Let me set the scene. Saturday night in Leith. (Have I said enough?) Joking, of course.

You walk down stairs in an almost vacant, edgy café, the voices of teenagers bouncing off the closely positioned paint-chipped walls before you even open the door. A small room and smaller garden filled entirely with smoke, hip-hop music and some of the coolest people you’ve ever seen. 

Last Saturday 15th October, I was lucky enough to be asked along to a gig put on by a company called ‘Mandate’ in Sketchy Beats Café, Leith, Edinburgh. 

Mandate are a group of likeminded young people with a passion for music, fashion and positivity. After starting as friends who met up every Thursday for drinks and a chat, these guys have continually fuelled each other’s motivation and ideas and have developed into an established company. 

“Over the years, Mandate has slowly evolved into a kind of social club, starting from one or two of us, into a growing team of good people. We want to do more and push this as a brand. Not just have clothing, but we also aim to put on events, promote artists, genuinely help the community and try do something positive. We are not looking for teaming profits to keep to ourselves. That was our main ethic when we first talked about this. We want to put it back into the company so we can make a positive impact.” 

After enjoying various performances from local rappers, including B-EAST and Niko, I managed to grab a few of the boys involved to ask them a few questions.

Firstly, I spoke to one of the guys from Mandate, the welcoming and extremely charming Sean O’Donnell, aka Spawn Zero. Sean shone light on the reason behind the name and dynamics of the company. He explained that the dictionary definition of mandate is, inherently, to do something and this is definitely the groups intention. He spoke with great passion and said that each member brings their own array of authentic skills and ideas to the group. He explained that anybody can join in and seemed extensively proud of his team. 

24 year old O’Donnell used to be a drummer in a punk rock band, but at the age of 18 he got into hip-hop and started rapping. For a young artist who just “really likes words and stuff”, he is doing pretty well for himself. Between being a member of LIV, Livingston’s first proper hip-hop crew, gaining nothing but positive responses from his music on Soundcloud, to working on an EP of his own, it is clear that Spawn Zero is one that will catch the eyes of many.

It was an absolute pleasure chatting to Ben Nicholson, or B-EAST, about his music career. After starting writing only a year ago, B-EAST has managed to generate a unique, alluring and almost haunting style of his own. He done this so successfully, he said, by listening to lots of other rappers and applying little pieces of everyone’s work to his own creations. He stated honestly that Flatbush Zombies, for example, helped spark his interest in modern, alternative hip-hop; whereas the likes of Biggie Smalls and Nas, opened his eyes to an older scene. He seems to find a balance between the two and wire it to fit in with his broad Scottish accent, obviously.

As Edinburgh raised Ben Nicholson is only 17, he is yet to endeavour out of Scotland to enlighten people with his art, however he hopes to go to London soon and possibly busk on the streets. He admits, “A lot of rappers think they are above busking, which is stupid really; you’re 1000 fans on Facebook might not turn you into exactly who you want to be in music, however busking to a different audience every few minutes, might.” 

In discussion about travelling, Nicholson mentioned that branching out to further places in Europe would be extremely beneficial for himself and other up-and-coming rappers. He said, modestly, “It’s really weird because even though I don’t speak other languages, I know in most places, people would still vibe with my sound.” His drive was enchanting and with this level of talent, B-EAST is definitely one to watch.

Finally, I managed to catch the fantastic Niko Kisitu. Despite being only 17 years old, Niko has had an immensely action packed life. Born in New York, he started writing poems at the age of 7. A few years later, after accidentally being exposed to ‘Over’ by Drake, on his dad’s iPod, little Niko was inspired to write his own rap song and things have only improved since then! He has also lived in Manchester, Uganda, and currently stays in Edinburgh. Although the music scene is hugely contrasting in each of these places, Niko has successfully stayed true to his own addicting, poetic style. His experiences of different cultures and ways of life are most definitely reflected in not only his lyrics, but also his genuine, down to earth nature. 

The gig with Mandate was his first proper gig here in Scotland. I asked him how he feels about the lack of rappers here compared to America, where he could have been instead and he replied, “I couldn’t hate on the scene here. Even though it is a lot smaller than the US, I guess that makes it easier to be a more successful rapper; as long as you are completely focussed, you’ve got a pretty good shot at doing well for yourself.”

Niko is currently working with Eyeangle producer Liam Docherty. He is in the process of putting together an album and says he should have tracks coming out in the new year. For now, though, be sure to give him a listen on Soundcloud; after hearing what he has created, I guarantee that whoever you are, you’ll be confused as to whether you want to be him, or be with him.


-Aischa Daughtery