ASUU strike led me into music — Superboy Cheque
If turning your frustrations into motivation was a person, it will be Akanbi Brett, a fast-rising Afro-fusion artiste professionally known as Superboy Cheque. When the 2015 ‘customary’ ASUU strike forced him out of the classrooms for over four months, the 26-year-old maverick had rerouted his life ambitions from building a career in Chemical Engineering to making music to express himself.
And after several bouts of failure to clinch the spotlight, the young singer never looked back on his decision. For him, music became the only one direction his life-compass tilted towards. It is this underlying ingredient of hope that has continued to spice his stellar records, from his breakout Extended Playlist (EP) dubbed, Razor, to his just-released debut album dubbed, Bravo.
Speaking with Guardian Music, the Ondo State native documents his breakout struggles, getting mentored by Phyno, finding music out of boredom, growing up with Fireboy DML and Blaqbonez, being a mathematics nerd, as well as finding joy in inspiring others.
How do you feel about your new work, Bravo?
I FEEL very good. When I put the album together, I felt happy that I could put such a versatile album together by myself.
Speaking on versatility, how would you originally define your sound?
I just say Afro-pop nowadays. Naturally, I am a Rap/Trap artiste. However, with my last EP, I found myself able to do anything I wanted to do. That EP has Afro-pop and Trap in it. So, honestly, I don’t have a genre; I just do what I want.
Trap music is not a popular genre yet, how long have you been doing it?
I was doing core rap before. Then, I felt Trap was a more interesting and melodious style; I got into it in 2019/2020.
So, what was your intention with making this album?
My intention was to scatter everywhere. I don’t know how best to say it, but I know that putting this kind of album together was not easy. It had so many genres; I had to make everything blend. I knew that if I got it right, it was a good statement that this is something to watch out for. I wanted people to play the album and be like, ‘there is something good here.’
On the album, you sang about love and your life in general. What inspired the storyline?
A song like Rockstar was not just about me; sometimes, I am in a car passing through Oshodi and other places and I see people hustling. I know that people go through a whole lot of struggle. Rockstar, when I was making it, was meant to be a hopeful song. I wanted to let people know that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Any personal experiences?
Yes. Songs like Blind; I recorded it after an unusual relationship. However, most of the experiences are not peculiar to me; it could be your story too. I felt like the whole of Nigeria could relate to my sound.
How long did it take to make the album?
I started recording last year, after my last EP; Rockstar is the last song that made the album. I had finished recording the album about four months ago.
How did you begin music?
I entered into music with an ASUU strike; I was strictly a Chemical Engineering student. So, when I was home, I found out that there was a friend of mine who was singing and he was living on my street; he was doing rap battles and all that. He told me about it. I started music out of boredom; I was really bored honestly. So, he taught me how to open an account online on a website where he posted these things.
So, he gave me a name called Kyle B, which was my username. I used this name also as my professional name until 2019. It was two weeks before I signed to Phyno that I switched to my current name.
So, you never saw yourself doing music before then?
No, it never crossed my mind; I loved to listen to music regardless. When I listen to music, I listen as a total fan. I discovered Justin Bieber and Wizkid at the same time; these are the first set of people I saw doing music at that age on TV. I was fascinated that these young people are doing music; I bought their CDs. I also listened to Eminem too, but it was all from a fan point of view.
What inspired the name ‘Superboy Cheque’?
I think I got the Superboy title from watching way too many movies, maybe Superman. But I got the Cheque name from when we were in school. After the ASUU strike, the same friend that introduced me into music was having a freestyle session. So, I tried to freestyle too, but I ended up saying a lot of ‘Mic check, Mic check’, while the beat was just playing away. So, it was too funny and everyone was laughing at me. I even had to drop the mic and stop. The next day, everybody started calling me Check. So, I just changed it to Cheque.
You could have been a singer or chose any other genre. What interests you in rap?
To me, you cannot really express yourself with another genre as much. When I discovered what Trap music was – with the melodies you could add– I told myself that this is the perfect genre for any human being. What Rap lacked, Trap brought it with melodies and emotions. I just felt that if you are a Trap artiste, you could say things that will motivate people and still keep it melodic. With other genres, like Pop, you are mostly conscious about making hit songs all the time. But with Trap music, you can really express yourself.
How did Phyno find you?
He messaged me on Instagram after I did a Reminisce’s Ajigijaga cover. Reminisce reposted me, alongside a lot of people; this was 2019. Then, Phyno told me to come to his house. I went. Then, five months after, he called me back, although I never expected him to call me again. But he did and we started working from there.
Tell us more about your relationship with Fireboy DML?
When I started singing in school, I met Fireboy; I really liked singing at that time. We came to Lagos together, in 2017. Someone brought us to Lagos together and we lived together till 2019. We got signed around the same period too.
Were you guys always envisioning your lives as superstars, as at then?
Maybe Fireboy was, but I was not. I never really got to understand a lot of things. I never really understood the concept of fame; I was just improving on the music. It was after our first contract expired that reality dawned on me that I needed to buckle up.
With your Engineering background, you should have been a more focused person then?
So, when I left Chemical Engineering, I couldn’t recover from that for a very long time. I was doing music and loving it, but a lot of things were coming into my head. I wasn’t happy at the time, because my mum was always advising me to go get a formal job. Already, as at 2017, I was improving. I knew a lot of people would love my music at that time.
