To be a Marlian and join the ‘No Belt Gang’ (NBG) or not? Love him or hate him, Naira Marley has found a hack that has worked for his career, at least for now.
Although he has gone from Agege in Lagos, Nigeria to Peckham in London, UK, and back, it still seems like pop sensation Naira Marley dropped out of nowhere unto our collective music ears. One minute, nobody has ever heard of this guy, the next minute he has one of the most popular songs of 2018 – Issa Goal. Fast forward to 2019 and Naira Marley’s chokehold on Nigerian urban culture can no longer be denied. The question now becomes, how has he done it? How has Naira Marley hacked into the Nigerian music industry?
By leveraging on Nigeria’s love-hate relationship with controversies like “bad boys”, homosexuality and porn. That’s how. Instead of trying to hone in on whatever talent he may have or going the patient route to cultivate a fan base, he has gone for shock value and controversy. Make no mistake, Naira Marley already had some buzz going for him in the UK as far back as 2015. His 2017 hit “Issa goal”, which featured Olamide and Lil Kesh, improved on that buzz back home in Nigeria but it was Naira Marley’s public (and viral) support for ‘Yahoo Boys’ that sent that buzz through the roof.
Like Eedris Abdulkareem, Terry G and Bobrisky before him, Naira Marley has been able to toe the fine line between public hatred and adoration. In a morally hypocritical society like Nigeria, this is an effective way to hack your way into the industry and bypass gatekeepers or other industry structure. Throw in the madness of social media and you have a recipe for top of mind awareness that marketing gurus want but probably can’t touch with a 6ft pole.
Naira Marley has carried this penchant for being a polarizing figure into his music too. He has always had vulgar lyrics (his breakout song in the UK was titled “Marry Juana”) but he has recognized its usefulness in this market and applied that knowledge to his music. A great example of this is his 2019 hit song “Pxta” (stylized version of the spanish word Puta which means ‘prostitute’ in English) which is incredibly vulgar and disrespectful to women. It was still one of the biggest songs of 2019.
Naira Marley is easily the biggest emotional conflict the Nigerian music audience has to deal with at the moment. To be a Marlian and join the ‘No Belt Gang’ (NBG) or not? Love him or hate him, Naira Marley has found a hack that has worked for his career, at least for now. It’s shrewd, calculated and direct. Most successful strategies have some combination of that. We’ll see if the proof is indeed, in Naira Marley’s bad boy pudding.
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