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Tobe Nwigwe Is a New Musician to Get Excited About

The Houston-based former D-I linebacker is a gravelly voiced rapper with two secret weapons at his side

Tobe Nwigwe/Ringer illustration

In a moment, there is a going to be a music video embedded into the body of this article. It’s for a song called “Jockin” by a rapper named Tobe Nwigwe. Before that, though, there’s going to be a screenshot from a different video by Nwigwe. It’s an overhead view of him and two women on a tennis court.

Seven things about Nwigwe: (1) He just turned 31 years old. (2) He was a star linebacker at the University of North Texas before a foot injury upended his athletic existence. (3) He is Nigerian American. (4) Tobe is short for “Tobechukwu,” the Igbo word for “Praise God.” (5) “Nwigwe” is pronounced nuh-wee-gweh. (6) He is married to a woman named Fat. (7) They both live in Houston. (8) His most recent series of videos usually feature him, Fat, and LaNell Grant, his producer, who works under the name Nell.

Those are mostly things I learned when I spoke to him for half an hour or so last week on the phone, but really those are things I learned about him on the internet a few days before we spoke, because I felt a very real urge in my bones to learn as much as I could about him (and Fat and LaNell) after spending a not-insignificant amount of time listening to his music and watching his music videos in the days leading up to our phone call.

Here’s the screenshot I mentioned at the top of this article:

It’s beautiful, obviously. It’s from “The Blues,” the third in a series of songs and color-specific videos called The Originals. (The Originals is not album, it’s simply a collection of songs that gets updated once a week, and I know that an album could accurately be defined as “a collection of songs,” but not in this particular instance.) Tobe is in the middle, Fat is on the right, and Nell is on the left, and right now feels like the appropriate time to tell you that Nell is a remarkable producer. Each of the beats on The Originals is sophisticated and intricate without ever getting in their own way. There are moments when you listen to a rapper on someone’s beat and you say, “Yeah. Yes. These two belong together.” (Missy Elliott and Timbaland are my favorite example of this kind of relationship.) That’s what happens with Nell and Nwigwe. His voice (more on this soon) gives weight to the airy, synthetic, futuro vibes of what she’s building, and her beats keep his voice (again, more on this soon) from turning into little more than an avalanche of boulders.

Here’s the video for “Jockin” that I mentioned at the top of this article:

It’s wonderful, obviously. (It’s also the pink one in the series, obviously.) It is smart and entertaining and well shot and just generally bewitching, and it is not incorrect to say that the quality and feel and pacing and allure of this video are indicative of all of the videos in The Originals. (I picked this one because I think it’s the best example of the way Nell and Nwigwe play off of each other, and also the best example of the way Fat uses her own gravity to turn her dancing into as big a part of the video as Nell and Nwigwe’s.) (You could’ve picked any of the videos, though, like the one for “Chill” or the one for “Murder” or the one for “Fuego.”) (They’re all very strong, is what I’m saying.) (Substantial, really.) (Special, even.)

Nwigwe has a great voice. It is both intimidating and soothing, which is a trick that only a small percentage of people can pull off. (If we step outside of rap, Al Pacino in The Godfather is a good example, as is Denzel Washington in The Equalizer, but James Earl Jones in anything might have them both beat.) When Nwigwe raps, and specifically when he really leans into how deep and grumbly he can make his voice, it sounds like a battleship being dragged through a gravel parking lot. It’s great, and it’s easy to hear it and absorb it and assume that the things he’s rapping about are equally menacing or threatening. They’re not, though. In fact, they’re (usually) the opposite of those things, assuming you do not find semi-regular references to love and God to be menacing or threatening.

There’s a very specific kind of excitement that comes with finding a new musician who you believe is making good, smart, interesting music. It’s invigorating, really. It just feels very great to hear a song, say to yourself, “Wait. Whoa. Who is this? Because this shit goes,” and then be like, “Man, I hope this person has more music or more videos somewhere,” and then go on YouTube and find other videos or go on SoundCloud and find more music and it’s like, “FUCK YES.”

There’s an eagerness there, a very identifiable and exact kind of anticipation that you can’t find in many other places.

You click play and then you wait and you cross your fingers and hope that the one song that brought you into their world wasn’t the only thing they’ve done (or, worse still, an outlier), and then the music starts and it’s what you were hoping it was and, again, “FUCK YES.” That moment right before the song starts feels like extremely high stakes and extremely low stakes at the same time, and I don’t know of a lot of things that are as much fun.

The first song of Nwigwe’s that I heard was called “Fuego.” (At the time, it was the first one that appeared on his SoundCloud page.) It came on, and I felt all the things you feel when you hear good new music, and so that’s why I went digging around on the internet for more information about him. There’s a video of him working out for pro football scouts that’s out there, and also a video of him rapping on Sway’s radio program that’s out there, and also a video of him proposing to Fat that’s out there, and it’s 11 minutes long, and by the time he finally gets around to asking her to marry him his face is wet from his own tears and her face is wet from her own tears, and it’s really very moving.

(The proposal video stands out the most to me because I think it’s an interesting angle into a conversation about the way that the internet has shrunken down the universe for people who are fans of other people. I mean, I listened to something like eight of his songs just a couple of times before I found the proposal video, and so our relationship went from me not knowing who he was to all of a sudden watching one of the most important, intimate moments of his life in just a couple of hours.)

(It’s just weird, is all.)

(But also maybe a little great, too.)

(I don’t know.)

(Who’s really to say.)

(The point of this all is: Tobe Nwigwe and Nell and Fat are incredible.)