Tobe Nwigwe is Dope! Author of “Hip Hop In Houston” Explains Why

Sketch designed by @neemthemartian

he year 2018 was a great one for hip-hop; unfortunately, because of the way my life is set up, I didn’t get a chance to listen to all of the new music. Of all the albums that did I listen to and love this year (including Book of Ryan, KOD, Daytona, Nasir, Tha Carter V, Laila’s Wisdom, and Everything is Love) I’ve spent the most time on the dopeness of this cat from Southwest Houston. His name is Tobe Nwigwe, and not only can he rap really good, but he has also curated a digital archive that invites fans to connect with his stories. Both helped him tip this year.

He spent most of 2017 on his couch, while a cell phone camera captured him spitting original freestyles over familiar hip-hop beats while his girlfriend (now wife) Fat twisted his hair. For over forty weeks they posted these videoed sessions, branded #GetTwistedSundays, to YouTube and other social media platforms, so that by April 2018 he had over 100,000 Instagram followers “without,” as he raps on his song 100K “no PR and marketing.”

Amassing that many early adopters in one year was dope in and of itself, but 2018 was much doper. This year, he went from the couch to performing on Sway In The Morning and BET, dropping two albums, a shout out on ESPN and then an interview from Bomani Jones, coverage in The New Yorker, an appearance in a Gatorade commercial, and headlining his own sold out tour in six major media markets of the U.S.

If that was not enough, both Erykah Badu and Dave Chapelle recognized the anointing on him and added their names to the list of artists and hip-hop aficionados bestowing blessings upon him.

Tobe Nwigwe | I’M DOPE. (The Originals) #getTWISTEDsundays

Tobe Nwigwe is dope, and now I am hooked.

first caught a video of Tobe on Facebook freestyling on Sway in the Morning on a weekend when my partner and daughter were out of town. Within seconds of hearing him, I was bobbing my head to the cadence of his flow and contorting my face in amazement similar to the dudes huddled around Nas at the listening party for his Nasir album. Instinctual utterances — “damn,” “mayne,” “mmm,” and “ooh — followed the bobbing and contorting. That boy went hard. I wanted another hit. Immediately, I began googling his name, and that’s when I found three years’ worth of videos of his music and his story.

He’s been dope; I am just a late adopter.

I spent the next few days alone, immersed in everything Tobe Nwigwe. While listening, I felt things that I have not felt in a while. It was like the first time I heard Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged, The College Dropout, The Love Below, Chance The Rapper’s verse on “Ultralight Beam,” A Seat At The Table, To Pimp a Butterfly, or Lemonade. His art felt like a breath of fresh air and familiar at the same time. I guess that is what dope does to you.

He’s not making crack music. Still, the music is cathartic — inducing listeners to dance, contemplate the meaning of life, change their lives, walk in their purpose, fall in love, and wild out at the same time. I’ve found that many are vulnerable to the narcotic effect of his music. Fiends include current and reformed thugs, theists and humanists, artists and eggheads, suits and social hustlers, and the white and the darker brothers of the world. Girls and dudes love Tobe Nwigwe; they are addicted because his music conjures jubilation and hope.

I typically don’t confer blessings upon new artists or put them in conversation with those I consider great because they could easily flop. However, there is already a consensus among his contemporaries and elders that Tobe Nwigwe is dope. Yes, similar to the boy from Akron, there are others who may have better talent, but like Lebron there are not many others who have the other ingredients that make Tobe Nwigwe dope. For me, the ingredients are his obvious talent, his come-up story, his connection to and remapping of Houston, his purpose-driven message, and his unrepentant expressed love for his partner.

“Oh snap, Tobe go hard, that boy got something”

shouldn’t take a listener or viewer much time to see that Tobe Nwigwe has mastered the flow. Similar to hip-hop DJs of a previous era, Tobe equates his rap skills to kung fu masters — Van Damme, Bruce Lee, and Jet Li. In the dojo, he studied the greats, developed his raw talents, and practiced the art of rhyming. And like Bruce Leroy, he’s got the glow.

