One thing about Naira Marley, the man loves chaos. Four years after kicking his way into the Nigerian music scene with 2018’s Issa Goal, the infamous Marlian leader released his debut album, God’s Timing Is The Best on Monday, the 30th of May 2022. In a time where Fridays have become the official day to flood the airwaves and streamers with new music, Naira Marley’s decision to pick a Monday feels chaotic, but is also reflective of who he is — a disruptive artist whose star has been powered by controversy from the very start.
As I said, chaos is nothing new to the Lagos-born, Peckham-raised artist. Between 2018 and 2019, Naira Marley’s ascension to the top of the charts and social media conversations saw him go through police and EFCC raids, court sittings, social media backlash (or praise, depending on what side you’re on), sold-out shows, and countless hits. Between May and September of 2019 alone, he dropped the certified bangers, Am I A Yahoo Boy, Soapy, Opotoyi, Pxta, Tesumole and Mafo.
It doesn’t matter whether or not I subscribe to the Marlian way of life; it’s hard to deny the unstoppable force that is Naira Marley. The man drops a song, and suddenly, you can’t escape it. From rowdy bus stops to bougie clubs, Naira Marley is everywhere all at once. He is a movement.
With this much controversy, Naira Marley is not your conventional star. Going by his antics and shocking lyrics, this is the type of artist parents would ban their kids from listening to in a heartbeat. So why are we still obsessed with Naira Marley?
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One thing about Naira Marley that I recently discovered is how he taps into the dramatic chaos of some of the artists before him. Artists that we loved. Think back to Terry G’s Free Madness era and how the unhinged star had all of us in a chokehold. Then there’s early Timaya — not the mellow Cold Outside Timaya Gen Zs know today, but the one that frowned on all his album covers and sang about the killings in Bayelsa state. I also feel the need to add the king of the streets, Olamide, whose decision to name his record label Yahoo Boy No Laptop (YBNL) was a major conversation back in the day. Naira Marley leans into this feeling of nostalgia where everything and everyone was extra. Think Cruel Santino, but comprehensible. And it’s not just the music; it’s the energy—the rebellious energy of the ones that came before.
This rebellious energy is arguably why Naira Marley gets a pass, especially with a generation that is tired of being told what to do. While Naira Marley had built a massive fanbase before the #EndSARS protests of 2020, it took the protests happening for me to finally understand why he was such a modern day rockstar. Agreeing with his alleged lifestyle or not, his entire existence and success are a big middle finger to the powers that be, especially the police and other security agencies. And with more young Nigerians feeling the need to rage against the system, it makes sense for Naira Marley to be placed on an artistic pedestal. After all, it feels good to see someone beat the system over and over again.
Antics and controversy aside, the music still matters to me. And while I still describe myself as Marlian-adjacent, the music doesn’t slap like it used to. The shock value and repetitive beats have worn off, and now, I want more. The thing is, I know he’s capable of delivering. God’s Timing Is The Best has its moments, but I expected better from a debut album that was due like four years ago. When Naira Marley came on the scene, we didn’t have the Zinoleeskeys, MohBads or Zlatans killing the game and blurring the lines between the streets and our playlists. So to keep up, our favourite rebel might have to reinvent his sound because shock value won’t do much for you in a time where Nigerians move on quickly.