MNEK’s debut album has been a long time coming – something he addresses early on ‘Language’. On the Latin-tinged ‘Correct’, he declares, “Get with the finesse, that a king like me possess / Everybody’s asking why they haven’t heard my album yet”. It’s with good reason, however, that MNEK’s kept his avid stan base waiting: the 23-year-old South Londoner has been mad busy for the past decade.
Signing a publishing deal at the age of 14, Uzoechi Emenike has written for the who’s-who of pop music, with credits on tunes by Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, and Madonna, not forgetting his co-write credit on Beyoncé’s monolithic ‘Hold Up’. This is all alongside his own musical endeavours, which have seen him feature on Gorgon City’s club anthem ‘Ready for Your Love’, go platinum with Zara Larsson on ‘Never Forget You’ and drop the UK garage-laced ‘Small Talk’ EP.
Now, 10 years on from that first deal, it’s finally come time for MNEK to drop his debut ‘Language’ – and it’s bloody brilliant. The album opens with a bang on ‘Background’; pulsating synths and crunchy electronics abruptly make way for a spoken work interlude, as two girls in a club toilet sing along to MNEK’s aforementioned Zara Larsson duet and debate the pronunciation of his name “(M-nek?” “Babe, it’s M-N-E-K. It sounds like an STD!”), you know from the off that ‘Language’ is going to be gloriously good fun.
The whole thing has been stylishly produced, with droll interludes leading you through the sonic story. On ‘Gibberish’, a conversation is disrupted by a buzzing mobile, before it elegantly morphs into the next track, the Nokia-jam ‘Phone’. A later interlude, ‘Hearsay’ (in which a boy tells his girlfriend, dishonestly, that he’s been “working late”), segues into the ’90s R&B infused ‘Girlfriend’, which boasts the flawless refrain, “If your girlfriend knew / ‘Bout me and you / Bout what we do / Tell me what would she do?”
Previous singles ‘Colour’ (a neon-bright bop about the endless possibilities of love) and ‘Tongue’ (in which MNEK explores the perils of accidentally telling your new bae you love them too early in a new relationship) sound even better when nestled neatly into ‘Language’s’ cohesive narrative. Meanwhile, new tunes such as euphoric euro-banger ‘Free’ and the Ultra Nate-sampling ‘Paradise’ establish themselves as future contenders for hit singles.
And then there’s ‘Crazy World’, which eloquently addresses racism (“A man is told he’s committed a sin / All because of the colour of his skin”) and homophobia (“A father is disappointed by his son / He’s told him that he’s in love with someone / Less her and more him”) over cantering beats and slinky synth licks. It’s a moving and important work, and one that reminds us why MNEK is the pop star we need in 2018.