On any given Sunday, you can catch Tobe Nwigwe sitting on the floor, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and long white socks, rapping to a popular rap instrumental while a young lady twists his hair. These sessions are recorded and posted on Instagram with the hashtag #getTWISTEDsundays usually following the video, lending a new meaning to the urban colloquialism.
The weekly segment showcases Nwigwe's rapid-fire style as he calls out wack rappers with quintessential Houston pride and quips about living the Christian faith. "Everybody has a story," he says. "I feel you have to tell the story in a way that the audience that you're trying to reach can relate to it. People don't want to hear corny stuff."
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Tobe is short for Tobechukwu, which means "praise God" in Igbo, the language spoken by one of Nigeria's largest ethnic groups. Growing up in SWAT (a common local acronym for "South West Alief Texas"), Nwigwe lived a full Nigerian experience as a first generation Nigerian-American. At first he wanted to fit in as another black kid, only to realize many of his friends did not know their ancestry due to America's ugly history with slavery. By high school, he gradually embraced his heritage.
"It was a blessing to know where you come from, who your people are, what your culture is, and I started taking pride in being Nigerian," Nwigwe says.
Years before he landed on music, he was a starting football player at the University of North Texas where he made a name for himself as "one of the few players on the UNT roster that has flashed NFL talent." At least, that was the case before he suffered a career-ending injury. It was at that low point when he felt God leading him in a completely different direction, away from football entirely. Nwigwe says God had something for him to do that he had "no experience in, and there will be absolutely nothing you can do on your own accord. It's going to be something that I have nobody but God to give the glory to."
From there, he developed the nonprofit organization TeamGINI, a name derived from "Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?"—Igbo for "What's your purpose?" The primary goal of the organization is to help those who are unsure about the purpose of their life on Earth. Part of their curriculum includes Purposeful Presents, a holiday initiative that not only provides presents to deserving families, but equips parents with tools that promote financial literacy, and thus, a way for the family to create their own Christmas in the future.
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With TeamGINI up and running, Nwigwe got the chance to meet motivational speaker Eric Thomas, a.k.a. The Hip Hop Preacher. But after Thomas saw a Facebook post of Nwigwe freestyling, he saw musical potential beyond the non-profit. Although he was reluctant at first, Nwigwe took his advice.
"When he explained to me the influence that music had on people and how using that influence can garner resources to push my agenda of making purpose popular, I took heed," Nwigwe says. "I listened and started to take music seriously." He became the first artist signed on to Thomas's ETA Records as an edutainer—essentially an artist who uses entertainment as a means to educate their audience on a particular subject.
Fast forward to now and #getTWISTEDsundays sprouted late last summer from the #SoGoneChallange that asked people to freestyle to the instrumental of Monica's 2003 hit single, "So Gone." His now-fiancée, Fat, encouraged him to do the challenge to practice his rapping and lyric-writing skills. In the challenge, Nwigwe recorded himself in what became his trademark pose: him freestyling while Fat twists his hair. After the overwhelmingly positive response from friends and new fans alike, he decided to make it a weekly thing, taking requests from people of popular tracks, new and old, for him to rap over.
Thanks to #getTWISTEDsundays, he has steadily gained fans who tune in to his every word—about 23,600 followers on Instagram, just within six months. His reach and his purpose is bigger than ever, and Nwigwe humbly lets that sink in, a Nigerian-American kid from Alief just trying to make a big difference in the world.