Getting to know skyrocketing rapper Tobe Nwigwe

Tobe Nwigwe
Photo: Greg Noire / Courtesy
Zoneil Maharaj

The story of Houston rapper Tobe Nwigwe (pronounced Toe-bee Wee-gweh) is one of love and purpose, which has unfolded before his followers’ eyes and ears since the summer of 2016. That’s when a viral freestyle propelled one of the most promising and exciting careers east of Kendrick. Nwigwe has gone from rapping on his couch over other artists’ beats to ambitiously dropping weekly original songs and accompanying music videos, to rapping in the 2018 BET Hip Hop Awards Cypher, to embarking on his own national tour, which brings him to Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel on March 15. Here’s what you should know before jumping in.

Who: A 32-year-old Nigerian-American former college linebacker and NFL hopeful-turned-nonprofit founder and rapper. Though he’s billed as a solo act, his wife, Fat, is there every step, singing and dancing alongside him in each video, as is producer LaNell Grant (aka Nell), who concocts rumbling productions to complement Nwigwe’s gruff-yet-smooth Southern drawl.

Sound: An earthquake. Nell’s beats build into crescendos of drums as Nwigwe goes from calm, regal poise to full-on beast mode. But even when he’s ferociously delivering complex rhymes with intricate wordplay, he’s usually rapping about his faith and Fat. His music is a celebration of love.

Look: Tobe & Co. haven’t just created a unique listening experience, they’ve crafted a striking visual aesthetic. Each video features simple but perfectly executed choreography and color-coordinated outfits designed by Nwigwe himself that often nod to his African ancestry.

Journey: Fans who’ve followed Nwigwe have witnessed everything happen in real time. When he reached 100,000 followers on Instagram, he dropped the song/video “100K.” When he discovered Dave Chappelle and Erykah Badu were fans of his, he made “I’m Dope.” His proposal to Fat? Also documented on YouTube, though not in song. When Fat became pregnant, the announcement came in a beautiful tribute, “Ode to Fat.” It’s made being a fan an intimate, shared experience, so much that you’re rooting for his, and Fat’s, success.

Spin: “What It’s For,” from his 2017 project Tobe From the SWAT, is the perfect introduction. In it, Nwigwe details the harsh environment surrounding him and clearly outlines his mission: “I swear, for every penny you invested/I’m gonna show every bum rapper rapping what purpose looks like perfected.”

TOBE NWIGWE with The New Respects, Luke Whitney. March 15, 8 p.m., $20-$69. Vinyl, 702-693-5000.

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