Tobe Nwigwe is a Houston-based Nigerian-American rapper who thoroughly embodies the slogan “make purpose popular,” which is emblazoned on his Instagram, where he has amassed more than one million followers.
Every Sunday since August 2016, Nwigwe has debuted an original track and video — a ritual that has been termed #gettwistedsundays. These weekly installments are highly anticipated by his many fans, which include celebrities like Michael B. Jordan, Common, and former first lady Michelle Obama. The videos range from casual, local collaborations in the Nwigwes’ monochrome living room to intricately planned shoots with custom costumes, choreographed dances, and notable venues. Since the start of #gettwistedsundays, Nwigwe has filmed at many beloved architectural sites in Houston, including the Glassell School of Art, the Rienzi, and, recently, the Menil Drawing Institute.
On a rainy day in June, Nwigwe and his regular crew — which includes his wife, Fat, producer LaNell Grant, director Nate Edwards, cinematographer Justin Stewart, and dancers from the Black Angels Collective — spent the afternoon at the Johnston Marklee-designed Drawing Institute filming a video for the song “Purple Rain Thing,” featuring Houston rap icon Lil’ Keke. Due to COVID restrictions, the shoot was mostly limited to the building’s exterior and landscape, designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Although unanticipated, the gray skies and drizzling rain tied perfectly into the lyrics of the song, accentuating the stark-white modern architecture, lush greenery, and vibrant purple outfits styled by Nwigwe himself.
“We were pleased to see how [Nwigwe’s] video captured the simple geometry and porosity of our design,” Sharon Johnston, FAIA, and Mark Lee told Texas Architect. “His use of the spaces mirrors our ambitions for cultural buildings — we believe architecture plays a powerful role, beyond the traditional display of artwork, to enliven and inspire artists, visitors, and the community. Each creative engagement brings a new dimension to the life of the building, further expanding our collective understanding of the space and the institution.”