When I call Elmiene, he’s in a great mood. The Oxford musician is gearing up for the release of his second EP of the year, Marking My Time (which dropped in October). It’s a warm, poetic project featuring contributions from revered artists such as Lil Silva and The Internet’s Syd.
“Yeah, so I feel pretty cool right now,” Elmiene confirms. Having completed his music degree at Bournemouth University, the 22-year-old moved to the English capital just a few weeks ago and he’s now based in Shepherds Bush. “London’s good if you can find a slow pocket,” he says. “West London feels in that world.”
Despite his relaxed attitude, Elmiene is quickly finding success. Since posting a video of himself covering D’Angelo’s track Untitled (How Does It Feel) in 2021, he’s been cosigned by Missy Elliott and Pharrell Williams, had an original song used in Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton show and released two EPs in 2023 alone: El-Mean and the aforementioned Marking My Time.
With his buttery blend of neo-soul and R&B, it’s no surprise that hearing D’Angelo’s classic album Voodoo for the first time changed Elmiene’s life. “I was like, whatever this is, it’s nuts. I think I was 14 at the time,” he remembers. “I knew it was over. It was like BC and AD for me.”
Still, Elmiene never thought much about pursuing music professionally, though he wrote poetry in his free time. But then his housemate encouraged him to post covers online – the rest, pretty much, is history. “After that D’Angelo video went viral, I thought, this is the moment for me to make my own music. It felt like the logical next move,” he says. “It was a pretty seamless transition.”
Where El-Mean is Elmiene’s own prologue to his career, Marking My Time is a deeper exploration of genres he’s always loved, coupled with a generous amount of soul-searching.
“The best thing I could hope for in my music is for it to raise questions in people and for them to find answers there,” he says. “I always say that the one thing about music is this: if I can’t make you cry, I’ve failed. Then there’s no point, because it’s soul music and that’s what it’s all about. Now I’ve got my crew, like Syd and Lil Silva, and we’ve built the well, what else can we explore? How deep does it go?”
10% Where were you born, where were you raised and where are you now based?
I was born in Frankfurt, Germany. My parents moved down there from Sudan in the late ’90s. From there, when I was about five, we moved to Oxford as we had a lot of family there. It was chill – I think that’s where I get my slow mentality from. I moved to London in November, which has sped me up against my will.
20% What kind of emotions and experiences influence your work?
A lot of my experiences involve searching for my place in life, my responsibilities. I love relationships in any form. Like, your relationship with your dad requires different things from you than your relationship with your mum or a lover or a friend. You have to be good at separate things for each person. But it’s all bound together somehow. That’s what I do.
30% What’s a piece of advice that changed your life?
I’m muslim. There’s this verse in the Quran which says that God doesn’t test the soul more than he believes the heart is capable of bearing. So anything that happens to me, I know I have all the tools to solve it. That definitely keeps me pushing.
40% If you were cooking to impress someone, what would you make?
I make a pretty famous fried chicken, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve got a secret spice blend from my mum. There’s this one Moroccan shop in Oxford that sells these little pots full of Arabian spices. I take that, put some honey in there. The most important ingredient is cornflakes. You mash them up at the end with some flour and fry the chicken in that. If I go any deeper I’m gonna expose the whole operation, so that’s all I’m gonna say.
50% You rule the world for a day. What goes down?
If I ruled the world for a day, I’d delete streaming. Because I never got to experience that whole thing of going in a shop, getting a CD, bringing it back and talking to people about it. I want to experience that as an artist. Like when Spice Girls did a collab with Tesco. That’s hilarious. I wanna do that – like you can only get Elmiene’s new album if you buy a pack of digestives.
60% Love, like, hate?
I love songs where the riff ascends or descends. I like looking at menus. I live my life from menu to menu. My life is just an interlude between looking at menus. And something that really pisses me off is the fact that the plug head changes depending on which country you’re in. That can’t run. Surely they’ve figured it out by now.
70% What’s the best menu you’ve ever laid eyes on?
Erewhon in LA. It has the maddest, longest menu you’ve ever seen in your life. You can get steak and rice pudding. Then you can get a $25 smoothie but also tinned artichokes. What’s going on? Whatever it is, it’s sick.
80% What’s the most memorable DM you’ve ever received?
A good friend of mine sent me a DM the other day – we were gonna work at a studio in LA, which was in Pasadena. She lived in South LA, so it was a two-hour trip for her and also not a very convenient place to work. It’s like someone here being like, come work in Kent. I sent her the address and she sent me a voice note like, “Pasadena?! Who got you working there?” I don’t know the geopolitics of LA, but that cracked me up. She was like, “I ain’t going.” We didn’t make it work, either. I ended up doing the song with someone else.
90% What’s a bad habit you wish you could kick?
When I get to a place, like if I’m working somewhere and I’m in a hotel, I never leave the hotel on my free days. I’ll spend 24 hours in the room. I just don’t know where to go! Sometimes I try to leave and walk outside. But what’s out there that is better than me sitting here on my laptop? It gets embarrassing though, ordering Uber Eats and picking it up from the lobby. I’m trying to get better, though.
100% What can artists do to help save the world?
Really tell their stories. That’s the most important thing people can do. We’re always doomed to repeat history if we never learn from the past.