I don’t know how to explain why he is a good rapper. I just know that when I first heard him and every subsequent time I’ve listened, I’ve been blown away by his talent. Why? He’s comfortable over any beat, riding them until the “wheels [fall] off,” packing complex rhymes within each bar. He has an expansive lexicon and appreciation of the black musical tradition, which not only makes his intertextual references deep and legible, but also demonstrates his dedication to the craft. His lines are comical and piercing. His voice exists at the intersection of what MC Hammer calls smooth and rough, making his lyrics intelligible and spellbinding.

In a world where much of mainstream rap sounds unintelligible and nonsensical, it’s hard for skills to sell. Lyrically, Tobe can hang with the greats. His wordplay, flow, delivery, and storytelling, backed by the superb production of LaNell Grant, allow me to prematurely place him in that category. It’s not that Tobe’s peers are terrible, it's just that the rap music currently mainstreamed lacks variety. Additionally, much of the new music makes me feel anxious. But Tobe’s bars calm like Xanax. I’m sold.

“Who’d ever thought that I’d heat up? Put instrumentals on my plate then break them down and eat them up. Not me, before this, I played ball, you can google me. If I met you in the hole it was a eulogy”

obe Nwigwe hasn’t been honing these skills since middle school, because rapping wasn’t what he first pursued to make it out of his hood. With the exception of his natural charisma and learning how to craft punchlines to defend himself against other kids trying to rank on him, Tobe’s mastery is new-ish, defying the 10,000-hour rule. He would tell us to “breathe easy [because he is] heaven sent”; his God-given talent just needed the right moment to manifest.

MOM I’M A RAPPER | Tobe From The SWAT: Animated Story

As the story goes, that right moment came at the end of his initial escape out of the hood. Tobe Nwigwe “was a tackling machine for [the University of North Texas],” opines one sports writer. So much so, that in the Fall of 2009, the Bleacher Report revealed that “NFL scouts [saw] him as one of the few players on the UNT Roster that [had] flashed NFL talent.” But in the middle of that senior season, he tore a tendon in his left foot, threatening his professional hopes. In pain and unable to participate in the activity that he had banked his future on, Tobe faced an existential crisis, wondering if professional football would still be his way to escape. He spent the last six games of his college career virtually alone rehabbing his foot, trying to figure out why his coaches and his teammates did not always check on him, and grieving the end of a romantic relationship.

But Tobe still had hope. By the spring of 2010, he was ready to prove himself to scouts. The NFL had hope too. His 212 career tackles combined with his official Pro Day stats — 6-foot-one, 245 pounds, 4.59 forty-yard dash — attracted the attention of the Titans, St. Louis Rams, Saints, and Falcons. However, he went undrafted, later playing two weeks for the now defunct UFL Hartford Colonials.

North Texas FB: Tobe Nwigwe — Life after Football

Similar to others whose dreams of playing on Sunday dried up like a raisin in the sun, Tobe fell into another abyss of questioning with no immediate answers. Not only did he question how he was going to eat, but he also questioned his purpose and identity. Instead of denying, drinking, and drugging, Tobe allowed his football dreams to die and returned to an answer that he had received in the darkness and uncertainty caused by his foot injury. He remembered the voice that he attributes to God telling him that he had a purpose outside of football — “to help others find their purpose.”

Within a year Tobe, along with two of his childhood friends, founded a non-profit organization to do just that. Named TeamGINI, short for the Ibo phrase “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?” (meaning “What is your purpose”), Tobe and his team began hosting events and speaking at schools, using edutainment to help young people discover their purpose. With these events, Tobe honed his message and worked on his stage presence. He also learned how to raise money and build mutually beneficial relationships with people who could help him help others maximize their purpose.

