Tobe Nwigwe Opens for the Houston Dynamo

Music

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Photos by Michael D. Bishop @shotbybishop_

On a muggy and drizzling Wednesday afternoon, Tobe Nwigwe and LaNell Grant (Nell) took over the Bud Light Beer Garden stage outside of BBVA Compass Stadium to kick off ceremonies for the 2018 US Open Cup Final. The rising star from Southwest Alief performed a short set list for the Houston Dynamo moments before their 2-0 win against the Philadelphia Union.

The duo performed tracks from their viral Get Twisted Sundays project, as well as selections from Tobe’s debut album, Tobe From the SWAT. The rain didn’t stop the couple hundred gathered fans from enjoying a free show from the artist who just last month performed at White Oak to a sold out crowd of over 1,200.

Tobe, his wife Fat, and producer Nell, performed hits from their weekly video project, The Originals; closing the show with arguably their most popular single to date — the Erykah Badu / Dave Chappelle tribute song, “I’m Dope”.

Nwigwe is preparing to launch a US tour next year that could reach up to thirty cities. The Alief football player turned rapper has been making waves in the hip hop game all summer coming off the success of his epic appearance on Sway in the Morning. Tobe’s freestyle on Sway has garnered over 150,000 YouTube views and launched the local phenom to national status as a breakout artist.

Following the appearance on Sway, Tobe and team had a whirlwind summer that included a guest appearance on The Right Time with Bomani Jones, an invitation to tour the BET facilities, and a performance on the BET awards this past June.

Despite their rapid success and obvious marketability, Tobe and his team remain firmly independent, building an organic platform from which to distribute their highly original brand of content. Underneath the team’s breakout hip hop achievements, Nwigwe’s message remains one of purpose and faith, one that he prefers to deliver unfiltered and authentically.

BuddieRoe Drops New Single, “Wake Up”

Music

“This is for that kid up in the Tre that didn’t get to live. I could have been that victim too if God ain’t seen it fit.”

“Wake Up” by: BuddieRoe

Coming off his breakout 2017 project, SunRise Over Briargate, Mo-City rapper, BuddieRoe, just released the first single off of his follow up project, ROE. The track, “Wake Up”, dropped on all streaming platforms today and sets a promising tone for the young artist’s sophomore album.

2017 was a breakout year for the impressive lyricist who came seemingly out of nowhere with his debut single, “Southside Basquiat”. He later followed up on that success with a big win at the HTownRapBattle, the release of SunRise Over Briargate, and a slew of features — including a verse on “Motorsport Freestyle” with Doughbeezy and Slim Thug.

With “Southside Basquiat”, Roe broke into the scene as Houston’s newest lyrical savant. The track, as well as its accompanying visuals, are shining examples of Houston’s DIY hip hop industry. This is a city where independent artists create studio quality projects, where mumble rap is not welcome and no one is quick to claim the title of soundcloud rapper. Houston respects bars and talent, and BuddieRoe brings both in abundance.

Expectations have been high for the self-titled Southside Basquiat following the creative success of his first release. Fans expect his follow up solo project to surpass the quality of his first if Roe is to take the next leap forward in his career.

Though he’s remained largely off the radar up to this point in the year, his absence has been no hiatus. Roe has been putting in the studio hours all summer working on multiple upcoming projects.

Produced by David Ruiz, “Wake Up” is yet another conscious banger from the Mo-City native with Third Ward roots. Inspired by the death of Tristian Hutchins, the 8 year old boy killed in a south Houston drive-by earlier this year, Roe describes the frustrations of police profiling and the trappings of a dangerous and violent city.

If “Wake Up” is any indicator of what the full ROE project will sound like, BuddieRoe can expect his star to continue rising in the Texas rap scene, potentially even breaking out nationally within a year or two.

Beyond ROE, the Southside Basquiat is also working on an EP with talented local producer, Pugtunes, and has been busy writing on Breona Micoles’ latest project.

He’s confident that he will be bringing his music to the stage in the near future, so fans should stay tuned to his social media for updates on any upcoming performances as well as new releases.

