Cheque’s lyricism struggles to match the stellar production of this project, which clearly suggests one thing: he has had an impressive three-year spell as a Nigerian trap artiste, but for the next stage – national domination – he’ll need to hit the next gear.
By Patrick Ezema
Cheque’s breakout single, “Zoom,” had his eyes focused on a single goal: success. His destination was clearly mapped out in his head; he wanted artistic accolades, not only for what it represented in itself, but for the material success it brought. The 28-year-old’s latest EP, Chequemate, captures him in ascent as he navigates stardom.
Cheque, real name Akin Bamidele Brett, maintains artistic fidelity to the trap music that has become his mainstay, remaining unchanging even in a musical sphere that brazenly sidelines Hip-Hop in favour of party anthems. To mix things up, he recruits close friends, Fireboy and Crayon, featuring the latter on “Sunflawa,” a track that struggles to fit (thematically) into the rest of the album, but is representative of an attempt to expand beyond his core audience.
For a larger portion of Chequemate’s runtime, however, he holds tight to his lyrical leanings: it would be “blasphemous” in certain quarters if the man who spoke up in defence of Hip-Hop’s place in Nigeria was found trying to “sell out.” He seeks introspection on Chequemate, as the EP is addressed as much to himself as it is to his fanbase, musing on his victory lap as well as his manifesto for the future. “Shine,” the EP’s curtain-raiser, embodies this dual purpose and does a decent job at both.
“Gotta love on yourself, that be the antidote/ Me no want nothing to kill my vibe,” he notes, before outlining his career milestones: sold-out arenas, Hollywood dinners and magazine divas. It’s the lifestyle he always wanted, but it takes some getting used to, and he reflects on how he handles it all in real-time. He is not shy about his desire to revel in the fame: “Couple mill on the drip, looking fresh is a must,” he raps on the Ozedikus-produced “Way Too Young,” admitting to displays of youthful exuberance, but alluding to his resolve to be more financially responsible a minute later as he yells “Got people in my life who (are) depending on me now.”
Cheque is, objectively, still a couple of miles away from the goals he set for his career, but a quick comparison to his lowly beginnings makes a strong case for due plaudits. At Obafemi Awolowo University, a young Cheque, then named Kyle B, struggled to make a dent in the school’s culture ecosystem, and now he makes these moves on a national level. In school, Cheque kept the company of two other artistes – Blaqbonez and Fireboy DML – who at the time were also looking to break into the big leagues. The latter lends a hand (and a few vocals) on “Hustler,” a track that draws from the camaraderie that is shared between any two people who survive harsh conditions similar to what obtains in a typical Nigerian public university. They hint at the difficulties of their early days with the lyrics “Everywhere I go them dey follow/ them go wan dey take all my photos/ the things wey I been through they don’t know.” Fireboy is uncharacteristically sober, tapping into a side that seldom shows up on his love-laced music.
The track makes for more interesting listening when you consider the fact that Cheque graduated from the university in 2016, and had to delve into music full-time rather than search for a regular 9-5. He was first signed alongside Fireboy to Cruel Station Records, exchanging the uncertainty of being a school rapper for the assurance and promise of a record deal, but it was not the first step to the stardom they envisaged. Much to their dismay, their contracts quickly ran out and they were not renewed. The following year, fortune smiled on Cheque as he was signed by Phyno’s Penthauze Records, while Olamide’s YBNL snapped up Fireboy. In the same spirit as their principals, they make this collaboration, melding two different worlds of music with the brotherhood they share.
Crayon is another act invited to bring variety to Chequemate, and he does this exactly how you would expect him to — with saccharine lyrics strung over folksy percussive production. His contribution is aptly titled “Sunflawa,” and would have felt right at home on Trench to Triumph (his latest album) but on Chequemate it struggles to fit in. Disruption to sonic cohesion aside, the track is the one off the entire project that has gained the most traction so far, thus making its inclusion on the EP an excellent business, if not artistic, decision.
Do not take Chequemate’s celebratory spirit to assume that Cheque will rest on his oars. He concedes he’s only halfway through the journey on “God Bless Me,” where Hitsound delivers the project’s most vibrant production. Cheque’s lyricism struggles to match the stellar production of this project, which clearly suggests one thing: he has had an impressive three-year spell as a Nigerian trap artiste, but for the next stage – national domination – he’ll need to hit the next gear.
Lyricism – 1.2
Tracklisting – 1.4
Sound Engineering – 1.3
Vocalisation – 1.4
Listening Experience – 1.6
Patrick Ezema is a music and culture journalist. Send him links to your favourite Nigerian songs @EzemaPatrick.