One such person was Eric Thomas, the motivational speaker/preacher who went viral a few years ago by admonishing congregants to consider the pursuit of success as vital as the need to breathe. Tobe connected with Thomas’ motivating messages, which often employed football imagery. Two to three years into the existence of TeamGINI, Tobe convinced Eric Thomas to come to Houston to participate in one of his events. Upon seeing Tobe rock a young crowd with his charisma, storytelling, and motivating messages, Thomas knew he had to establish a partnership with Tobe. Neither Tobe nor Thomas knew that rapping would be the way.

Tobe tells two stories about how he became a professional rapper, both involving members of Eric Thomas’s team at ET Inspires. While riding in the car with Tobe one day, CJ Quinney, the marketing guru for ET Inspires, caught Tobe participating in one of the favorite pastimes of Houston-raised cats from the DJ Screw era: freestyling. On another occasion, someone from ET Inspires saw an amateur video of Tobe on Facebook rapping with his family. While he was not yet flexing the skills that have garnered him recent acclaim, Eric Thomas saw that Tobe had raw talent. Thomas and CJ suggested that Tobe professionalize his talent by partnering with ET Inspires as a rapper. Not considering himself a real rapper, Tobe initially balked at the idea, but he soon accepted the challenge, becoming the first artist for ETA Records. He kept his nonprofit going, but he also began rapping professionally.

According to Tobe, within two months of his decision, he put together a subpar collection of raps featuring about twenty songs with beats that he borrowed from the internet. Although he was practiced in the art of freestyling, once he decided to become a professional rapper he realized that freestyle circles and raw talent were not enough. He needed to learn the intricacies of rapping and recording. To do so, he committed himself to temporary brokeness and applied the “ethic, discipline, and consistency” that he had learned pursuing his gridiron dreams to the rap game. In 2014, he dropped his first album on ETA Records, titled Pardon My Lateness, signaling that he was a little late to the rap game, but also demonstrating that he had something to say. He just needed to work on his delivery and get better beats.

Pardon My Lateness by Tobe Nwigwe

The tipping point for Tobe came in the summer of 2016 when the #SoGoneChallenge had the internet going nuts. The challenge featured celebrities and everyday people rapping over Monica’s 2003 R&B hit, “So Gone.” Instead of rapping about leaving an adulterous lover, many of the raps were odes to adored baes. That’s why Tobe was initially reluctant when Fat encouraged him to add his skill and wit to the viral challenge. He thought that she was trying to make him go public with their relationship too soon. He eventually went forward, and the people loved it. After seeing the fanfare, CJ suggested that Tobe do something similar every week. In the next few months, he and Fat began #GetTwistedSundays.

They never seen a flow so special from a young hoodlum that reps so hard for Southwest Alief Texas, that’s where my heart is at. Forum Park gave me the ‘how to survive the hood starter pack’”

a rap world where the internet has allowed rappers to go global before going local, Tobe Nwigwe is a throwback to hip hop’s provincialism. For example, in naming his debut album Tobe From the SWAT, he grounds himself in the local — informing listeners that his identity is shaped by local realities and that his message is for those in the local spaces from whence he came. Beyond the content, Tobe Nwigwe’s production team is local, and he gained local street cred before he went from “EBT to BET”. More specifically, though, Tobe Nwigwe is uniquely Houston, while also remapping Houston.

Tobe Nwigwe — WHAT IT’S FOR

I once argued that the signifiers of Houston hip-hop, especially that which mainstreamed in the early 2000s, were rappers rapping about (1) independence, (2) aspiration for or attainment of material possessions, (3) extreme topophilia and collective identity, and (4) drugging to slow down the pace of everyday life in a big rich town. In many ways, Tobe rejects this formula.