Listen to BuddieRoe on Spotify

Follow BuddieRoe on Instagram

Hip Hop’s Drug Culture is Tone Deaf to the Nation’s Opioid Crisis

Music

Gustav Åhr was 21 years old when he died of a Xanax fueled drug overdose in November of 2017. You may have heard of him by his stage name, Lil Peep. While fast living and a face canvased by tattoos gave Åhr the appearance of being much older, make no mistake that he was a kid; depressed, deeply troubled, and addicted. Lil Peep’s untimely and tragic death is, sadly, far from an isolated incident. His death is the latest in hip hop’s legacy of gone-to-soon talents taken by drug overdoses. In today’s diverse and multi-layered hip hop culture, the prominence of prescription drug abuse is a mainstream aspect of the greater landscape, particularly among the industry’s youngest artists and fans. This aspect of hip hop is especially troubling in light of the nation’s current struggle with prescription opioid addiction.

Hip hop is a massive culture and a global community. Within that community exist various sects and subcultures all adhering to their own unique ethos and aesthetics. From conscious rap to trap music, the hip hop world is as much, if not more varied than any musical genre or sector of popular culture. That said, there exists within all variations of hip hop a cultural reference point to the world of illegal drug use. There is an unbreakable bond between hip hop and drugs. Rap as an art form was born, and largely reflective, of lower income urban communities of color. These are communities that have long battled with drug crises, from crack and heroin to modern day prescriptions pills. Still, the intent of drug references in urban music, dating back to the blues and jazz of the early 20th century, was not to fetishize but to confront. 1980’s hip hop discusses crack sales and the economics of the drug game at length, but artists rarely boasted openly of their own addictions. While the drug fiend played a prominent role in early hip hop lore, it was typically as a cautionary tale or modern-day court jester. NWA’s 1988 track, “Dopeman”, paints Eazy-E’s drug dealing anti-hero as a despicable trickster, slinging deadly product to strung out crack-heads.

In the 1990’s however, the narrative and semi-biographical nature of hip hop evolved into an era of artistic discovery through psychedelic experimentation. Much like rock-n-roll culture of the sixties and seventies, nineties hip hop used drugs as an expressive medium. Perhaps nowhere was this marriage of drugs and music more prominent than in Houston, Texas, where the regional practice of recreational codeine abuse gave way to the creation of chopped and screwed hip hop. Robert Earl Davis Jr, aka DJ Screw, popularized the use of codeine cough syrup mixed with Sprite soda, aka Lean, between the years of 1990-1993*. It was during this time that Davis invented a style of hip hop he coined, chopped and screwed. By slowing existing tracks down to a snail’s pace, then chopping and scratching the vocals, Screw was simulating the psychological effects of a codeine high. He created a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, one that still defines the hip hop landscape of the south, and eventually penetrated into both east and west coast music. In November 2000, seven years after the release of his first studio mix tape, Robert Davis was found dead in his Houston recording studio after suffering an accidental drug and alcohol overdose. Heavy amounts of codeine were found in his system.

Following the death of Screw, codeine’s grip on southern music only tightened, eventually taking the lives of Screw’s friends and collaborators Big Moe and Pimp C. Today, codeine abuse is still prominent, if not compulsive, among hip hop artists in the south. It also enjoys mainstream acceptance into the greater culture. Harlem artist ASAP Rocky raps often about the drug and about Screw’s influence on his life. His wildly popular rap group, ASAP Mob, was co-founded by Rocky’s close friend and business partner ASAP Yams, who died of a drug overdose in 2015; an overdose that was in part caused by codeine.

But narcotic cough syrup is not the only prescription drug that has found its way into the annals of rap history and contemporary culture. In more recent years, prescription painkillers, antidepressants, and sleep aids have become popular subjects of discussion in the lyrics of the industry’s most influential artists. Lil Wayne, Future, ASAP Rocky, and scores of other artists rap almost exclusively about their compulsive and destructive drug habits. But the line between confessional artistry and brazen celebration has become almost invisibly thin. Future’s hit song, “Mask Off”, features the repeating hook, “Percocet, Molly, Percocet,” over and over. A lyric that is loudly and obliviously chanted by thousands of adoring fans at Future’s performances. Although the song itself is about the artist’s struggles with addiction, synonymizing the admittance of a drug habit with the removal of a metaphorical mask, the meaning is lost on a fan base caught up in a culture that glorifies those drugs.

Lil Peep’s music also heavily referenced his drug abuse as a symptom of deep depression and loneliness. Sadly, while he was alive, his fans and the industry alike tended to miss the point, obsessed with his bad boy persona and teen heart-throb magnetism. Lil Peep failed to make drugs seem dangerous. Instead he made them seem cool, even after his death. And therein lies the problem. Hip hop’s prescription drug fetish is peaking at a time when the nation is battling the worst drug crisis in American history. Rates of opioid related deaths are climbing and have been climbing for years. America is battling an addiction crisis that is killing over 100 people per day. Meanwhile, stadiums full of Future fans sing “Percocet, Molly, Percocet,” while completely missing the artist’s thinly veiled cry for help.