I got into music late, unlike a lot of people who started when they were young. I was in my building process so I was patient. I never envisioned myself as a superstar. After I graduated and came into Lagos, a lot of gloomy thoughts stuck up with me. So, that was why.
Were you ever tempted to look for the job?
I never considered it for once. When I fell into music, it became addictive being terrible at the music. How could I not know how to do it? When you are in the bathroom, you sound so good, but when you sing it out it comes out terrible. So, I already knew the capabilities I had.
I was always having this drive to keep pursuing it. Even while in school, I started skipping classes; it became very interesting to me. When I finished, I never considered working with my degree. Also, the people around me, from Blaqbonez to Fireboy DML, were never interested in pursuing a formal job; I knew this. So, I was just following them and chasing the dream.
How did you feel about your breakout, last year?
I was really happy for my life, because myself, Fireboy DML and Blaqbonez were always motivating ourselves. At that time, Fireboy was already getting a lot of buzz and so was Blaqbonez. I was the only one not getting any buzz. So, when Zoom broke out, I was happy that ‘thank God, I am not cursed.’
How did your relationship with Phyno influence your growth?
He was very supportive; he gives enough room for exploration. This is one of the major things for me. I was very happy, because I didn’t get into a label where I was forced to do a particular sound; I am steady improving. I was seeing what he did with his own career, having hit songs singing and rapping. He was like a perfect model for me.
So, how do you get ideas for your music?
I get it from everything I see or that happens to people or myself. I do not write music prior to getting into a studio; all I do before I go into the studio is play games, watch movies and have fun with my life.
I thank God that I have the kind of brain that registers a lot of information. So, when I go to the studio and the beat comes on, I just start making songs based on my experiences. Naturally, I treat my music like a therapy session. If they put you in front of a therapist, you don’t write things down; you pour your mind out. So, I absorb everything around me and store it in my head. When I get into the studio, I pour it out.
So, most of your hits are freestyles?
What inspired your features on the album? You had Jackboy from the US and Ayra Starr from here?
When I finished the album, there were no features, apart from Fireboy. However, when I listened again, I knew I wanted a female. I wanted someone with a bad bitch personality, just the way Rihanna is. And I felt like Eminem and Drake had made successful projects with someone like Rihanna.
I studied all these artistes. So, I knew that it was a good idea to get a girl like that on my album. When I looked around, there was no competition around, except Ayra Starr. Her vocals are very impressive. She also did choreography in her music videos; I like that about a person. It seemed like she puts in efforts, so, I reached out.
What about the Jackboy feature?
Yeah, the first top artiste I played the song No One Else to was Burna Boy. I never thought about featuring anybody on the song, but Burna Boy said he really liked the song. I later realised I didn’t talk to Burna Boy about getting him to feature on the song; I always felt like Burna Boy would have been a good idea.
Two weeks to releasing the album, my crew was in the US and Jackboy was in a studio where they were. Then they played the record there. They said that Jackboy was like, ‘Who is this? Who the f**k is this?’ So, we got on a video call and he asked me to send an open verse. Under 24 hours, he finished his verse and sent it to me; he followed me on Instagram immediately.
Right now, there is a lot of buzz on Trap music. Do you think the genre is going to blow up in our Nigerian industry?
I always thought about that; I said it before and everybody said never. I wasn’t confident in myself in 2019; I never thought I was the one that could push Trap higher in Nigeria. I always felt someone was going to have a smash hit that was going to be Trap music.
So, when Zoom came out, they started saying ‘Sorry. Sorry. Sorry, we said that.’ I always knew that it would happen. Why I said that was because of the rate at which Nigerians listen to foreign music. People do not stop shouting about everybody else in the abroad. They hyped Drake, Roddy Rich and a lot of others doing Trap music too. I felt that if we had any artiste with even a tangible sound that came close to what they were consuming abroad, it would make a good record.
Let’s look into your personal life. As someone who is close to Blaqbonez, does his Sex Over Love movement influence you?
I do not preach what he is saying; I prefer to love. He is very aware of it.
Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?
Introvert. However, it depends. Being with some people makes me a bit louder sometimes. I am a more of an indoor guy; I have never gone to a nightclub by myself.
How would you describe your fashion style?
I like Jiggy and comfortable clothes; I like feeling like a bad guy.
Any experiences with fame that has stood out for you?
I think because I am an introvert, people don’t see me easily in public; I cover my entire face. I wear a mask and headwarmer. I just drive past. The only thing I can say is that now big artistes are now hanging out and working with me. So, that’s intriguing.
Who are you feeling currently in the industry?
I have been feeling Wizkid a lot, especially his Made in Lagos album. I always love Burna Boy; I feel we could have a crazy record together. All the young acts too are very impressive. It is very hard to see mid (average) music nowadays, because people are just vexing everywhere; they are pushing Africa everywhere.
If there was anything that could make you stop music, what could it be?
So, what’s the vision from here?
I honestly want to keep on elevating; I want to keep going up and keep improving. I want to be an inspiration to a lot of people.
Finally, tell us three things people don’t know about you.
People think I am too chilled, but they don’t know that I am a very cheerful person; I play a lot. Also, I read a lot of books; I am a mathematics guy. Lastly, apart from watching a love of movies, I am a gaming addict. I play everything, from The Last of Us, to God of War, to just everything. Oh, another less common knowledge about me is that my mother is a police officer.