Small Talk with musical prodigy MNEK

Producing, song writing and collaborating with some of the UK’s biggest artists makes a pretty impressive addition to your CV by the time you’re 20. Most have a bit of retail/bar-work and a splattering of GCSEs and A Levels, however Uzoechi Emenike is not your usual 20-year-old and, along with his reputation as a successful producer, is set to be one of the hottest artists of 2015. Known better under his artist moniker ‘MNEK’, he is now ready to step out from behind the scenes and pursue a career centre stage.

If you haven’t already heard his work as a solo artist, you’re sure to know songs he has been instrumental in creating. If you’ve ever heard Gorgon City’s ‘Ready For Your Love’ (which I’m sure you have), then take note that it was MNEK that provided the smooth vocals. Duke Dumont’s number one hit ‘Need U (100%)’ – yep, he co-wrote and performed backing vocals on that too. He’s also written and produced songs for The Saturdays, Little Mix and Kylie Minogue. Essentially, this article could be dedicated to outlining MNEK’s various collaborations, such is his ubiquity in the industry, however what is perhaps more exciting is his decision to go solo.

Considering how young MNEK was when he started writing and producing (age nine!), it could be assumed that he is from a long line of music moguls. Of course this is not true, and he reveals to me that simply “there was always music in the house.” He grew up listening to his parent’s collection which, he says, consisted of “a lot of Whitney, a lot of Bob Marley.” Hearing these legends as a child seems to have rubbed off on him and helped make him the distinctive, yet diverse artist he is today. “It was a good palate to have as a kid, and that’s something that I’ve carried with me through the years and up until now.”

Since having his work signed when he was 14, he has contributed to three UK number ones. While some may need a breather from the whirlwind of such success, he works tirelessly to define who he is as an artist against the expectations placed on him through years of writing and producing songs for other people. “I have something different to say when it comes to my own artistic projects… I know what a song is to me, I know my process, the sounds I want to use.” Having a reputation as a producer, songwriter and now performer can seem like a lot to juggle. However, considering the quality of his work, he hardly spreads himself thin. “I think I was meant to do all those things,” he tells me. “I like multi-tasking.”

Despite his distinctive sound, no two MNEK tracks sound the same; each one has a very unique flavour. “I have so many influences, I try to not keep my options linear. I think it’s important for me to showcase all kinds of genres through my own music.” Although displaying a wide range of influences – from pop to soul to 90s RnB in his 2015 EP ‘Small Talk’ – he sometimes feels pigeonholed and restrained by peoples’ expectations of him. “There is this idea that I’m just a house artist or something, but when it gets into album mode, I really hope to show that I’m more than that and there’s more to what I do.”

If anything, MNEK is an artist grounded in the here and now; someone who explicitly acts spontaneously and tries to resist expectation. This lack of planning, which is typically attributed to youth, is often seen as a curse. However, he sees this as fundamental to his creative freedom and the thrill he gets from creating music. “I just want to keep creating without expectation, I think when I’m expecting something, it’s not fun anymore. I just wanna like, surprise all the time.” Although he refuses to calculate his every move, he does reveal to me that he’d “love to have a Grammy and tour the world.” Having been nominated for a Grammy last year, and with fans from across the pond begging him to visit their neck of the woods, it seems highly likely that both of these things could come true.

The question remains – is there anything MNEK can’t do? With various festival appearances announced for this summer, and with his eyes already firmly set on a Grammy, he shows no signs of slowing down. However, concerning his future escapades and the lure of America he remains true to himself and concentrates on where he is now. “I want people to know who I am here first, I don’t want to be jumping on something else.” It seems like there is nowhere MNEK would rather be than right here, right now.

MNEK will perform at the 20th anniversary V Festival on Sat 22 – Sun 23 Aug at Hylands Park, Chelmsford and Weston Park, Staffordshire. Visit www.vfestival.com for tickets.

Words by Sarah Smith

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