He started quietly enough, with his 2012 collaboration with Rudimental, “Spoons.” But soon young British writer-producer MNEK — born Uzoechi “Uzo” Emenike — was making a big noise overseas, working with everyone from Diplo to Bastille, Little Mix, Dua Lipa, JoJo and Kylie Minogue. As his roster of clients expanded exponentially, there was one problem: When would the man find the time to track his own official debut and what exactly would it sound like? Now, with soulful singles like “Tongue” preceding it, MNEK, 24, judges his 2018 debut album “Language” a resounding success. “It was me finally articulating what I wanted to say, and getting the chance to re-understand myself, my origins, my references, and what I found to be music,” he says.
As a kid, did you analyze chart hits differently? Hear more of their inner workings?
I listened to the same things that everyone listened to. I grew up with the same music as all of my friends. But I did listen to the songs in a different way — I listened to them as a really passionate fan of music. So then I started wondering, “How do you make that?” I was just really fanatical about how it’s made, and I’ve always wanted to watch documentaries of artists in the recording studio, making music. And it still fascinates me how people can make such great music out of nothing, really — it’s a proper art form.
A lot of folks buy the latest rack-jobbed hits from Target and are content. You seem to be looking for a lot more to dissect.
Oh, absolutely. That’s definitely my bag. I was all about trying to dissect a song, because I’m a fan — I’m genuinely a fan of music. I love the way it makes me feel, the power that it has.
But at age 14 you got your first publishing contract?
I did. And it was literally this simple — I put some music up on MySpace when I was 13 or 14, and before then I was already writing and producing, making songs for kids at school. Then I put two songs up on MySpace, and that got a lot of traction. And I guess the rest was me developing, figuring out what I wanted to do. I really wanted to grow up — I was only 14.
Some contemporary collaborations seem cold, mercenary.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of those. But I think everyone is just looking out for themselves. And in the same way that, say, Beyonce is looking out for herself, I’ve got to release the music that I love, go on the tours I want to go on. I’ve got to do what I have to do, and I’ve got to focus on me.
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 27
Tickets: $17 to $20
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.eventbrite.com