Tobe Nwigwe has spent five years as an independent rapper and singer on the Houston scene, building an audience - including fans like Erykah Badu and Michelle Obama - with weekly song drops that unfailingly arrive with a brand-new video.

His plan has always been consistency, not virality. But sudden, unexpected fame arrived last month after he released a track that called attention in the police killing Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

''I need you to,'' Nwigwe sings as the track opens. Then in the typical sober rumble, he raps. ''Arrest the killers of Breonna Taylor.''

The entire song, called ''I Need You To [Breonna Taylor], '' is 44 seconds of long, with spare production. It was reposted by Diddy, LeBron James, Madonna and Amy Schumer.

''Try Jesus,'' a ballad he released at the end of July, has become even more popular.

It has had more than a million YouTube views and helped him land his first two placements on Billboard's genre sales charts.

Nwigwe, who grew up Catholic, describes his relationship with God as a way to channel his instincts, which, like hos football skills, stray combative. ''Try Jesus'' illustrates the point. ''Try Jesus/ Not me/ ''Cause I throw hands.''

Today, he diverts this energy into collaboration with his team. When there's an atmosphere he wants infused into a song, he gives Grant a few descriptive words to translate into a track.

When he wants a dress or a tunic designed - right now, inspired by his trips to Nigeria and Japan - he pieces together ideas on Pinterest and sends them to local Cameroonian tailor. The only thing Nwigwe does entirely alone is writing and freestyling.

The group is so locked in to its own rhythms that when record labels come calling - Nwigwe said he had been contacted by Mass Appeal. Roc Nation and Sony - executives don't know what to offer them.

''They have someone call you and say, 'Anything we can do?'' Fat said.

Nwigwe's response? ''What can you do for me that I'm not already doing?'' The question is, what can you do for an artist who has built his own beautiful efficient engine, fueled by his family and best friends, without giving up ownership or profit?''

The World Students Society thanks author Leslie Pariseau.


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