Understanding the Content of Naira Marley’s Revolution – Emmanuel Esomnofu

There is a noticeable streak to be seen in the names of two of Nigeria’s trending Afrobeats stars.

Zlatan Ibile, the street-hop rapper who’s carved a niche for himself via the Zanku rave; the often green-haired artiste’s first name emanates from that of iconic Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Known for his outlandish personality, many of the Internet’s most memorable self–appraisal quotes are credited to the man. Attached to the name is a vibrant sense of self confidence, arrogance if you will. By taking this name, the Lagos state-born rapper reveals a core of his psyche coming into an industry in which not many thrive.

Naira Marley, too, boasts a famous name. Legendary Reggae musician Bob Marley might have been, at some point, as revered as Jesus Christ, but the weight of such a name holds no adverse effects for the Nigerian Marley. As an artiste with such a cult following, it is only logical that the man born Robert Nesta Marley be canonized, his image blurring into an all-encompassing idea of love, peace and tranquil spirituality, good music; even. Thanks to his off-studio interest in the world of local and international politics, he has come to be associated with a brand of revolution that is inherently peaceful.

It is at this juncture that Naira Marley swerves left.

His brand of revolution is drum-heavy, and it is orchestrated by Rexxie who, up till the viral moments of Zanku, was just another producer making beats for street acts. However, the streets wasn’t to be sidelined while there was, in the world, a great demand for Afrobeats. Championed in Nigeria by the likes of Mr. Eazi, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido, and Burna Boy, the streets of Lagos from its Yoruba-speaking bases made and consumed its own music. Sheteperi, it is called. A movement born and lived in the slums and creeks, places where most often than not, its youths perceive music as the biggest door to escape the fangs of a third world ghetto.

This movement borne out of music thrives on being a thorn in the flesh of political correctness. Most often than not, its practitioners flip the middle finger to corporate morality. In the era of #MeToo and fierce agitation for minority rights, songs from the Lagos streets are unpopular: in its videos, women are scantily clad, and sexual innuendos pepper the lyrics. Popular among these infamous features of the Sheteperi movement would be its affiliations with advanced fee fraud, known as “Yahoo Yahoo”. Dating back to the sixties and seventies, the relationship between fraudsters and musicians has been pronounced.

However, never has there been a time in contemporary music’s chronology, where the two worlds have become so inexplicably linked. Across the musical suburbs of Lagos, Yahoo money has been pumped into its engines; making the industry a well oiled machine.

Artistes have, since Olu Maintain’s “Yahoooze” to the more recent “Living Things” by 9ice, praised the lavish life of these fraudsters. It is within this sub-genre of Sheteperi music that Naira Marley thrives, albeit in a less traditional form.

“Am I A Yahoo Boy,” was a well–targeted laugh in the face of morality, that worn by Afropop superstar Simi. The former X3M Music star had said she didn’t want fraudsters buying her music. One way or the other, she got into a public spat with industry colleague, Naira Marley.

This, it should be observed, brings to the fore the hyperrealist nature of Nigeria’s music space today. There exists different spaces in the same industry and while some events may present a hostile habitat for co-existence, they actually do and thrive, despite their varying musical philosophies.

Whereas Simi conjures magic with her witty lyricism and a lean towards the traditional forms of songwriting, Naira Marley is somewhat experimental, ushering in, alongside Zlatan, a new wave of Afrobeats which, when traced down to Rexxie’s production is a curious attempt at appropriating indigenous genres, prominent among them Fuji. 

For men like Naira Marley, the world isn’t black and white, and back in the streets, anything – or almost anything – goes. To authentically represent his world, his music threads a line of carelessness that has shocked listeners into stan-ship.

Quite notably, there has been two sets of listeners: the early adopters, weaned from the streets; even before the breakout “Issa Goal.” These ones would be considered fans. They also share the same timeline with listeners who came to his music via the self-proclaimed unofficial Nigerian World Cup anthem.

