Among Baltimore hip-hop's frontrunners, Ogun isn't the most dazzling lyricist, but he has arguably had the most heart--or at least been the most willing to wear it on his sleeve. His profile having steadily risen since 2007's Bmore Hero mixtape, the new Checkmate is positioned as a decisive move to assert Ogun's dominance, pairing his roaring voice with the most aggressive production of his career. Mike Savage's beat for "Ride" is a rumbling beast of drums and synths, and Baltimore club producer Blaq Starr contributes the uncharacteristically slow, creeping "Repetition." At its best, Checkmate steamrolls forward with one anthemic banger after another, like a low-budget version of Young Jeezy's The Recession.
If Checkmate's slick first half leaves any lingering suspicions that Ogun is selling out, however, "Nosey" preempts those criticisms by perfectly summing up the conscious/gangsta line he straddles: "my style can't be labelled/ the same hand that feeds you will smack the shit out you." From that stern assertion onward, the dirt-underneath-the-fingernails introspection and social conscience of earlier Ogun albums are on more prominent display. "Remember Me," dedicated to fallen friends DJ K-Swift and Mr. Wilson, and the live staple "It's Alright" both suffer from monotonous choruses that confirm that hooks are still not Ogun's strong suit. But both feature enough kernels of wisdom and honesty that it's impossible to believe that his quest to get the props he deserves will ever lead Ogun to abandon his principles.