Many have used the phrase “Hip-Hop is dead” in different areas and contexts, in the Nigerian context, I’d much rather say it’s taking shape in a different form. In the midst of Lockdown 2020, while there was an appeal for slower R&B leaning sounds, came one snappy hit rap song called “Zoom” by Cheque.
The entirety of his debut body of work “Razor” went on to establish Cheque as one of the new guard of Hip-Hop artists bent on taking the genre to a new frontier in Nigeria. Following an amazing breakout year, he signed a deal with Empire, and continues to move in an upward trajectory.
Cheque’s most recent project “Bravo”––titled to signify self-applause––was one of the more acclaimed Hip-Hop projects of 2021. It features standout tracks “Dangerous” with Ayra Starr, “History” with Fireboy DML, and “LOML” with Olamide, coming together to make a bumper project.
I spoke with Cheque shortly after his release last year about his journey, the contemporary evolution of rap, and how “Bravo” came to be.
After catching the music industry’s attention in 2020 with “Zoom” did you face any pressures to change your style to remain relevant?
Cheque: I’m very big on following the process, I’m not adamantly in the pursuit of A-list artist packaging. I never believed that an artist would find persevering love from one song. I’ve always been about dropping bodies of work, ‘cause you don’t own this world and nobody is obliged to love you from one song, you have to keep coming so the trust gradually strengthens. I never really faced pressure, I felt like, this song is good, imma drop the next one, and the next, and so on. So basically, no pressure, being consistent is what I’m really after.
You were inspired to start music from a creative community in your Uni, how do you see community and collaboration now?
Cheque: It’s fantastic! two heads are better than one, as they say, definitely it’s always cool to mix up and make music with people with the right energy. I have to be with the right energy, it’s very easy to make music with Fireboy DML, Blaqbonez, people that I’ve been coming with for ages, if the energy is right, I’m down any time. Otherwise, I have to try to adjust myself to situations.
On “Bravo,” you showed your versatility again by channeling multiple sounds, it seems like you have many things in your bag?
Cheque: Yeah, it’s kind of like one of my favorite things to do, explore. That’s one thing I can’t stop doing, on every project I’m gonna be exploring different sounds and stuff, so yeah that’s definitely my thing.
What’s most important to you when making a song?
Cheque: When I’m making music, the most important thing is the feeling, the message that I’m trying to pass across, I’m big on messages. It’s my life right now, the songs are how I feel at that time, mostly at this point, it’s the message and putting myself in the music.
Were there any specific reasons you had for naming the project “Bravo”?
Cheque: I did it because of the sound that I was trying to put out. ‘Cause I knew that it wasn’t a very popular sound, so putting it out and determining to do it, it made me feel like I have to do what I have to do because I don’t really want to totally bend to what everyone feels like all artists should do, to really put out myself despite everybody saying don’t do it. So that’s it, I had to applause myself, ‘cause it took a lot for me to stay on that ground and decide that I would take this route for now.
I want to reference something you tweeted some time ago about the state of rap, about how now melodies play a big part, do you think rappers to move with the times?
Cheque: 100% that tweet was a big fact. A lot of people would not like to hear that because of the age that I am right now, 25, a little bit old school, you’d been listening to Lil’ Wayne, Eminem, so it’ll be hard to accept something different but the tweet is 1000% facts. Everybody’s not gonna like it, but when you check the trends, the origin of Hip-Hop in America, they always set the trend. The biggest rapper in the US determines the sound.
People like Drake and Eminem were the defining sounds, but now they’re kinda like OGs, and the biggest rapper right now is Lil’ Baby, and when you’re listening to Lil’ Baby you hear flows, he mumbles, nobody’s gonna readily agree because people are finding it difficult to go along with the new sound. But it always affects every other place in the world, because the major songs they’re listening to are the Lil’ Babys, even Drake had to feature Lil’ Baby. When you listen to Lil’ Wayne, you want to quote his lyrics, if you want to quote Lil’ Baby you’ll be quoting his mumbles and melodies. That’s why I said this. Change is very hard to move with.