The second set more popularly, heralded the emergence of the cult-like fan name, Marlians. To put into perspective the ambiguity of Naira Marley’s recent followership is to note that in physical spaces, the older fans are the more present. However, more visibility has come to the Marlian movement via its current demography with members made up of archetypical woke citizens, confident in passing judgment and “canceling.”

Naira Marley’s content is raw. Lewd, even. Securing his recent fans points to a shift in the narrative. Viewed from differing perspectives, it could be either: the philosophy was changing, and music listeners no longer held on to their lead-like moral standards; or, perhaps, they did, but Naira Marley’s music was/is too boisterous to be contained.

As Adams Adeosun aptly notes in his essay for the Question Marker, he, Naira Marley, “pushes the boundary of acceptable content”. Of course, he was talking about the songs which have been described as a trilogy: “Am I a Yahoo Boy,” “Opotoyi,” and “Soapy”.

These songs were produced months apart. However, they are underlined by Marley’s arrest in May by officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC].

Sahara Reporters broke the news of his arrest on May 10th. It came in the wake of his song ‘Am I a Yahoo Boy ‘ which seemed to offer a sympathetic take on advanced fee fraud. Further released to the notice of the public was information suggesting that perhaps, Naira Marley was really a fraudster. Early critics lashed out at the artiste, born Afeez Fashola, employing the pop phrase: “ You played yourself”.

Alongside his friend, the rapper Zlatan Ibile and an affiliate, Gucci Boy, – who was meme-fied to rib-cracking effect on social media – the trio became poster boys for yahoo-yahoo.

However, Naira Marley’s recovery from that event – which could almost be considered a humiliation – earned him more fans. The fashion, too; for one, it seems as if his inmate days have led him to be more critical of the Government, and the seemingly restrictive nature of being an obedient citizen. As a Marlian, you dare; Naira Marley would have it no other way. Add this factor to the growing irritation of Nigerians towards its leaders, and the pieces begin to fall in place.

Even as he name dropped political activists Fela and Mandela in Yahoo Boy, the curious listener would do well to dismiss this. S(he) would find patterns, in pop-culture’s tireless worship of the afore-mentioned men, they were probably the first names to pop into the head of our Chief Marlian.

Engage the man about the life and times of Mandela and he might not deliver a satisfactory answer. This, however, means that he (Naira Marley) thinks of his art as somewhat revolutionary.

As a Facebook friend, the talented writer Victor Daniel conjectured, “Naira Marley does for Yahoo Yahoo what Kendrick Lamar does for gang violence”. While both artistes are many worlds apart, it represents a tiny speck of truth. While the Compton native’s discography is replete with gore and gunshots, there are also songs of intense introspection, like “Sing About Me/ I’m Dying of Thirst” and “The Art of Peer Pressure” where religious and psychological explorations are undertaken by the man born Kendrick Duckworth. His music is instantly recognized as “deep”. And though this can’t be said of Marley’s, it doesn’t mean his songs, filled with raunchy lyrics and absurdly intense and beautiful musical compositions, don’t retain some thought-provoking nature to it.

Like this piece, it depends on which aspect you choose to shine some light on; just like in Kendrick’s case: the rapper has rapped about killing a man and, because listeners cannot confirm its truism, they choose to look past it. The lines that separate these things has never been blurrier.

Naira Marley has proven to be able to incorporate, all into one, the aforementioned Sheteperi movement, and the Afrobeats genre. He is even considered a rapper in some circles.

Like a winged creature, he effortlessly flies across different schools of thought. To the street-bred Marlian, he is one of them, a participator in the madness and chaos which the Lagos Mainland possesses. To the newer Marlians, the Twitter users and the occasional dancers at parties, Naira Marley is a much-needed ally in its grand middle finger to all that is considered moral, headed notoriously by the Government and its security agencies. And so fierce is this partnership that even wokeness turns a blind eye to its intricacies.

It brings to mind the one time on Twitter when a user, ( @ElCruxifico) a Marlian, said to another user who had recently pledged allegiance to the movement: “Come and kneel down for proper cleansing of elite toxicity.”

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