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MNEK, British Producer to the Stars, Picks His Songs of Summer 2015

The 20-year-old also tells SPIN about working with Madonna on her most recent album

For someone who’s a mere 20 years old, British musician MNEK — real name Uzo Emenike — already has a pretty formidable resumé, including production and writing credits on songs by pop kingpins Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and newer dance phenoms like Duke Dumont and Clean Bandit. He’s also got his own singing career to look after, having just released his Small Talk EP, which is filled with cloud-reaching electro-soul (potential) smashes like the wiggle-pop “More Than a Miracle,” the house-inspired “Every Little Word,” and the clubbiest of the bunch, “The Rhythm.”

Earlier this month, MNEK took time out of his increasingly hectic studio sessions — he’s recording his debut LP, due next year — to offer his expertise to SPIN about summertime music like Rudimental’s jazz-funked “Never Let You Go” and Brayton Bowman’s warped “Baby One More Time” cover. Below, find MNEK’s selections for what he believes should be the Songs of Summer 2015.

Rudimental, “Never Let You Go”

MNEK: I’ve done a lot of stuff on this new album with them, and it’s nice to see the growth. I’ve always liked “Never Let You Go”; I thought it would be a big festival track. [The song] is classic them, though. The blend of the electronic production with a soulful cloud over it… It’s always going to be soulful but electronic. That’s their vibe. Their sound has always been the sound of the summer.

KStewart, “Keeping You Up”

This one’s produced by Shift K3y, and I think, knowing K, the song is all really her and just a fun summery track. She sounds incredible on it, and it just fits the weather.

This doesn’t sound dissimilar to the work you’ve done with Gorgon City.

Oh yeah, they’re lovely guys. I’m working with them on their next album too. They were at a festival with Diplo, and Diplo asked them, “Who are people in U.K. I should work with and who do you recommend?” The Gorgon City guys recommended me. [Diplo] hit up my management, and we got in the studio.

We started an idea [“Hold Tight”], and we played it for Madonna and she loved it. I worked on it, she rewrote some of the lyrics, and then she invited me to the studio to work with her on its production. It was… pretty great. She also asked if I would do some ad-libs for “Living For Love,” but a demo leaked that had all of my vocals on there. The final version had someone else I think. She must’ve interpreted that my voice was going to be on some remix, or something.

Towkio feat. Chance the Rapper, “Heaven Only Knows”

One of my best friends is quite into rap, and I’m always being introduced to music by him. Through the things he shows me, I’m looking at all the connected artists. That’s how I saw Towkio. I found “Heaven Only Knows,” and I loved it. I’ve never been massive on rap, but there’s that whole kind of culture of U.K. rap. I’ve always liked discovering things. Even with the new wave of rappers rapping over like dance beats like Azealia Banks. I think Towkio fits into that mold. I really like what he does.

Brayton Bowman, “Baby One More Time (Refix)”

I’m a bit biased. This is my man. [Laughs.] This one I actually worked on with him a few weeks ago when I went over to New York. I convinced him to go with a completely off-kilter choice of refix. It pays homage, but also does its own thing too.

When you’re producing songs like this versus your own material, how does your mindset switch?

I think I have a really different approach to my own stuff. For me, I have to stem from an internal idea that has been nagging me for days. Then I flesh it out. I think every song I do is specifically tailored to what I would say and how I approach situations.

Lion Babe, “Wonder Woman (Joel Compass Remix)”

While I really like the original, I just recently heard the remix by Joel Compass, who I know pretty well, and I think it’s even better than the original. I feel like it is really a summer smash that will go down in the clubs. This will be what everyone is listening to. I love the production. Listening to Joel Compass’s productions, you hear his stamp, his essence on it. I love that he has that pattern, his own grove. It just sounds so good.

It kind of reminds me of classic, back-in-the-day Janet Jackson.

Janet is kind of genius in the sense that she is really able to know how to construct the pop album and to make it feel like a story. It would be my dream to make her an album that is cohesive as Velvet Rope. I admire how she commits to an album. She works on her songs and wanted to make a really amazing album. I really appreciate that. Now I just need a [new] album from her.