What we as fans must now consider, is that hip hop’s drug problem is multi-facetted. It is not simply a matter of artists abusing and dying from prescriptions drugs, but rather the distorted image of what drug addiction looks like. Most drug addicts are not famous millionaires snorting lines of Xanax in a Las Vegas suite. They are poor, working-class slobs shooting heroin with a dirty needle. Whatever enviable outer lives DJ Screw and Lil Peep led under their stage names, Robert Davis and Gustav Åhr died as painfully, as scared, and as alone as the millions of addicts that came before and will inevitably follow. Given its massive global influence, it is past time for the greater hip hop community to speak out against its own drug culture and condemn both the artists and fans that so boldly glorify prescription drug abuse. In the context of the crisis surrounding these drugs, a culture as prominent and essential as hip hop has a responsibility to affect change. Though rap music may be rooted in counter culture movements and anti-establishment rebellion, today’s rap industry is as much a part of the global zeitgeist as any aspect of human culture. As a result, the industry bares a social responsibility to shape public opinion and individual action on matters as severe as a national and humanitarian drug crisis.

* Screw did not invent Lean, but he is widely credited with introducing the codeine lifestyle to mainstream hip hop, particularly through his unique brand of hip hop.

PURPOSE PERFECTED

Music

Tobe Nwigwe Uses Hip Hop to Teach Self Determination


“I grew up listening to Fela Kuti, who was like the James Brown of Nigeria […] But I never, ever in my life thought about doing music, ever.” Tobe Nwigwe sits on a bench in the middle of a popular Houston streetwear shop, framed by sneakers and Supreme shirts, to tell me about life growing up in the SWAT*, and how a first generation Nigerian –American discovered a hidden talent that changed his life.

*Southwest Alief Texas

If not evident from the opening quote, Tobe’s personality is deeply rooted in his Nigerian heritage. He is one of five children of immigrant parents, raised in the Alief neighborhood of southwest Houston. “There were seven of us in a two bedroom condominium,” he recalls. Nwigwe’s childhood was fairly standard for an immigrant family from one of Houston’s rougher neighborhoods; low on money, short on opportunity. But young Tobe would develop a special talent early in life that paved the way for a better future.

Tobe’s first skill was hitting people; both on and off the football field. Though as he puts it, “I was trash in football all through little league.” He tells me how a “physical altercation” in the fourth grade gave him the confidence to excel in both a violent sport and a violent community. He eventually earned a scholarship to play linebacker at the University of North Texas, where a season ending injury his senior year derailed a potential NFL career. After football, the young man from Alief searched for a new purpose in life. Through his faith he was inspired to start a nonprofit organization he named Gini Bu Nkpa Gi, “but you can’t pronounce that,” he says. “So we just call it TeamGini.” TeamGini has a simple mission; to help people find their purpose. The phrase literally means, what’s your purpose, in Igbo. Nwigwe is obsessed with the concept of purpose. More specifically, with helping others find their own. His organization uses “edu-tainment” to teach low income middle and high school students in the Houston area leadership skills, responsibility, and financial literacy. It was through his work with TeamGini that he developed a relationship with Eric Thomas, the popular motivational speaker and “hip-hop preacher” whose YouTube videos boast tens of millions of views.

Eric and Tobe developed a strategic partnership a few years ago. From their shared focus on community improvement and enlightenment through entertainment, the pair began working on various projects together. That was how mere happenstance led Eric, and his business partner, to discover Tobe’s untapped hip hop potential. “Long story short, CJ just happened to be scrolling on Facebook and saw me doing a freestyle with my family. After that he told me I needed to be doing music” Despite his reservations, CJ and Eric convinced Tobe to pursue a career in hip hop. Soon he would become the debut artist for their new label, ETA Records.

Tobe_Nwigwe(2)

In a town known for breeding hip hop talent, Tobe Nwigwe’s music stands alone. His sophisticated lyricism and raspy baritone vocal style are somewhat out of place in the city of candy cars and purple drank. While Houston hip hop has been prolific in the past, the city has largely lacked artistically driven lyrical voices that can remain relevant in the age of Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. In discussing his musical influences and favorite artists, I found it interesting that Tobe did not mention a single Houston rapper. Instead, stating that his two greatest musical inspirations are Lauren Hill and Andre 3000. “I always want to speak honestly about who I am and where I come from,” Tobe says. “Whenever I do music I always want to make sure I say something when I say something; if that makes any sense.” The Alief rapper goes on to say that much of what is considered “positive music” in today’s hip hop industry would be considered “corny” by the members of the communities with whom he has developed a rapport. He aims to bring a refreshing level of authenticity and street-cred to his music while still delivering a message of self improvement and positivity.

