It is almost impossible to mention the name Naira Marley without having a cause to raise an eyebrow. Probably because the name has generated many controversies in the Nigerian music industry within the last year. He has gotten in conflict with government agencies and many find the lyrics of his songs lewd and inappropriate.
To have a better understanding of who he truly is, let’s take a look at how he started. Azeez Adeshina Fashola whose stage name is Naira Marley is a Nigerian singer and songwriter. He was born in Agege, Lagos State on 10 May 1991.
When he was 11 years old, he left Nigeria for Peckham, South London, England. While in London, he obtained his General Certificate of Secondary Education. He went on to obtain a distinction in Business from Peckham Academy. In addition to all these, he studied business law at Crossways College.
He wanted to become a Master of ceremony (MC) and a voice-over artist. In 2014, he began to fan his passion to flame; encouraged by friends, he decided to take his music career seriously. Before releasing his debut EP Gotta Dance in 2015, he released ‘Marry Juana’ a Max Twigz-assisted track.
He loved freestyle rapping as a young teen, in fact, the track Marry Juana was recorded during a freestyle studio session. The track became an instant hit and had a huge influence on UK rap, dancehall, and Afrobeats.
While in the UK, his career was going fine and making waves with other UK rappers like Money On the Road and Back to Work. He started visiting Lagos frequently and those visits exposed his music to the Nigerian listeners, this made his popularity soar. On 9th May 2019, he released the song ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy’ featuring the Nigerian rapper, Zlatan. A day later, Naira Marley, Zlatan, and three others were arrested by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission. After three days, with the exception of Naira Marley, others were released.
Many people often joke that EFCC is a good PR agency. His arrest and being remanded in prison shined the spotlight on him. His popularity and influence soared, many who didn’t know him before the incident were curious to know about him.
While in prison, he released ‘4 Nights in Ekohtiebo’. On the day of his bail hearing, he released ‘Why’. Few days after he was released from prison, he dropped another single ‘soapy’. His management team did a great job by leveraging on his arrest to make him a celebrity.
People began to pay attention to him after his return from prison. He may not be someone they aspire to be like but they are interested in seeing the ‘trouble’ he would cause. This led to the rise of his controversial fan base. A group of people who call themselves ‘Marlians’. His most notable award so far was the Viewer’s Choice Award for ‘Soapy’ at the 2020 Soundcity MVP Awards.
Conflict with Authorities
All seem to be going well with him until he made an Instagram post that was an indirect reply to another Afrobeat Artist, Simi, who had earlier condemned activities of Internet Fraudsters. In the post, he said “If u know about slavery … yahoo no b crime” in the latter part of the post, he said, “pray for internet fraudsters”. This post received a backlash from many Nigerians. It was tagged insensitive because it came at a time when Nigerians were labeled as Internet fraudsters in the international community.
One would have expected that the negative response from his post would stop him from his ‘silent’ support for internet fraudsters. In the heat of the event, he released a single titled ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy’ featuring another Nigerian rapper, Zlatan. Both singers were arrested the day after the song was released. He was released after 35 days in prison. His release seems to be the beginning of other tussles with the authorities, to the point that anytime his name makes the headline, it is not always positive.
Recently, he was arrested for flouting lockdown orders when a video of himself and some other artists were partying at Funke Akindele’s house during the celebration of her husband’s, JJC Skillz, birthday.
The event led to the arrest of Funke Akindele and her husband. The couple was sentenced to 14 days of community service and fined N100,000 each. When the news of Funke’s arrest broke out, Naira Marley went on the run, but he turned himself in at the State Criminal Investigation, Panti, Yaba, Lagos after a few days.
Not long after that, he came under public scrutiny again, after he was flown in a jet which was believed to have been booked for the former Lagos governor, Fashola Babatunde, for a controversial concert at the Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja.
The event led to the indefinite suspension of the Executive Jet Services Limited, the company whose jet flew him to Abuja.
Over time, he has made some statements that made some people believe that serious-minded individuals should have nothing to do with him. At a point, the report has it that some pastors were casting out the spirit of Malians from their church members.
Here are some of the statements that made him come under public scrutiny:
“Marlians Don’t Graduate, We Drop Out”. In defending himself, he said. “There are corporate Marlians, there are dropout Marlians – all kinds of Marlians.”
“Having a big booty is better than having a Master’s degree.” When people were reacting, he said “I don’t want it to be better, but it is better, in Nigeria especially: big-bummed girls that didn’t even graduate can get jobs easily. It’s better to have a big bum than qualifications – you have more of a chance.”
‘’Marlians don’t wear belts or celebrate Valentine’s Day.’’
Naira Marley has built a brand out of controversies, it would be difficult to separate his brand from controversies.