When someone signs their first music publishing deal at the age of 14, they have something special. On top of that, how about someone that has been producing music since they were 5-years-old. This is the story of Uzo Emenike, better known as MNEK.
MNEK is a singer, songwriter and music producer whose collaboration list racks up to an impressive CV, writing songs for the likes of Madonna, Beyonce, Rudimental, Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Gordon City, Duke Dumont, Oliver Heldens and more.
While MNEK has spent his time writing for superstars, the release of the 23-year-old’s debut solo studio album Language signals that the artist is destined for pop superstardom.
Born in the South London borough of Lewisham, MNEK spent his younger years channeling his love of music using Dance eJay, a preliminary music production software that his father had bought him. The purchase of Dance eJay, at once marked MNEK’s early exposure to music production, as well as started MNEK’s musical journey.
MNEK started putting out his music on MySpace. His after-school activities consisted of reaching out to his favorite artists and sending them his music in the hope it would be embraced. Incredibly, at 14-years-old, his efforts paid off, as the young teen subsequently hosted business meetings and discussions over contracts in the living room of his family home.
Though what transpired in the living room may have confused and surprised his Nigerian parents — MNEK’s father, a police officer and his mother, a retail worker at Mark’s & Spencer’s — a year later, MNEK landed his first publishing deal with a songwriting gig for the major British music production powerhouse, Xenomania.
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Taking on a personal project of music analysis, MNEK would dedicate time to breaking down the music styles and arrangements of the formative producers such as R&B producer Dark Child, Jam & Lewis and Max Martin, who crafted some of the biggest tracks of the ’90s and 2000s. It was a project that helped the young artist not only compose lyrics but input melodies and other production ideas for Xenomania.
Fast-forward and MNEK has 8 years of experience in the industry and has collaborated with some major artists. Now, he is looking to shape and make an impact on pop music, but this time, solo.
MNEK wants to challenge conceptions around pop music that figure the musical genre as simply following a cookie-cutter template. He maintains that pop is a conflation of sounds and aural influences. For MNEK, pop allows for greater freedom, flexibility, playfulness as well as enabling constant reinvention in music production.
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my debut album #LANGUAGE🌀 is out in ONE WEEK!!!!!!!! preorder now from the link in my bio but if you’re more of a handsy person, in the picture above i’m lying on top of several (SIGNED!) physical copies of the vinyl and the cds of the album. they are available to preorder/purchase on mnekofficial.com 🤗🤗🤗 i also think it’s stupid that you still can’t hyperlink in captions but that’s neither here nor there. anyway yayyyy it’s so surreal to be able to hold what is my first real body of work like physically💙. i can’t wait for everyone to hear it!. now, pls abeg you guys don’t let my album flop too hard, otherwise these (and myself) will just lay around in my studio forlorn and unappreciated. and that isn’t the tea…. so.. LANGUAGE 7th SEPTEMBER!! oopssss and thank u for all ur kind words re: Correct! i’m so proud of the song and i’m so happy you guys get it 💙💙 thank u to everyone that helped make the video happen too! BIG MOTHERFUCKING HUGGGGG🤗🤗🤗
The broad application of the title of his debut album, Language, speaks to the way MNEK isn’t interested in conforming to any singular idea of himself as both an artist and a person. Nor does he figure these two identities as mutually exclusive.
For MNEK, every individual has their own mode of communicating to others, their own language of love, their own language in which to express their race, gender, and sexuality — for our identity is performative, the ‘norm’ is in itself, an effect of multiplied performances.
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At the same time, MNEK does identify as British-Nigerian and his identity as an openly Black gay male music artist is empowering for Black queer youth since the representation of this community is so lacking.
Given this representational void in the music industry, in discussing with ShortList, whether he feels the pressure to be a public face for the LGBTQIA community, he said,
“I don’t feel pressure. I think there’s fun to have. I want to be real and I want to have fun. And I want to show that being gay and of color doesn’t have to be a sob story all the time.”
At the same time, MNEK spoke about the tension in his image being marketable, in speaking to OUT Magazine, he expressed,
“I will never be typical, no matter how much weight I lose, no matter how much more hair I get. I used to think these things would hold me back, and maybe they will, but I see strength in them now. I saw the impact of me being myself.”
The music video for MNEK’s “Tongue,” by the directing duo Bradley & Pablo, presents a total subversion of the gaze, more specifically, the straight white cis-male gaze. In a series of shot-reverse-shots, the camera conveys the sexual tension between MNEK and his love interest in the narrative of the video.
In short, there is some serious eye-fucking going on. The song’s lyrics convey the coded language typical in queer erotic interaction. To put different, in choosing not to speak, or forcibly not being able to speak and disclose, instead enables the body to be the predominant register in which to communicate.
Additionally, the different modes of black masculinity and gender presentation performed by MNEZ exhibit his identity as fluid, subject to change, never static.
In speaking to DIY Magazine on the title of the album, he states,
“The album is about learning. It’s about me learning what it’s like to be a pop star. It’s me learning what it’s like to be a recording artist. It’s everyone’s first real chance to learn about me. This is how I articulate myself. This is how I feel. This is everything that I want to say. This is my language.”
The solo album will be MNEK’s introduction to a lot of people. Whether MNEK has fears something will be lost in translation, there nonetheless, is a huge community who relate and speak his language and are ready to embrace not only his stunning vocals but what he represents.