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Naira Marley had never planned to be an artist. Originally he wanted to manage the rap careers his MC friends in Peckham dreamed of. In Naira’s mind at least, no one would want to hear him spit on a beat. Naira Marley moved to Peckham from Lagos aged 11 and kept his strong Nigerian accent. But a chance decision in 2014 changed everything.
“I paid for my mates to go studio ’cos I thought they had talent,” he recalls. “They recorded something and there was space on the track – and they were like, ‘Jump on it!’ I was like, ‘Are you sure? In my accent?’ But I jumped on it anyway.” To Naira’s surprise as much as anyone’s, his verses – delivered in his inimitable Nigerian flow – became the bars that the crew rated the most. He decided to give it another go, this time on a solo track. The result was ‘Marry Juana’, an instant UK street classic.
Fusing gleaming dancehall rhythms with Naira’s gleefully strong Nigerian accent (and lyrics extolling the virtue of getting high every day), ‘Marry Juana’ is generally considered one of the first – if not the first – ‘afrobashment’ tune. With all the attitude of grime and rap, but a melody and dancefloor appeal all of its own, it felt like it could only have come from the streets of South London and was a massive turning point for Naira Marley.
“No one was doing this before I started, he says. “There was no Kojo Funds, no J Hus, no Mostack. I kinda set the afro-whatever. Now everyone’s on it and it sounds proper.”