MNEK is a solo star on bold and beautiful debut record
MNEK’s debut album has been a long time coming. The London based musician first broke through as a featuring artist on tracks by Rudimental and Gorgon City, but soon started to make a name for himself as a producer. He worked with pop forces like Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Little Mix and Madonna in recent years, while featuring on Zara Larsson’s hit ‘Never Forget You’, which he of course co-wrote and co-produced as well. More recently, Uzoechi Emenike shifted the focus towards his own solo material. After singles like ‘Tongue’, ‘Colour’ and ‘Crazy World’ he now finally shares his debut album Language with us!
2018 has been a good year for queer pop culture so far. After acts like Janelle Monáe, Years & Years, Troye Sivan and Hayley Kiyoko all released unapologetically queer albums with clear lyrical references to same sex relationships (this might sound obvious, but was almost unheard of in mainstream pop not too long ago), MNEK gives us his two cents with open and honest stories from the perspective of a young black gay male. On ‘Girlfriend’, clearly one of the biggest bops of the record, MNEK reads a guy who only wants to meet him secretly, as he is not out and still has a girlfriend. He urges the guy to be honest and tells him: “Neither you or your story’s straight!” Damn right! On house inspired anthem ‘Crazy World’, released as most recent single, he asks people to understand the struggles others face with racism and homophobia. He uses the example of a son coming out as gay to his disappointed father and his message is clear: “Somewhere in this crazy world, someone is trying to live their life, trying to survive, but you won’t believe that it’s true until that someone is you!”
Of course there is room for some more playful material too. Lead single ‘Tongue’ is a sexy bop in which MNEK tries his best to not declare his love for someone too soon, but he just can’t help himself. Production wise this is one of the absolute highlights of his debut. It is fresh and it goes OFF! ‘Body’ sees him craving a physical connection with a person he already bonded with emotionally which seaminglessly transforms into ‘Honeymoon Phaze’. On this tune he asks his partner when their relationship turned sour and how they stopped being physical. Production wise it is one of the most accomplished tracks, with a smooth and soulful slow jam vibe going on. Vocally it is one his best moments, belting his heart out over sultry backing vocals.
While ‘Honeymoon Phaze’ mixes modern R&B with soul, MNEK takes us straight back to the early noughties with the before mentioned ‘Girlfriend’, which in terms of sound would have fitte right in on a Destiny’s Child album. On the ballsy ‘Correct’ he flirts heavily with hiphop, more than confidently delivering the attitude in the lyrics of the verses with a fiery mix of rap and singing. ‘Free’ is one of his most out of the box moments in terms of production, starting out as a slow jam, but bursting into an uplifting, high pitched drop. Although Language is certainly bop heavy, MNEK does show he knows how to slow things down too. ‘Phone’ is a laidback slice of radiofriendly pop that could actually become a hit. He even pulls off a proper ballad right at the end with the moving ‘Touched By You’.
After listening to Language from start to finish, it is not hard to hear why it took MNEK a while to get this record out. It is well thought out from start to finish with a playful structure, having interludes link all the tracks together. The two girls discussing the pronunciation of his name at a club in the intro is an easy highlight that shows he does not take himself all too seriously. Within the structure of Language, every single song has its purpose and we can even forgive him for the basic lyrics of basic bop ‘Colour’ (with Hailee Steinfeld). As he puts it himself on ‘Correct’: “Everybody’s asking why they haven’t heard my album yet, I had to come correct.” And ‘come correct’ is exactly what he did with a bold, beautiful and neatly executed debut.