[REVIEW] MNEK x ‘Small Talk’ (EP)


Although there has never been a soul artist quite like MNEK, his debut EP ‘Small Talk’ sounds like the work of a seasoned #vocalveteran. MNEK – whose real name is Uzo Emenike – calls his sound ‘unconventional’ but I like to think of it as more unexpected. Alongside fellow Brit Sam Smith, the two are the single best male vocalists in the music industry. His debut international release also served as a full-length introduction after a trio of hit singles under his belt – and he’s literally ascending to superstardom by the day. With a 2014 Grammy nod and an (unexpected) BET nomination this year, the ‘Small Talk’ EP will likely become the single body of work that makes MNEK a household name.

The EP starts off with “Every Little Word”, an uptempo chopped-and-screwed number with an in-your-face refrain (“do you fuck to this shit?”). MNEK effortlessly weaves between the verses and the chorus to deliver his most radio-friendly song to date despite being a bit risqué. Being the lead single from ‘Small Talk’, “Word” already exceeds expectations as a true R&B banger. MNEK’s true gift of songwriting comes through perfectly as he sings about falling in love with someone solely based on the words they speak. But when MNEK’s piercing vocals come in towards the bridge (2:39), the singer’s true talents soar.

“More than A Miracle” packs an 80s house vibe with its synth-laden bassline, but strangely it’s the most postmodern sound on the entire EP. “Miracle” boasts a theme of home towards a fallen relationship as MNEK croons “for my blood to give anymore, it’s gonna take more than a miracle”. I really love the lowly-sung choruses here, because it allows listeners to resonate with the strong message behind “Miracle”. But once the chorus comes in, he’s at his vocal high-point – delivering an earth-shattering high note that goes far and beyond the talents of nearly any other male musician at the moment.

Album standout “Wrote A Song About You” is what I like to refer to as the vocal that will sell you on MNEK’s greatness. Not only is it the most contemporary R&B sound on the entire ‘Small Talk’ set, but it’s also mainstream friendly. On the cut, MNEK paints a vivid picture of what it truly means to write a song about someone (literally), as “Wrote” came to fruition while discussing the potential of writing an autobiographical song. As strong as the song itself is, the video could’ve offered a bit more than just the singer behind a colorful shadow backdrop. Strange enough, “Wrote” was released well over a year ago, but could easily become a stateside Billboard Hot 100 #1 single if it’s ever formally released. Either way, this impressive vocal showing will also double as the lead single from MNEK’s upcoming debut album.

“The Rhythm” serves as the most recent single from ‘Small Talk’ and has become his most successful song since “Ready For Your Love”. Uptempos don’t really seem like MNEK’s strongest point, but songs like this show just how versatile his instrument truly is (no pun intended). “Rhythm” is a beautiful mix of garage, house, and progressive synthpop – all three great ingredients for breaking into the world of EDM. The song climaxes with an extra long high note from MNEK before going into one of the best drum drops in his entire catalog. But like the video for “Wrote”, the “Rhythm” visual doesn’t match up to the greatness of the song.

The slow-burning “In Your Clouds” initially comes off as a sequel to “Wrote”, but it’s able to stand on its own two legs without much further comparison. Amidst DJ scratches and a retro chorus arrangement, MNEK uses the song to create a beautifully written analogy between 420 and the overall feeling of being in love. “I just want to be, all up in your clouds / and through the haze, just find a place that I can figure it out” sings an affectionate MNEK over the chopped-and-screwed inspired instrumentation. Just based on this comparison alone, “Clouds” could be the perfect follow-up single to continue MNEK’s rise to superstardom.

“Suddenly” closes the stellar first release from MNEK on an extreme high note. The downtempo ethereal ballad discusses a love that comes about suddenly. “And suddenly you kissed me, I now believe in eternity / when you look at me, I can’t breathe, don’t wanna let go cause it’s hurting me” he sings passionately over the sparse, moody arrangement. While discussing a topic like love, MNEK is already great at expressing his emotions. But when you add in the element of being #friendzoned to the true story, “Suddenly” reaches new songwriting heights for an (already) amazingly talented vocalist.

It’s songs like these – paired with the rest of ‘Small Talk’ that makes MNEK’s artistry a unique find amongst singer-songwriters today. Both “Wrote” and “Rhythm” could’ve became radio staples stateside, but an artist like MNEK understands that building an international fanbase is pivotal to breaking stateside. Instead of radio hits, he chose for his interpretation of classic house/garage grooves to near-perfect results. So while I wait patiently for an official US tour from one of my favorite Grammy nominees, there’s a superb full-length MNEK project that I’ll be listening to every day until then.

Grade: A-

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