A 1-Listen Review of Cheque’s New EP, ‘Chequemate’

A timely reminder of Cheque's prowess as a versatile hitmaker

Cheque’s acclaim is solidified around these parts. When he signed to the Phyno-led Penthauze Music some years ago, many considered this alliance with one of Nigeria’s rap greats an opportunity to level up, which he’s done ever since then. Although you’ll find the opinion that his popularity isn’t on par with his talent quite common, the artist has continued to put himself out there, releasing songs that have enjoyed considerable success while flying his banner as one of the forward-facing rap acts of the time. 

His new project ‘Chequemate’ arrives at the perfect time then. Two years apart from his ‘Bravo’ debut album, it finds Cheque during an interesting time in the industry. Rap-influenced superstars Blaqbonez and Ladipoe have found the sweet spot between showcasing technical upmanship and owning the streets and dance floors, a peculiar range Cheque displayed on the uber-popular “Zoom.” The impeccable Trap flourishes in that song established him as one to watch out for, while other songs like 2021’s “History” and “Holy Gee” have been positively received, but the consensus is that Cheque’s moments haven’t translated into transcendental star quality. 


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Expectedly, ‘Chequemate’ attempts to execute that purpose. To parse Cheque’s expansive artistry through the prism of eight calculated songs, and with enough luck, emerge through them with the victorious feeling associated with the finalising move of chess play. We have put the songs through the 1-Listen review form. 


Excited going into this; I’m such a big Cheque fan. I do hope he turns up. Bright strings in the opening sections. Loving this flow, it’s relaxed but audibly he has something to say. The production is really catching onto the storytelling mode; the stuffed pads are a nice touch, giving it an out-of-rap feeling. Cheque is really one of those rap artists who always does something with their sound so the pleasantness of this isn’t surprising. Wish the lyrics could be tighter, though. Too much familiar imagery. In all, it’s a striking opener, sets the tone beautifully. 


This duo has just two songs together but the chemistry on that first is so profound, they could easily create a joint project. We haven’t had too many of those so it would surely be a welcome addition to the modern pop canon. Let’s focus on this for now, though. Fireboy comes through with the opening verse; there’s a 2000s Nigerian Pop vibe here, perhaps from the drums and keys. Cheque’s vocal texture is really pleasing to listen to; that’s the word I keep returning to—pleasing. “Good life na the trophy” is a sentiment I can get behind, especially after wrestling the cold arms of sickness not long ago. This interpolation of the melodies on Burna Boy’s “Don Gorgon” works; but then again, it’s an old melody, quite established in popular music. Good tune; brief, but its aspirational message holds up well. 


“I’m a black boy and I’m sweet like Pepsi” is that kind of bar you’re unsure how to feel about. Not much time to think; this song is progressing with real purpose. It’s a laid-back feeling here, I love the rhythm and the background vocals. Sounds like something from the nineties, the seduction in its movement. Not anything new, but it’s far from a bad song. 


The sound on here has been cohesive so far. As you can tell, I’m a sucker for projects that don’t stray too far from the core vision. Experimentation can thus be worked into the vocal textures and songwriting. Right now, I’m not getting those vibes however. The project started strong but this song hasn’t really moved me. Cheque has the voice and the right energy but I’m gauging that he needs more things to write about. The depictions of living celebrity gets tiring after a while. He gets full efforts for that hook, though. It sticks in the mind. 


This sounds very afrobeats from the first listen; the title gives off the vibes, certainly. A bop this is; Crayon is flexing vocals. He’s really good when he wants to show off. Relaxed vibes they’re giving—Cheque too, drops the Trap flows for the accessible melody. There’s not much to say about this song except that it’s really good. Production comes alive too, the tropical edge to the drums and the minor details going on in the background. A well-worked collaboration. Surely, this needs a video. 


Closing record, the intent is familiar. But Cheque subverts expectations; he’s really going hard, none of the melancholic act. The video game-esque loops in the beat also works well to carry these affirmations. It’s that kind of ‘I’m on my game’ song; the one where he reiterates his position in the industry. Not a long song—none of the songs have been—but I dig the direction. It closes out the project in a triumphant tone, harkening back to the message of its title: checkmate. 


‘Chequemate’ bares the myriad gifts of Cheque in bright lights. In many ways, it’s a quintessential celebrity project, the main vision not being artistic experiment but positioning the brand of its creator. Doing that, it’s a fine project, with the collaborators bringing great energy on board.

Like he’s always done, Cheque blurs the lines between pop and rap through the inflections he adapts, even through the theme selection. While I had some reservations about the scope of the project’s songwriting, the consistent brilliance of the production makes it easy to sink into the vibe and relax.

Chequemate’ is a timely reminder of Cheque’s prowess, this time not as a Trap-leaning star but as a legitimate presence within Nigerian pop, eager to shine and capable of reaping the benefits that comes with playing across the green fields of that cross-continental movement.

Stream ‘Chequemate’ below.