Superboy Cheque’s voice is a breath of fresh air. In a tumultuous year pockmarked by sickness and devastation, the Nigerian sing-rapping hybrid has been all about amplifying the positives and keeping his energy untainted. Born Akanbi Bamidele Brett in Ondo, Nigeria, the 25-year-old is determined to stay fired-up after a long hike to prominence. “I came up in a hard manner,” he admits when we speak via Zoom. “I had to go through a lot of learning processes.”
Those learning processes have fine-tuned Cheque’s sound, which blurs the line between hip-hop and Afro-fusion, making him one of Nigeria’s rising stars. As the music of Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, and Davido receives praise across the world, Superboy Cheque is establishing himself as part of a new generation of Nigerian artists that will represent Afro-fusion’s next evolutionary step. He embodies both lyricism and rhythm. Candor and artistic license. And as his 2020 breakout single, “Zoom,” a dreamy emo-trap song, proved, he is comfortable doing things his own way.
His debut release, a five-track project called Razor, released in July, avoids genre limitations to showcase the infinite range of Cheque’s talent. On “Loco,” he taps into exquisite Afropop production for a memorable sonic ride before stewing in melancholy on project closer “Hollywood.” With Razor, Cheque is still battling the doubt from his early years, but he does so with a hopeful gaze at a future where his name will be on all lips.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a family that loved education, so we’d go to school every day, come back, and read. Both of my parents were government workers. Then I went to university at Obafemi Awolowo University (O.A.U.), and that was when the music started.
How did you get into music at O.A.U.?
It happened in my second year. When I first got into the university, my focus was still 100% on my education until there was a strike. We were home for six months, and since I had nothing going on, I went to a friend’s place. I found him rapping and singing, and it intrigued me, so I went home and started coming up with my own lyrics. It wasn’t something I took seriously at the time, but when the strike was called off and school resumed, I kept going to freestyle events and other music shows, and that’s where it started off from.
You talked about being a student at O.A.U., and I remember there being a cluster of talent there at that time with people like Chinko Ekun, Blaqbonez, and Fireboy DML. How was it being at a formative stage of your career and being surrounded by talents like that?
It felt like I was the worst artist because everyone was laughing at me. All the names that are being mentioned used to laugh at me. It was not in a vindictive manner. They all thought I was terrible. I knew I was terrible when I started. But because I could see they were good and were working at their craft every day, that made me want to do more. It made me always want to be better than I was at any single moment.
How would you describe your style of music?
I like to say Afro-fusion because it’s a fusion of so many genres, but then it can’t only be that because I do so many other styles of music. I do rap, pop, R&B, and then a lot of Afro-fusionist music. So, I like to go by Afro-fusion.
Your music differs from what many would consider traditional Nigerian pop music. Have you ever felt alienated because of that?
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Before now, I didn’t think anyone would care about me or my music. I was out of the space because the music I was making was not typical to Nigeria, but I realized I needed to start propping up the Nigerian culture and music style irrespective of what type of music I was making.
You released your debut EP, Razor, at the peak of COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria. Was there any uncertainty about dropping it at that time?
There wasn’t any uncertainty about releasing it. For me, it wasn’t about when I was putting it out. The focus was more on how people were going to react to it because it was a tough period, and people were focused on the pandemic.
On the other hand, I knew people needed to listen to something to get their minds off what was happening. Also, I was a new artist, and I needed to put something out for people to get to know me and what my music was about.
What song on the project mirrors your style most closely? And why?
I would say “Hollywood” or “Zoom” because they are the easiest songs for me to make. I just have to open my mouth, and the first thing that’ll come out is that type of music. The rest of them are products of conscious effort: thinking of them, putting them down, and going over it. With “Hollywood” and “Zoom,” it’s just an unconscious thing.
You constantly mention being unstoppable on Razor. Why was it important for you to re-emphasize that for yourself throughout your project?
All of that is unconscious, but it has a place in reality because my lyrics are affected or inspired by what’s going on in my life. I came up in a hard manner. I had to go through a lot of learning processes. There’ve been times when I felt bad about myself, so, coming up, I promised myself I was going to be at this point where everyone would recognize my message. That’s where I’m trying to get to, and the energy I’m coming with always unconsciously reflects in my music through those kinds of lyrics you mentioned.
Since the EP dropped, you’ve had co-signs from big Nigerian acts like Olamide and Davido. How does that make you feel as an artist?
It’s wonderful. When those moments happen, I’m still wowed. It’s great to have people who are already there to affirm the path you’re on because I’ve always looked up to those guys.
How personal were the #EndSARS protests that happened across Nigeria for you?
It was terrible because, deep in my mind, I didn’t like Nigeria a lot, but I constantly hope it becomes a better place; so, when the protests were happening at that time, it was heartbreaking. But I hope we get to a place where Nigeria is doing better than it does currently.
What are you feeling these days with regards to how the protests went?
I just feel like we have a lot of work to do because the protests have shown what the government is about… for them to be going after people. The youths, myself included, still have work to do.
By Wale Oloworekende for Audiomack.