He doesn’t spit that black southern gothic like the Geto Boys. He ain’t hard. He ain’t pimping. He doesn’t rap about ridin’ slab or sippin’ syrup. He’s not a nationalist or conspiratorial. He ain’t coming down or coming through with braids or fades or a blingin’ grill. He’s not from the cliques or neighborhoods (e.g., Rap-A-Lot, Screwed Up Click, South Park Coalition, Swisha House, Nawfside, or Southside) that produced previous generations of Houston rappers. Yet he’s still Houston. The greats — Scarface and Willie D, Pimp and Bun, Screw and Keke, K-Rino, Big Moe, Rick Royal, Mr. 3–2, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire and 50/50, Hawk and Pat — are in him. He says as much on “Houston Tribute 2,” rapping “they half of the reason why [he has] the hardest rap.

The other reason, according to Tobe, is because he is Igbo. This not only points to the “competitive individualism and the adventurous spirit” argued by Chinua Achebe as the reason for the Igbo’s rapid success in the last fifty years, but also points to Houston as the home of the largest population of Nigerian Americans, and Southwest Houston as a specific landing spot. His parents, a mother from Uturu and a father from Awka, migrated to the big rich oil town, where in the 90s and early 2000s Tobe and his siblings grew up in one of its poorest parts.

To say the latter is ironic for me, a person raised in three of Houston’s post-war and post-boomtown hoods, because poverty and hood shit are not the immediate descriptors that come to mind when I think about Alief, a suburban community adjacent to Beltway 8 that shaped Tobe. The term suburban ghetto — places simultaneously representing all of the signifiers of suburbs and ethno-racial-poor ghettoes — helps me make sense of what Tobe maps in his raps.

In brief, Alief was once a mostly-white rural area located southwest of Houston’s inner-loop, but over the last 40 years it became a diverse residential and commercial district populated by poor, working-, and middle-class immigrants, people of color, and a few white folks. The factors driving this change include: new residents taking advantage of cheap apartments and affordable land in the 1980s following Houston’s late 1970s boom, unfettered building, black flight from post-war ghettoes, municipal annexations, immigration, commercial development, white flight, refugee resettlement, and disinvestment. What remains today is an international enclave of Asian, Central and South American, and Middle Eastern immigrants — featuring both English and Chinese street signs, international retail markets, and over 80 languages spoken in schools — with both pockets of prosperity and areas of neglect.

Tobe grew up in one of the pockets of concentrated poverty called Forum Park. His family resided in one of the Winfield apartment complexes in this tightly packed area of apartments and townhomes filled with working class and poor people of color. Tobe is a ghetto boy. A few of his raps are about ghetto dreams — not like Fat Pat trying to make it out of the Dead End of Houston’s South Park, but a first-generation West African immigrant trying to make it out of his suburban ghetto where “intense crime rate had bodies sitting sideways.” Besides violent crime and turf wars, informal economies, including sex work and low-level drug distribution also shaped some of Tobe’s realities as he negotiated his blackness while eating free lunch at Betty Best Elementary. However, in his raps there is neither contempt nor pity for this space that shaped him because there was also fun, friendships, and it was where he received his “how to survive [life] starter pack.”

My First Fight EVER | Tobe From The SWAT: Animated Story

Out of this location comes Tobe’s core message of transformation. He made it out of the slums, his flow is nice, and he made something out of crumbs by way of focusing on his purpose. Now he no longer rides METRO, because he can finally afford the petro, in a city buttressed by the petrochemical industry.

I told my pops I’m the plug for purpose, passion, talent, skills, and everything that’s above

the #GetTwistedSundays couch sessions, fans worshipped with Tobe Nwigwe and Fat. While she twisted his hair, he rapped about the vicissitudes and joys of his black life. Although one vlogger commented, “this nigga rap like he preaching,” in reaction to Tobe Nwigwe’s Sway in the Morning freestyle, Tobe’s aim when he pimps da pen is not to preach, only to rap about his experiences, his transformations, and how he is living life on purpose, and to have fun while doing so. Nevertheless, just like one can’t listen to Chance the Rapper without hearing his gospel influences, Tobe Nwigwe’s evangelical message, represented by use of evangelical vernacular and interpretations, is salient. My partner noticed this too, asking a few weeks ago, “Is he a Christian rapper?” I replied, “No, he is just a Christian who raps.”

