MNEK

  • Text  Rachel Speed
  • Photography  Max Barnett
  • Styling  Patricia Villirillo

Words: Rachel Speed
Photography: Max Barnett
Styling: Patricia Villirillo

“I’m not planning on a Plan B. Plan A has to fucking work.”

I meet Uzoechi Emenike, better known by his stage name MNEK, at his studio in Shoreditch to talk about his debut album and his blossoming career – at the age of twenty-one, Madonna, Beyoncé, and Kylie Minogue (to namedrop but a few) can all thank MNEK for song lyrics. His single ‘Never Forget You’ with Zara Larsson was hard to escape last summer as it echoed around the country. And his current single ‘At Night (I Think About You)’ is set for similar fame.

Yet MNEK doesn’t portray the arrogance that such achievements can afford. In fact, who I meet is a down-to-earth, modest man, who gets star-struck when meeting the Vengaboys and Lisa Stanfield. When I ask him to tell me about writing for Beyoncé’s Lemonade, one of the biggest albums of the year, he starts with a coy “yeah, it was cool.”

Singer, songwriter, producer: MNEK has many strings to his metaphorical bow. I ask him about the importance of this: “I love being able to do all three” he replies, “it lets me be creative in a way that not a lot of people can be. I can see the song from all different perspectives. I can be enthralled by the production, I can care about how the song is written, and how the song is performed.”

A true self-starter MNEK admits, “I started producing and song writing because no one else was doing it for me – so I had to do it myself!” Yet his drive to learn the production processes and create his own songs has meant for complete control and freedom over his work now. He acknowledges how lucky this freedom is when compared to other artists who are so often restricted by labels and logistics. “My advice? Just do it all yourself!” he quips.

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When I ask about his processes for writing songs, he explains: “If I’m writing with an artist, we work in the same room, I get in their head. It’s very tailored to the person performing it.” But when writing for himself he confesses: “I’m such a perfectionist with my own songs. They take a lot longer for me to finish than when writing with other people.”

This is apparent when we talk about his upcoming debut album. “This album has been a big old work in progress. I started it when I was seventeen, but I released an EP when I was twenty (Small Talk) and it had a lot of songs on that I wanted for the album. So I started the album again. I think it sounds a lot better now though. There’s a new energy. My music is influenced by dance, hip-hop, 90s RnB, all of those things. It meshes those worlds together and everything that I’ve worked on so far in my career. I’ve been able to work on stuff like the Saturdays, Madonna, Beyoncé, Kylie, super pop; what pop songs should sound like, really fun.” He laughs, “the gay man inside me is shouting! But I’ve also worked with Rudimental, Duke Dumont, Gorgon City, on really cool projects that are dance-orientated and more underground. It blends everything I know about music into one album. It’s a piece of work to get people to understand me more.”

As for his next collaboration? “I never like to answer that question but I do get asked a lot. Most people I’ve worked with I’ve just messaged them to work with them, like Becky Hill and Karen Harding. Whatever comes through, but I’m very picky. I get sent a lot of stuff from my management and I’m like ‘no, nah, not feeling it’ (laughs).” He adds: “I love working with new artists. I’m thankful for the big names I have worked with and I want to keep doing so, but there’s something great about working with new artists, there’s no expectation. There’s nothing to compare the work to.”

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After five years of working in his own studio which he moved into two weeks after his GCSEs were finished, MNEK can reflect on taking that risk: “All I knew before this was Catford, and working in my parent’s garage surrounded by tinned food. Having my own space and spending more time in East London definitely brought out a different side to my music. Having my own space to go back to was helpful, it gave me a chance. It made it real.”

MNEK’s drive to succeed is infectious when talking to him. He’s not one to settle, not one for compromise, he appears to constantly be striving for bigger and better things. But behind the confidence is a humility, he simply states at the end of our interview: “I’m glad that what I’ve always wanted to do as a kid is my job. And I’ll never take that for granted.” An attitude that is sure to help Plan A work.

At Night (I Think About You) is out now

MNEK-Max-Barnett-04Photography: Max Barnett
Styling: Patricia Villirillo
Makeup and Hair: Bianca Simone Scott
using MAC Cosmetics and Mizani Haircare