Naira Marley is a well-known rapper who hails from Nigeria originally but later moved to London. Now, he’s well established as a musician, selling out gigs in just minutes, but what was the song that started off his career?
Naira Marley’s first song was called ‘Marry Juana’. He recorded the song while in the studio with friends and was aged just 14 at the time he created the track, which became the catalyst to his music career.
Read more about Naira Marley’s first song and rise to fame, his subsequent career, and his position in the media.
Childhood and ‘Marry Juana’
Marley, real name Azeez Fashola, spent his early years in the bustling city of Lagos, Nigeria. During his childhood, he relocated with his family to London, with the family setting up home in Peckham.
Aged 11 at the time of the move, Marley retained his strong accent, which would become a key element of his music.
A career in music was not the path that Marley saw for himself as a youngster. In his teens, he focused on study, opting to gain qualifications in law and business.
“Ten years ago when people asked me what I was going to be, I didn’t know,” he told Native Mag. “I was studying, I was just trying to finish college and play football. I was really good.”
His first song, ‘Marry Juana’, pays rather a conspicuous homage to the rapper’s enjoyment of cannabis. The song was recorded during his teens when he was encouraging his friends to create music.
“I paid for my mates to go studio ’cos I thought they had talent,” he says. His friends suggested he join their recordings, and the 2014 track ‘Marry Juana’ was the culmination of this event.
The track didn’t go on to achieve huge success in the charts or radio play, but it did make a cultural impact. In the diverse streets of the UK, the song became popular amongst certain ethnic groups, creating a growing hunger for Marley’s music.
At this stage, however, Marley admits that he wasn’t making music to further his career. “I was just making music for fun, just for me and my friends, and the people who were feeling my music,” he says.
According to MixMag, ‘Marry Juana’ is one of the early tracks of what is now termed the ‘afrobashment’ sound. A mix of rap and grime yet with its own unique features, the sub-genre was growing in popularity both in London and Marley’s native Nigeria.
“No-one was doing this before I started,” he says. “I kinda set the afro-whatever.”
Exposing this sound to new audiences is something that Marley takes joy in. “I was already proud of being African and had a problem with the fact we couldn’t be ourselves…so I just went with my accent and it sounded wavy,” he tells the Guardian.
In the run-up to the 2018 soccer World Cup, Marley released ‘Issa Goal’. The tune became an unofficial anthem for the Nigerian national team, with Marley saying the song is dedicated to them.
The musical influences that shape Marley’s sound are referenced in his stage-name. Naira is the currency used in Nigeria, while Marley is an ode to reggae.
Marley’s rise to fame has not always been smooth, with his fame being plagued by controversy.
In 2019, he was arrested by the EFCC (Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) on 11 counts of fraud. He is accused of holding counterfeit credit cards, as well as using credit cards which did not belong to him.
He has also attracted controversy on social media, saying in one of his most infamous Tweets, “Marlians [the collective name for his fanbase] Don’t Graduate, We Drop Out.” This was badly received by many in Nigeria, though he states that his comments were misunderstood.
He has spoken against the Nigerian establishment, potentially implying that they are oppressive, which has made him a divisive figure in the country. “I’m making people speak their mind, making people make their own decisions,” he responds.