt at trying to publicly speak about the abuse. Her first post was removed after reports on instagram from Octavian’s representatives. It’s important to show solidarity because he tried to force her to sign an NDA.

2. Block him from streaming platforms.

Spotify has a feature where you can block him by clicking on his profile and select the option “Don’t play this artist”. Unfortunately, you can’t do the same on Apple Music, but you can delete his music from your saved songs.

3. Put pressure on his collaborators.

Put pressure on other hip/hop artists to denounce his actions and remove his features from their current and future catalogues.

There wouldn’t be an outcry to “believe women” if the cultural attitudes towards violence against women in hip-hop shifted from protection to preventive measures. Women don’t want you to save us. We want to be safe. Lastly, the onslaught of fans who are likening “cancelling” Octavian to the death of his career when he literally threatened EmoBaby’s life is incomparable. Octavian having his music streamed isn’t a human right. He’ll live. But he must be held accountable.


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