This distinction is important. One raps for the church, and the other raps for whatever we might call the world. While Tobe is up front about his message and his faith walk, he has never explicitly branded himself a Christian/Gospel rapper. Instead, he tells us that he flows for the lepers. I think listeners and critics should also resist the urge to label Tobe. Like one of his favs, Lauryn Hill, Tobe ain’t in no box. To put him in one would be for our own desires to make sense of him since the music industry done fooled us into believing in genres.

Besides, if he was a Christian/gospel rapper, I probably would have never heard of him. Of course, I am a church boy with deep black evangelical roots, including exploring the preaching ministry for about twelve years; however, I’ve never been a fan of Christian/gospel rap. Why? For the most part, I found the beats to be whack and the messages corny and hermeneutically simplistic, featuring rappers overcorrecting after a stint with thug life or warnings against sins that I had never committed. I sometimes found it isolating, relevant only to other evangelicals. In short, Christian/Gospel rap did not wrestle with the tensions of my life of faith. Tobe’s music is more relevant to the tensions of where I once was in my life of faith: trying to make sense of the shit that happened to me, figure out my own purpose, and walk in that purpose.

According to Tobe, he is the “plug for purpose, passion, talent, skills, and everything that’s above.” For whom, though? He is the connect for those that grew up like he did in Southwest Alief Texas, many of whom believe that allegiance to a hood or block means never leaving the hood or that things are never going to be better than it was in the hood or that they have no purpose outside of exploiting or being exploited. These are the ones who are vulnerable to state sanctioned and intercommunal violence. Tobe is concerned about the victims of deficit discourse or those facing what Cornel West might have once described as the nihilistic threat. Part of Tobe’s message is for those whom West described in Race Matters as being “hungry for identity, purpose, and self-worth.” In short, his message is:

  • I come from one of Houston’s many hoods, Southwest Alief Texas to be exact.
  • For various reasons my choices were circumscribed.
  • I found my purpose after one ghetto dream died.
  • When I found my purpose everything else made sense — I became a really good rapper, I attained relationship prosperity, and now I am making money from rapping.
  • Your purpose is bigger than geography and all the other things that attempt to confine you.
  • Find your purpose, “try love, try God, and you can’t lose.”

This is a black evangelical message beseeching the brethren to be transformed by the renewing of their minds and focusing on a higher calling. Borrowed from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life evangelicalism, it asserts that each person has a unique purpose established by God and that the suffering we experience is a result of not knowing that purpose or not living in that purpose. For black folks, it points to non-alignment with purpose, instead of systems of oppression, as the reason for collective black suffering. The message is also a combination of self-help and positive mental thought (e.g. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Think and Grow Rich, The Alchemist) popular among those searching for the secret to success. In a nutshell, it’s prosperity gospel without the hyper-focus on wealth.

Although this is a popular message preached by all types of black influencers, the problems that plague black communities and other marginalized communities are not the result of collective rejection of knowing one’s purpose and living in one’s purpose. Historical and sociological research evince that the plight of black communities is a result of purposeful exclusion and disinvestment by multiple state and private actors. The truth is that ascending and coalescing forces, what we call institutional racism, created the real and discursive hoods of Houston, ultimately delegitimizing the black lives contained therein.

Tobe Nwigwe | SPICE. feat. SPICE ADAMS (The Originals)

What shall I say of these things? I think that I am not thrown off by Tobe’s message because I once was an adherent. Like many other black men, in my early twenties I needed to find my purpose in order to help me make sense of and escape the suffering that I was experiencing, which I attributed to social location and sin. I discovered that purpose and I’ve lived in that purpose. I preached, wrote self-help-inspirational-positive-mental-thought blogs, spoke to young people at schools and conferences, and led afterschool programs focused on uplift and development of human capital.