People say Hip-Hop is dead, I’m tired of hearing it, you can say it from now to a million years, eventually you have to move with time. The listeners of Hip-Hop in Nigeria have not changed a bit. They just listen to Lil’ Baby, Roddy Rich, Lil’ Durk, they don’t listen to you. These guys chart here unfailingly, people listen, but why don’t they listen to us like that? Because we’re stuck in our old ways. Even Wizkid is changing, he doesn’t sound like 2010, so why would a rapper want to sound like 2010 right now?
Your music has an international and local appeal, why do you think your work cuts across audiences the way it does?
Cheque: First of all, I grew up listening to majorly international music, before I delved in locally, listening and loving it. It started from watching American movies, listening to American music from there, so when I started music, you definitely already know what’s in my head. You’re a product of what you listen to most times, so when I make this music, it sounds a bit foreign, but as I grew up to know my environment and what it needs, the lyrics started to sound more like Nigerian lyrics. That’s how I think that balance came.
Where would you say your heart lies musically?
My heart is like a man who’s not yet ready to marry. It’s not ready to settle down. My heart is like a young boy who loves to enjoy the world, who’s not ready to choose. I just want to make music, I don’t want to be in a place, I don’t want to be in a box. When I make any kind of music my element is always there, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, my listeners will hear me in it.
Can you tell us a bit about how the song “Dangerous” with Ayra Starr came together?
After I made “Dangerous” I kept listening back, and I knew that I wanted a female voice on the song. A few days later I stumbled on Ayra Starr’s “Away” video and she was doing choreography, and I called to feature her because of the dance, it felt like effort was being put into her work, like she meant business. I texted her and she was happy to be on the song. And I never knew her album would be called “19 & Dangerous” so that just felt nice.
How about “LOML” with Olamide, how did that come out to be what it is?
The same way I made “Dangerous.” all the songs are completed before they have artists on them. “LOML” has my first and second verse so I just said Baddo is an OG, and to have him on it felt good. And I messaged him and asked if he could be on the song, and he welcomed it with open arms, gave me a nice verse, then I rearranged what I had before and made it what it is today.
I came across your promo for “Call Me Baby” where it seemed like you had a baby. A lot of people seemed to fall for that. How did that pan out while the joke was still on?
A lot of people thought it was real, a lot. Unbelievably. People calling me and all that. I’m just like why do you think I have a baby, I mean, I love babies but not now, I’m not ready for that. So it was crazy for the first two days because some people were really on my back about it, trying to figure out why I didn’t tell them. It was not my initial idea to play out like that, I have crazy ideas but it cannot be as crazy as that, I just have crazy friends who thought it’d be a great move. I don’t think i’ll do that again.
There were quite a number of songs on this project that were produced by BeatsbyJayy. What’s special about your artist-producer relationship that makes you two work so frequently?
BeatsbyJayy worked very late into the album. The relationship we have is something I’ll cherish forever. Honestly, to this particular point, one of my biggest issues is that I’ve not come to realize a Hip-Hop producer like that, a Hip-Hop of now producer like that. ‘Cause like I said about the sound changing, I like to study what’s happening and see where I can come on top of things. So when I studied the sound and I felt like I knew what I could do now that’d also be fresh, I couldn’t easily find a producer on that wave, ‘cause when I came to Lagos I didn’t know a lot of people, even now I still don’t know a lot of people, so I was not really in tune with the Hip-Hop producers, the two people I can tell you I know at this point are Sess and BeatsbyJayy. Because of what he did on Blaqbonez’s album, I felt like I had to hit him up, so I went to his place and we made a lot of songs but about 2 or 3 made the album. Of course definitely, my next album he’s on it. He’s a producer I’ll always go back to.
What are you most excited about in the near future?
I take every day one at a time, but one of the things I’m excited about in my life above everything, is my unpredictability, I’m very unpredictable with my music and in my life. I’m happy that when I go to the studio, I don’t know what might come out. If you start to hear the songs that’ll come out in the next 1 to 2 years is when you’ll understand. At this point, I’m restricting the sound that I’m putting out because I need to create a niche for myself first, but it’s always exciting when I do things just to see the output that I can get at that time.