I finish my interview by asking Tobe what he wishes to bring to both hip hop culture and the city of Houston through his music, his organization, and his life’s work. He gives me a one word answer.

“Purpose.”

I guess you could say he has found his.

 

Hip Hop Loves Houston

Music

“Purple drink, I still sip. Purple weed, blunt still lit. 
Real n**ga, real b**ch, Purple swag, that Trill sh*t. 
Them candy cars, I’m comin’ down. That paint drip, I still tip.”

If I were teaching a class on hip hop lyrical structure, with a focus on Southeast Texas street culture, those three bars would be in bold letters on the front page of the syllabus. A picture perfect sample of Houston rap. Rhythm, rhyme and tone, they are pure h-town. Only they’re not.

A$AP Rocky raps those words in his 2011 track, “Purple Swag”.
And he’s not from Texas at all. He’s from Harlem.

Yeah… that Harlem … in New York.

Rocky’s artistic liberties in the production of “Purple Swag” (really his entire discography) as well as artistic liberties taken by other artists as Drake, Future, and Migos, have been criticized in the Houston rap scene as cultural plagiarism. They have also been praised, for helping to elevate a once obscure and disrespected subculture to mainstream recognition. What is certain is that these artists have borrowed heavily from a musical tradition that they may or may not fully understand or appreciate. So who is A$AP? A shameless hack, profiting from a culture that he knows very little about? Or is he a true fan of the art, spreading love for the music that shaped his personal aesthetic?

To understand the rise of Houston rap culture, one must understand what this culture was 20 years ago. From its earliest days in the 1980’s, and well into the late 90’s, whatever Hip Hop scene existed in Houston, existed only in Houston. This was well before the days of social media and YouTube, when music styles were much more regional; and hip hop was dominated by east and west. Southern rap was viewed by mainstream audiences and hip hop intellectuals as far too slow, simple, country. But that didn’t bother the pioneers of the Third Coast. Artists like DJ Screw, Big Moe, Scarface, and Big H.A.W.K. were not interested in national acclaim or mainstream acceptance. They steered clear of east/west hostilities and made music that fit their lifestyle, their world view. They sold it tape by tape, friend to friend, until a movement was born. Today’s hip hop charts are adorned with the lasting legacy of these and other Texas artists. Every screwed up hook and “hold up” ad lib is a testament to their influence. I speak only for myself when I say that I view these acts as tokens of respect. Art is about inspiration. Whatever inspires an artist will undoubtedly shine through in their work. But it’s not all love.

Paul Wall admits that the imitation of Houston Hip Hop, “comes with the territory.” But he believes that far too many artists are stealing from the culture without permission. Particularly when it comes to drinking lean, which he regards as the cornerstone of Houston hip hop. In his opinion, those mainstream artists rapping about lean and candy paint, are not UGK aficionados or DJ Screw fanatics. They are little more than “culture vultures”, stealing another city’s creativity.

Paul’s harsh criticism is not without merit. Rappers like Future and Migos (both from Atlanta) have practically made a career out of lean references, slow beats, and distorted vocals. Yet they do not credit the city and artists that popularized such trends. The word “trill”, which holds significant cultural importance to the Third Coast, has long been popular in Northern California. Most bay area rappers credit their region as the home of trill, a word invented in Port Arthur, Texas and popularized by UGK. This cultural appropriation is understandably frustrating to someone like Paul Wall; an OG of Houston Hip Hop. Someone who has been making trill music for longer than some young rappers have been alive. To trailblazers like him, and to the fans that have long supported their local musicians, the mainstreaming of their culture is as much as source of pride as it is a slap in the face.

To set the record straight, I am a huge A$AP Rocky fan. Mainly because he gives proper credit. Rocky is a true admirer of Houston rap and credits much of his sound and style to the artists that paved the way. I believe no one outside of Houston better represents the city and it’s music. Sadly that is not the case for most who bite Houston’s culture. It’s true that some of the world’s greatest art comes from collaboration. Imitation is a tradition as old as art itself. However, within an art form that values originality and regional pride above all else, there is no crime greater than cultural theft. Nothing could be less trill.