Tobe Nwigwe knows what he wants to give his listeners: "A keen sense of purpose."
The artist has built a huge following on Instagram through his songs that focus on social justice and the Black experience. Nwigwe boasts nearly 820,000 followers on the social media platform, has been featured in Texas Monthly and NPR's Tiny Desk concert series, and appeared on former First Lady Michelle Obama's workout playlist. He recently was featured in The New York Times after his songs, "I Need You To" and "Try Jesus," went viral and made the Billboard charts.
"I think about all the things that I would've wanted to know when I was young to give me guidance," he says.
But music never crossed his mind when he attended UNT from 2005 to 2009. Nwigwe came to UNT to play linebacker for the Mean Green football team. Nwigwe's most memorable moment was making an interception against Western Kentucky University -- leading to a 99-yard touchdown and the only victory for the Mean Green that year.
"Football gave me all the attributes that I use to this day in music -- discipline, perseverance, consistency, just the ability to do things that you don't feel like doing," he says.
After a foot injury sidelined his hopes for a professional football career, Nwigwe returned to his hometown of Houston in 2010. He established the nonprofit organization TeamGINI, which means "What's your purpose?" and is taken from the phrase "Gini Bu Nkpa Gi" of the Igbo people of Nigeria, that educated audiences through the arts. In 2016, alongside his wife Ivory "Fat" Rogers', Tobe began a weekly event called #getTWISTEDsundays where he would rap over popular beats while Fat twisted his hair.
He also began recording for ETA Records.
The weekly videos got more sophisticated. They now feature choreography and shoots on location, such as the Rienzi mansion at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston -- a reflection of his interest in design and fashion. His favorite class at UNT was fashion merchandising.
And those songs have earned him fans such as Obama, who put his song "I'm Dope" on her workout playlist earlier this year.
"It was phenomenal," he says. "I felt like I won a Nobel Peace Prize."
Nwigwe joins a group of other rappers who attended UNT, including Grammy winner Lecrae ('02) and Def Jam recording artist Bobby Sessions.
"I didn't even know we had the No. 1 music program while I was there," he says. "I was too busy playing football. But if I would've known, I probably would've definitely gotten involved in music while I was there."
Tobe Nwigwe is not the only UNT alumnus making a mark in the hip-hop community. Here's a look at others in the field:
Lecrae ('02): He worked in the recording studio lab in the Music Building while a freshman at UNT, then went on to a Grammy Award-winning career for his songs with a Christian message. He recently released the CD Restoration, which includes collaborations with John Legend and Kirk Franklin.
Bobby Sessions: Sessions began to rap while he studied at UNT. Now he records for Def Jam records and his music has appeared in the movie The Hate U Give. He co-wrote "Savage," the Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé collaboration that went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 this spring and benefited COVID-19 relief efforts in Houston. His new song is "Still Alive" featuring Royce Da 5'9.
ThaKracken: The Dallas-based hip-hop/R&B producer has been nominated for a Grammy Award for his work on Lecrae's Gravity. While at UNT, he had the nickname "CheeseBeats" and graduated by the name John Williams ('99) with a degree in Applied Arts and Science. "UNT is a hub of very talented people from all over the world, and it's one of the most influential music schools as well," he says. "So when you have a place where so many talented people migrate to, something amazing is bound to happen."
Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II ('08): Known as Sly5thAve, the saxophonist has gone from the playing in the One O'Clock Lab Band to touring the world with Prince, Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder. As a session musician he has received a Grammy for work with Cece Winans on her latest record "Let Them Fall in Love." As an arranger, he has received praise--including from Dr. Dre himself--for his work that fuses hip-hop with orchestral composition and jazz. As a producer/composer he has managed to bring all of these worlds together culminating in his latest release "What it is."
Azim Rashid ('94): A former member of the University Program Council, he's worked with Wiz Khalifa and other performers as an executive for Roc Nation -- the record label founded by Jay-Z -- and Capitol Music Group, and his current role is as senior vice president and head of urban promotion for Columbia Records.
Hip Hop Book Club: Sobechi Ibekwe ('11), Attah Essien, Terrance Lee and Kenny Reeves began organizing events when they attended UNT -- leading them to start a club that reviews the latest hip-hop albums. It now boasts chapters across the state and received national attention from publications such as The Source. Find them on Twitter and Instagram.