“Try Jesus, not me.
Cause I throw hands
Please don’t try me.
Because I fight
I know what he said about getting slapped.
But if you touch me or mine, we are going to have to scrap.
Tobe Nwigwe is a family man who sings about his faith, hopes to make “purpose popular” and avoids using profanity. At first glance, one might see his music as a safe alternative for Christian music fans and encourage its consumption. Yet on a deeper level, Tobe Nwigwe’s latest album CINCORGINALS is one of the most provocative releases of 2020. CINCORGINALS inspires valuable self-reflection as it speaks to human needs, safety, and purpose.
To understand CINCORGINALS, we need to understand Tobe Nwigwe. He is Nigerian-born and grew up in Houston, Texas. He hoped to make it to the NFL but suffered a career-ending injury in college. He began speaking to youth about pursuing a purpose-driven existence. Eventually, he partnered with his wife (rapper FAT), and female producer Nell to independently release mixtapes and albums. Since 2014, they have been quietly working to build on the “chopped and screwed” Houston style of hip hop. Their production has slow, heavy bass, glimpses of frenetic percussion, and urgent vocals. Despite continual interest from larger record labels, they intentionally choose to stay independent artists so that they control their music and message.
Safety is a major theme of CINCORGINALS. “Try Jesus” honestly wrestles with the non-violent teachings of Jesus. Tobe Nwigwe admits that he struggles with turning the other cheek when he sees someone attacking himself or his family. “Purple Rain Thing” references Prince’s massive hit that explores a violent end to the world with blood mixing with water to create purple rain. Nwigwe wrestles with faith in God and a human desire for self-preservation. “I prevail. Because I got a wife who prays in detail. And a pistol strapped to her like seat-belts.” A praying woman who carries a gun to save her from trouble is a reality many of us would find discomforting. Yet glimpses of strength and hope surface. “Pistol” is a song of perseverance for justice, telling stories of children being raised in tough circumstances.
Along with safety comes a desire for a greater purpose. “EAT” introduces Tobe and Fat, a husband/wife collaboration that looks into the past and lays out their goals for the future. Rarely does the personal life and professional persona of a rapper intermingle so authentically. “Father Figure” speaks to young rappers who Tobe sees are making mistakes that will lead to significant consequences to their future. He brings his motivational talks to the album, encouraging listeners to learn from his experience.
Cincorginals is not a hip hop album safe for consumption. CINCORGINALS is a provocative piece of art that asks us larger questions about our desire for self-preservation. Are we non-violent in the way that Jesus teaches? Or do we believe that violence is necessary in self-defence? Do we live a purposeful life full of risk and vulnerability? Or are we simply following the path of least resistance laid out by our circumstances? I’d encourage all Christians to listen to CINCORGINALS. The life-changing questions and conversations it will spark are well worth the risk. (Independent)