Tobe Nwigwe’s Nigerian roots and Houston, Texas upbringing have been central in his years-long ascent in Hip-Hop. Harnessing the power of social media, striking visuals and his gift as a lyricist, he’s carved a niche for himself which sits at the crossroads of African and African-American culture. Those who’ve followed him since the onset of his #GetTwistedSundays series on Instagram and YouTube or are familiar with albums like 2019’s Three Originals know the fact that pursuing his goal of becoming a rapper caused some turmoil with his Nigerian family. His ascension in music also went almost unrealized when a scholarship to play football in college was derailed by a foot injury. With perseverance and talent in tow, Tobe has bypassed the setbacks to become one of the most exciting MCs on the scene today.
Those who are still unfamiliar with Tobe have the opportunity to witness the backstory, musicality and grit that has earned him collaborations with everyone from The Roots to Bun B. At his newly released Tiny Desk Concert for NPR Music, the rapper delivers a sensational live performance with his phenomenal band and members of his family. Over the course of five songs, he harmonizes and spits, swaying gracefully from singing to delivering robust verses. Like most Tiny Desks, this episode is a collaborative affair, and credit must be paid to the extraordinary musicians and back-up singers supporting the star. Tobe’s wife Fat, his seven-week-old daughter Baby Fat, vocalist and producer LaNell “NELL” Grant, keyboardist Nic Humes, drummer Aldarian Mayes, guitarist Lucius Hoskins, bassist Devin Caldwell and vocalists David Michael Wyatt, Madeline Edwards and Luke Whitney help bring Southwest Texas Rap into an ethereal space.
Before kicking off the set with “Houston Tribute,” Tobe introduces himself by name and adds that he’s “an Igbo boy from the Southwest outta Houston,” referencing his West African heritage and the American city that informs his Rap style. “The South gon’ hold it down,” his trio of back-up singers croon as he raps about atonement, hardship, faith and the streets. “I went from rapping in the car to rapping with Sway,” he says with a nod to his appearance on “Sway in the Morning.” Towards the end of his first song, he says “DJ Screw would be proud,” shouting out his late hometown hero and Hip-Hop icon.
Up next is “Caged Birds,” with its messages of Black empowerment. “Nell” showcases her Lauryn Hill-meets-Angela-Davis energy on a verse on this track, which appears on Three Originals. After applause from the audience, the crew dives into “Against the Grain,” perhaps the most on-brand example of Tobe Nwigwe’s work. Here, his delivery becomes more amped up but it remains rooted in soul. On display here is also Tobe’s masterful use of his body and facial expressions; he manages to bring an engaging amount of action to what is a truly small performance space. The team closes its performance with “Shine” and “I’m Dope.” On “Shine,” Tobe addresses the audience and says “Now this is monumental for me, because I’m Nigerian. I know y’all thought I was ‘regular’ Black.” It’s then that he speaks on his family’s reaction to his Rap dreams, with humor and vulnerability.
#BonusBeat: Tobe Nwigwe appears on Grammy-winning New Orleans, Louisiana musician PJ Morton’s latest album, Paul. Check out the video for “Practicing,”