Tobe Nwigwe’s dreams of making the NFL pulverized when the top-ranked linebacker suffered a career-ending foot injury. On lengthy bedrest, with no one visiting him, his crutches out of reach, his left leg in a full cast, the University of North Texas MVP and captain had to Army-crawl to the bathroom. That’s where, lying on the floor, he broke down.
“Tears were coming strong down my face,” he says on a Behind the Artist video. “I was on some real carnal stuff with God, like ‘Why would You do this to me. I didn’t kill nobody. I ain’t robbed nobody. I’m bad, but I’m not as bad.’ It was at that moment on the bathroom floor that God was like, ‘You have lost your identity in the game, and you have purpose in your life outside of your circumstances and your situation.’”
The injury represented a major reset for the man who once thought “you have to suck at football” to need to devise a Plan B. Today, Tobechukwu Nwigwe helps drifting youth avoid gangs, violence and drugs by discovering their God-given purpose.
“If you would’ve asked me what my purpose was back in college, I promise you I would’ve said something like, ‘Hit the league, money, cars, clothes,’” he says. “I literally got to the lowest of the lows because the only thing I ever dedicated all of my time, effort and energy to was football and when that was gone, I literally had to rethink life. I became like a monk as it relates to the study of purpose. Once I was able to cut off the mania of the world, I was able to figure out who I am and what my calling is and what my natural gifts are.”
His hip-hop has blasted through the stratosphere with millions of views on YouTube. Tobe is the T.S. Elliot of rap. Elliot was the most heralded poet of the 20th century who led readers to “certain half-deserted streets.” Tobe takes his listeners to the SWAT — South West Alief, Houston, the roughest of slums where he “dropped a bullet” in the fourth grade and got treated like “King Arthur with his sword raised.”
Tobe evokes the poignant experience of being a poor child of immigrant parents and fighting to survive in much of his music. He was a “hard-headed” kid who smoked weed, listened to Biggie and snuck out at night, to the chagrin of his mom, who prayed for him and counseled him. They were five kids in one room.
Tobe discovered he was good at football and won a scholarship to North Texas, where he ranked #5 nationally in tackles and reading defenses, a good foundation for an NFL career. The dream was coming true until his teammate fell on his foot, causing the “best worst injury of my life,” he says.
“It ended my football career. It made me think of who is Tobe outside of the Tobe the football player,” he says. “I had to realize that before I was in the sport, I had a purpose. It was a blessing in disguise.”
He planned to recover from the injury and try out for the NFL, but “God shut almost every single door to football and halted a whole bunch of stuff in my life until I made a conscious decision to let my little dreams die and move in the direction with the non profit organization,” he says.
The injury brought him close to the God of his parents, and the God of his parents brought him to his purpose: a non profit that he launched in 2016 called TeamGINI (from “Gini Bu Nkpa Gi?” — Igbo for “What’s your purpose?”) which brought “edu-tainment” to high schoolers. If there is no meaning to life, all the kids would fall into “the trap” — rap speak for a hood out of which you escape only by jail or a casket. By imbuing their existence with purpose, it is hoped kids will choose college and meaning.
It was a stroke of genius born of his own “monk-like” quest to find his own purpose. And it led him to stage two in his life: he linked up with motivational speaker PhD Eric Thomas, the “hip hop preacher.” ET, as he goes by, was making waves in Texas encouraging African Americans to dream big. On a fluke, Tobe called him and got him on the line.
“We don’t have any money right now,” Tobe told the man he watched “religiously.” “But as soon as we have some money, we want to have you come.”
ET declined the speaker’s fees and came for free. What he saw surprised him. Tobe moved the high school kids at the event as a warm-up for ET. Reportedly, ET had never seen anybody move the crowd in that way.
So he signed Tobe to be part of his motivational speakers team.
Then, team members found his Facebook page and watched a video of him free-styling. It was a video made with the family that was only meant to be fun and funny. ET thought Tobe had talent and wanted his ministry to branch out into the music of the community. ETA Records was born with Tobe as their first artist.
It wasn’t long before Tobe outgrew the team. He began uploading new music every single Sunday. His then-girlfriend, Ivory, would twist tufts of his hair on the couch as he would sing. The set was called “getTWISTEDsundays.” LaNell Grant, the kid sister of a high school football chum, produced the beats. Read the rest about Tobe Nwigwe, from football to rap.