While doing all of this, another part of my purpose took precedence. I am called to bring about justice. I think this part of the purpose came to fore because by my late twenties I could not understand how a just and loving God would allow so much suffering in the world. I could no longer accept that “fatherless homes,” “generational curses,” “culture,” “environment,” or a lack of discipline were the causal factors. Similar to Tobe, I realized that the “pipeline to prison… exist[s]” and that when a black person encounters the cops she or he can raise their hands but still get shot. Therefore, I became a historian to learn about the policies and other forces circumscribing black hopes and delegitimizing black lives. For me, dismantling the structures that harm black lives is just as important as black self-making because black folks are not broken, but the system definitely is.

Despite this critique, I’m still a fan. Yes, finding one’s purpose is not the panacea for the forces aligned against black folk, but because of these forces black folks don’t have much room to be mediocre. Fucked up and draining, I know. Tobe’s message is one strategy among many (e.g. uplift, respectability, black capitalism, electoral politics, deliverance, nationalism, the prosperity gospel, futurism, and pessimism) used by black folks in the quest for freedom and to buffer ourselves against all the shit that tries to kill us.

Still, Tobe’s message is dope because, while it is deeply evangelical, the pursuit of purpose transcends ecclesiastical boundaries. For many people the foremost question of life is, what is my purpose? In fact, I don’t know many black people whom we would describe as successful, whether writer, scholar, activist, artist, scientist, politician, or medical professional, who did not ask this question and put intense focus on answering it. And according to lauded nineteenth century American writer, Mark Twain, the day you discover the answer to that question is just as important as the day you were born. Tobe experienced a rebirth when he decided to become a rapper, and he hopes that others will experience the same when they find their purpose.

Young boys miss the main course when they focus on sides

obe Nwigwe loves his wife, and Fat loves him. This I know from his songs, videos, insta stories, playlists, and interviews published on various platforms. In falling in love with his music, I also fell in love with their love—especially after watching their Forever Twisted series, which featured videos of Tobe’s proposal, their “how we found love” story, their vow of celibacy during their engagement, and shots from their wedding. I shed tears of joy as if I was watching my partner walk down the aisle again, because it was clear that their love was real, genuine, vulnerable, joyful, and mutual.

Tobe & Fat Forever Twisted (Official Video)

I listened to their Love playlist on Apple Music, filled with R&B songs of adoration. From interviews, I learned that what makes Tobe Nwigwe an outlier in the rap game and what completes his message is the lived love experience of his romantic partnership with Fat. Hence, not only is Tobe Nwigwe trying to make purpose popular, he’s also trying to make black love popular.

This is revolutionary. Why? Black love, in the many ways that it presents itself, is a revolutionary act. Not because black folks need to prove to an anti-black world that black couples love each other and stay together; rather, black love is a revolutionary act because in the face of everything that tries to destroy black life, black folks enter and maintain loving and life-giving partnerships. Tobe’s aim is also revolutionary because rap music is not the typical space where one expects to hear songs of adoration and courting stories. But that’s what Tobe raps about and talks about in his interviews — how he and Fat chose to love each other, and how much he loves Fat.

They are also up front about their atypical courting journey. Fat knew from the beginning that Tobe was the one. Tobe thought that Fat was cool, but he was initially adamant that he was not feeling her in a romantic way. But Tobe changed his mind because of Fat’s unyielding adoration and friendship. They dated for six months, but Tobe ended things because he feared that Fat wasn’t enough for where he was going. Fat dealt with the heartbreak by focusing on her own art and living her best life. She dated, but no one compared to Tobe because many of her suitors did not know their purpose. Meanwhile, Fat and Tobe remained best friends. In the process, Tobe began to confront his desires. He thought that he needed to feel butterflies in order to know that Fat was the one. He also thought that he had options. Tobe decided that he did not need a euphoric feeling, nor did he need to focus on the next big thing. He decided that he did not want to live without Fat because she was the best thing. After that decision, Tobe pushed full steam ahead to let the world know that he loves Fat and that he ain’t shit without her.

