Tobe Nwigwe is an enigma. The lyrics and tone of his music tell the story of a difficult upbringing in Alief, Texas. Like other rappers who grew up in the proverbial hood, Tobe’s autobiographical tracks conjure images of gang violence, drug deals, pimps and prostitution. The authenticity in his work is palpable. Still, the man is a beacon of positivity and graciousness. The same songs that describe shootouts and the loss of childhood friends also speak on the power of faith and the importance of purpose.
Tobe does not curse in his songs. He tells me that as we chat between poses during his photoshoot. A bit strange perhaps, for a rapper from the SWAT (Southwest Alief Texas). But what’s truly strange is that in the dozens of times I’ve listened to his tracks, I never picked up on that fact. The music he creates is gritty, real, full of trauma and, at times, violent. Yet it does not venture into the profane. It does not falter in its mission. Tobe has a singular goal in life: “It’s real simple,” he tells me, “to make purpose popular.” Nwigwe’s trademark mission statement can seem somewhat abstract. Making purpose popular. What does that even mean? But listening to him speak on the subject for just a moment is enough to sell you. The kid from Alief who had a scholarship to play college ball and dreams of playing in the NFL, saw those dreams dashed by a career-ending knee injury his senior year. In his despair, he turned to his faith and found a new calling; he would teach others to “move through purpose.”
Long before he ever put pen to paper and called himself a rapper, Tobe was speaking to rooms full of students through his self-started nonprofit foundation, Gini Bu Nkpa Gi (or “Team Gini” for short), educating them on the merits of a purpose-driven existence. Team Gini’s mission is driven by Tobe’s Christian faith, which he tells me is the foundation to everything he does. Tobe later combined this message of purpose with the movement of widely popular motivational speaker Eric Thomas. It was Thomas and his business partner CJ who discovered Nwigwe’s musical talent and signed him as the debut artist on their record label, ETA Records. The rest has been nothing short of a whirlwind ride for both Tobe and his new bride, Fat. I ask him how his community work has or will be impacted by his rapidly rising fame. For a moment, he laughs at the notion of his own celebrity. “Well, one of the major goals I have is to do a tour inside the schools, in the auditoriums.” He explains how taking his music straight to the source, performing for the very audience he aims to connect with, is his ultimate goal as a performer.
Tobe’s debut EP, “Tobe From the Swat,” broke the iTunes’ top 40 hip-hop charts soon after its release. Soon he plans to release volumes I, II and III of his popular “Get Twisted Sundays” freestyles as a series of mixtapes. Of course, Nwigwe and his team continue their work in the schools and neighborhoods of Alief and the Greater Houston area. I wonder out loud if Tobe believes himself to be a voice for his native Alief and other low income neighborhoods around Houston. “I’m definitely a voice for Alief. That’s where I come from. Those are my people … But I feel like I’m a voice for anyone who has shared the type of experiences that I’ve had … if you can find some kind of synergy or cohesiveness with my message, then I’m your voice.”