One never quite paid him much attention. With World Cup ’2018 imminent in Russia, the participation of the Super Eagles meant that the Nigerian popular music imagination was spurred to create in footballing ways. Olamide’s guest feature including his punchline of ‘Naira Marley is a goal’ were intended to re-introduce the budding artist to the public, as if to say “you must take notice of this one, his name again is Naira Marley”. For, if truth be told, there was nothing within the song ‘Issa a goal’ that was about football, never mind Slimcase’s labored attempt in the remix. The broader point being made is that since his 2014 debut up until 2019, Naira Marley had been unable to take a grip of the very impatient Nigerian music ear. Yet, the World Cup-hinged strategy, featuring not just Olamide but the side kick Lil Kesh as well (together with Slimcase, Simi and Falz on the remix), did not accrue the sustained attention that Mr. Marley had sought for his music/brand.
2019 and it’s a whole new ball game. Naira ma ti binu ke. First, he incurs the ‘attention’ of the EFCC and by extension that of the national space with the maverick ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy?’ He spends some time in jail, he gets released amidst rhetoric from the authorities that trial awaits him, and as expected, he’s back in the studio with two singles, the second of which comes with an accompanying dance. Despite the reluctance and expressed reservations initially from sections of the public of the world’s pretense capital, ‘Soapy’ appears to have caught on at a rate not even the preceding ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy?’ could have done. How did the Naira do it, and what is it about 2019 that has made all of his efforts, persistence, and music works between 2014 and 2018 seem inconsequential? This is crucial to unpack considering how eventful a year 2018 was for the artist who released several singles and as many features.
It is plausible that fate has played its part in Naira Marley’s explosion of 2019. As a given, one would withhold any views on that and attempt instead to proffer a description within the confines of human comprehension as far as Naira Marley and his 2019 singles go. Subsequently, an alternative voice would conclude the piece with a much broader perspective on the artist. Simply, ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy?’ demonstrated some audaciousness. But it is the follow-up single, ‘Soapy’ that has got Naira Marley an unprecedented stake at keeping the Nigerian music ear attentive. So as not to rehash the obvious, a short comment on Naira’s strategy in designing his verses on the song should suffice. Similar to Wizkid’s plot in ‘Ojuelegba’, Naira manages to hand the opening verse to the celestial realm while the second is sweet mother’s. The intelligence behind the inherent seriousness in an otherwise merry dance song, together with the very catchy wordplay through the hook, has left many listeners with no choice but to get hooked. There is evidently as much audacity in composing ‘Soapy’ as there is in composing ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy?’. Musically, Naira certainly has superior company through the 2019 Nigerian music front, yet, he has managed to become the most talked about, most controversial, and most interesting artist in Nigeria, all at once. Burna Boy’s tempo from a year ago is sustained on the unraveling reception to his ‘African Giant’ project. He appears set to retain the mantle. Davido’s struggles have continued in spite of a fine showing with ‘Blow my mind’. Wizkid has thoughtfully picked a quiet, albeit lucrative trajectory of high profile features through the year so far. ‘Made in Lagos’ remains eagerly awaited.
On a more cautious note, it may be useful to conclude this piece with an excerpt from a Nigerian music listener-watcher: “I don’t see Naira Marley as a long spanning artist. He is getting buzz in the moment from his application of present-day street lingo. Naira Marley is not a Tuface, he is not a Wizkid, or a Burna Boy, or a Davido. I give Naira Marley two years, maximum. He would have been phased out by another artist. Do you remember Slimcase? Where is he now? Zlatan came and everyone followed. Even Zlatan is also a for the moment artist like Naira Marley. But I admire how Naira Marley has been able to gather followers, even though I don’t think he would last. I admire the influence and power. Take a look at Olamide who threatened Don Jazzy not to come to the mainland, what happened? Olamide does not have access to the caliber of followers Naira Marley has. If Naira Marley should tell you not to come to Agege, you should be afraid of Agege.”
What might one add to such convictions? After all, inside life, awon kan je iya, awon kan chop life…