Tobe Nwigwe | I CHOOSE YOU. “The Originals” #getTWISTEDsundays

Tobe’s expressed love for Fat is dope, not only because genuine black love is beautiful, but also because it defies the toxic hyper-masculinity typical to rap music that makes women ancillary, expendable objects existing for the pleasure of cisgendered heterosexual black men. Unlike his elders, who waited until post-tipping point success to publicly acknowledge or dote on their partners, Tobe came in the game letting listeners know that he wasn’t going to use his rap capital to philander because his relationship is not only the centerpiece of his life, but also of his rap brand.

On multiple songs, we learn that Fat was present with him shooting in the gym and that she “lowkey…changed the trajectory of [his] vision.” For this reason, he declares his love for her constantly and she stands front and center in all of his music and videos as a performer and key member of the creative team. It’s as if he followed the playbook of Bobby Womack from his song “Woman’s Gotta Have It” by ensuring that Fat knows that she is not standing on shaky ground. From this, other rappers and men are challenged to disrupt one feature of the power grab to feel manlier. Tobe says, “Guys, when you find the one you should lock her up, hit a knee, put a ring on it, and knock her up,” or, put more simply, focus on the main course instead of sides.

Tobe and Fat are #relationshipgoals for many who desire heteronormative, faith-based black love. Even though we don’t know the interiority of their relationship — the sacrifices each makes for their relationship, their arguments, or their hang-ups — we do know that they love each other. And their love is infectious. Their love makes people want to fall in love again or for the very first time. That’s dope!

@bunb @jidenna @yvonneorji@kevonstage @johnnyswim@bomani_jones @spiceadams@realjohngray @hillharper @traeabn all wishing Tobe and Fat Happy Anniversary after their first year of marriage.

For various reasons, many black folks feel that love is elusive. Like other racial and ethnic groups, we’ve learned to hope for the type of curated love that we see in the relationships of famous people. Therefore, the Obamas, the Carters, and the Smiths become exemplars, even though most of us can’t afford their marital bliss. Tobe and Fat represent something similar, but as rapper Jidenna brought to their attention, people love them because their black love is attainable. They chose to love each other at time when all they had was a hope and a dream, and they continue to love each other as the dream is coming to fruition. That’s the stuff that fairytales are made of, but Tobe and Fat are the real thing. They are the fulfillment of a prescription that worked for them.

hanks to Tobe Nwigwe’s digital archive I was able to engage with his music, message, and love story. But that was not enough for me. I wanted to experience his artistry in person. Therefore, when he announced his tour, I decided to purchase a VIP ticket to the New York show. On November 18, I took a three-hour bus ride from Providence, RI to New York, where later that night I saw Tobe live in concert at the Bowery Ballroom.

At the concert, everything that I learned about him was present. No bells and whistles were needed, only Tobe, Fat, singers David Michael Wyatt and Luke Whitney, rapper Tim Woods, and DJ Big Reeks rocking the crowd. They were all practiced in the art of live performance. Tobe masterfully employed call and response to engage with the audience. But we needed no prompting, because everyone knew the words and came to the show already inspired. During songs, Tobe exercised breath control and maintained timing while he danced and rapped. Between songs, he gave shout outs, told jokes, and decoded lyrics. He told us how much he loved Fat, and when she came on stage we saw it. They rocked the stage together, proving just how synergistic they are. It was more than amazing.

Tobe performing “Day One’s” Bowery Ballroom in NYC on November 18, 2018

My hunch about Tobe Nwigwe was confirmed. He is more than dope: he is the truth. He is the embodiment of purpose perfected. The heavens are on his side.

Although I didn’t get to listen to all of the good music that dropped this year, I am glad that I found Tobe Nwigwe’s music. It’s been life-giving, and I can’t wait for what happens next.

A native Houstonian, educator-scholar-writer-speaker-advocate. Maco is the author of Hip Hop in Houston: The Origin and Legacy.

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