How do we measure success? Some would say with money, fame, and connections. Others may argue that success manifests itself through the creation of family and a supportive team.
Even without access to Tobe Nwigwe's bank statements and tax returns, we can still clearly state that this particular artist from Southwest Alief, Texas is supremely successful. In the course of only a couple of years, Tobe has headlined (and sold out) his first pair of hometown shows at White Oak Music Hall, appeared on the revered NPR Tiny Desk Concert series, and been referenced to as a "visionary Hip-Hop missionary" by Texas Monthly magazine. He also is a devout family man with a loving and supportive wife, a new baby, and a powerful creative team in his corner.
Saturday afternoon, Tobe was invited by the Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston to lead a panel discussion regarding how art and music are intertwined. DJ Big Reeks served as the moderator and host for the event, with Houston rap legend Paul Wall joining in on the line-up, along with as Nwigwe's wife and collaborator Fat and his producer Nell.
These are just some of the insights we learned from the encounter:
10. "Rapper Time" not only is a thing that exists, but it is alive and well in Houston, Texas. This discussion was supposed to begin at 5 p.m, yet it began closer to 30 minutes after the hour. Paul Wall explained it best later in the talk by calling the phenomenon the "GPS of God".
"No matter how much you plan on being at a certain place and time, it is sometimes necessary to reroute and adapt to whatever the world throws your way." explained Wall.
9. Tobe and Paul recently collaborated on a new track called "Juice". After listening to it on repeat only about 100 times, I can easily say that this is one the best tracks of 2019:
8. Tobe and his crew previously attempted to film a music video inside the museum "illegally" and without permission. Which makes this event and invitation to collaborate even sweeter. Nwigwe especially called out the past and present interactive exhibits (such as the current “William Forsythe: Choreographic Objects” installation) as inspiration for his own art. Props to the MFAH for being open-minded and ready to be an institution open for the entire spectrum of the Houston community.
7. Despite the inspirational tone of his music and being a leader in the "New Houston Rap" movement, Tobe claims that he and his music "aren't really that deep."
"I draw from experiences and life, and let the world guide me," he confessed during the lecture.
Which, in reality, makes his art and music that much deeper.
6. Tobe refers to Paul Wall as one of the "happiest people on this Earth", which leads to Paul flashing his diamond-encrusted smile. "Joel Osteen type of happy!" describes Nwigwe. To which Wall responds:
"I wonder what he's (Osteen) smoking?!"
Tobe then jokingly calls his Pastor Paul, and motions for the proverbial collection plate to be passed around.
Has there ever been a more Houston conversation than this one? Probably not.
5. DJ Big Reeks is a handsome man with a handsome voice and a handsome beard. He's also a seasoned veteran DJ who reps for his city harder than most people. He praises artists who are inspired by Houston, but wishes more credit and recognition was provided to Houston artists.
"Its both a blessing and a curse" he relays during the discussion. "A lot is taken from us, but not enough attribution is provided".
4. LaNell Grant, the producer who provided Tobe with his beats, follows up on the subject of "authenticity". She tells the audience about her own creative process and trying unsuccessfully to make beats that "sounded like Houston". She later realized that any beat she created was already authentic:
"I'm from Houston! I don't have to figure out the Houston sound, I am the Houston sound! This is where I grew up, that's who we are."
3. We asked Paul about the role of mentorship between an established legend such as himself and someone new to the game like Tobe:
"There's definitely a need to be strategic with the mentorship and advice. Mostly, the younger artists need to be receptive and be open minded to the advice and expertise we have to offer."
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He continued to praise Houston for its diversity, both in demographics and artistic variety. He called for more support of all types of art, especially music, whether it sounds like your typical Houston beat or not.
2. Tobe recalled a letter he received from a young person who was contemplating suicide, but who ultimately reconsidered after listening to one of his songs. That is just one of many personal inspirations that motivates him to continue creating and repping for his city.
1. In the lyrics to the new track "Juice", Tobe and Paul refer to several animals in their verses including a walrus, a hippopotamus, an octopus, a wallaby, shrimp, chimpanzee, and a color changing lizard.
Perhaps a collaboration with the Houston Zoo is next? We can only hope.