A string of solo successes and an endless list of star studded credits (think Beyoncé, Stormzy, Dua Lipa et al), south London’s hit machine MNEK is pretty much unstoppable. And with the release of new track “Paradise” – which boasts that iconic guitar riff from Ultra Nate’s 1997 hit “Free” – anticipation for his debut album is only building.
While some musicians might take this kind of opportunity to celebrate with a cake, bubbles, or perhaps even a holiday, MNEK made a pit stop at Soho’s WAH Nails for a mani to match the track’s sleeve.
Naturally we joined and demanded, politely, to learn a little more.
We all love a 90s throwback tune; why “Free”?
I’ve always loved “Free”, I grew up listening to loads of Kisstory, house and dance, so it was pretty sick that we were able to get it cleared. At the time loads of people were sampling these old skool R&B songs and I was like “okay, cool – but I would love to do the reverse of it and do a dance tune with an R&B vibe on it”.
Was it daunting working with such a classic song?
It was a fun challenge. I don’t really sample and to be able to play with such an iconic sample in that way was really cool. I literally got to go the other way with it. I got the writer of the original’s blessing which was pretty nice. After I got his approval I did more work on it and I added the “You’re freeeee” to the backing vocals to pay some homage to the original.
There’s an escapism theme throughout the song and you touch on some pretty deep stuff in it. Can you talk us through how you were feeling during the writing process?
I guess because I’m a young person, I can often be ignorant to what’s going on outside. With everything that’s happening in recent times, as far as the general election, Donald Trump etc, you can’t really run away from it. It’s a song about, while you’re conscious of what’s going on in the world, there’s also nothing wrong with every now and again escaping from that – you have to because it’s gross! But it ends with “you can’t run away forever”. It’s good to get yourself out of that but it’s impossible to run away forever.
If you could escape for a minute, what would your idea of paradise be and who would you take with you?
Well I’d take you because we’re friends now! I guess my idea of paradise would be like snacks, some YouTube, a good sound system, a zoot – chilling. That’s my idea of paradise.
Nice. We’ve been hearing some rumours about your album and another possible collab with Beyoncé on her next album…
Rumours? Where? Well I’ve gotta finish this album, finally! I’m doing it this year once and for all.
Is that a promise? The streets are waiting on it.
It is a promise! I’ve just been talking all this shit but I’ve said I’m going to finish the album and I want to. Once I’m ready to let go of this album it will just help everything else – my writing, production, my life. I’m doing stuff for other people, working with many exciting new, young artists and many established artists. It’s a fun time, I still get off on hearing new music, new people and new ideas.
Any standing out particularly?
There’s one girl named Tiana Major 9 – check her out, she’s really sick. She’s this beautiful black girl with a great voice. I’m always on Spotify listening to new stuff but I’m such an old skool head so I’m always listening to my daily mix – there’s Tamia, there’s Missy, there’s Brandy, there’s Xscape. I guess in my paradise there’d be some 90s R&B playing.