Rapper Tobe Nwigwe on starring in Netflix's Mo and his friendship with Mo Amer

US rapper and actor says he is blown away by positive reception

Tobe Nwigwe says his role as Nick in Netflix comedy Mo closely resembles his personality. Courtesy: Netflix
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What you see is what you get when meeting Tobe Nwigwe.

He is thoughtful, gregarious and respectful – qualities not only making him a scintillating live performer at the recently-concluded Sole DXB festival, but a perfect choice to play a winning support role in the hit Netflix comedy Mo.

The US rapper says playing the part of Nick, the childhood friend of the title character, wasn’t too much of a creative stretch because it mirrors the real bond shared with the star Mo Amer.

“All I had to do was be myself,” he tells The National. “Mo and I are like family in real life. The relationship we have on the show is very close because this is really how we are.

“Because I have that personal connection with him, I knew the show was going to be funny and cool. But I never knew the world would fall in love like that.”

Released last year, the semi-autobiographical series tells the story of Mo Najjar, a Palestinian refugee in Houston embarking on the path to US citizenship.

Aiding part of that journey is Nick, who is often called on to provide some sage advice.

“That is also my approach to my real friendship with Mo, in that I'm that friend who tries to hold him accountable, push him to be a better and be better person,” Nwigwe says.

“I think with the show, what we are really trying to show people is a semblance of what true friendship could look like.”

The effort goes both ways, it seems, as Amer was instrumental in kick starting Nwigwe’s career.

With both hailing from Alief, a working-class suburb of Houston, Amer used his growing clout to share Nwigwe’s music with comedian Dave Chappelle, who in turn recommended it to the enigmatic RnB singer Erykah Badu.

After both publicly declared their fandom, Nwigwe recorded the 2018 track I’m Dope in dedication to the pair.

That act of gratitude eventually reached a global audience when former US first lady Michelle Obama added it to her 2020 official workout music playlist.

“The really cool thing about this was that Mo knew of me before I knew of him.

“He was the one who passed on my music to Dave Chappelle and then it was Dave who then connected me to Mo,” he says.

“To have the song I’m Dope eventually being appreciated by Michelle Obama was everything to me because the song is not really about trying to brag.

“What I was saying is that I'm dope because of what people I look up to and appreciate say about me.”

Grace and gratitude are uncommon subject matters in modern hip-hop, but they course through Nwigwe's catalogue, which includes collaborations with hitmaker Pharrell Williams and revered rappers Nas and Black Thought.

It began in 2016 with more than a dozen songs and colour-themed videos posted weekly on social media, which gained a following.

The tracks are defined by Nwigwe’s deep and nimble flow and subjects from the US prison system to existential meditations on family.

Binding them together is Nwigwe’s Christian faith that deftly permeates throughout his work.

Last year’s album moMINTs is viewed as a major release with underground Houston hero finally working with genre stars like Williams and CeeLo Green.

While welcoming the bigger stages and public profile, Nwigwe says he stays away from the hedonism and misbehaviour that comes with the territory.

“The message of the songs and my lifestyle have to be synonymous for me. I know everybody doesn't do it like that, but for me that's the only way I know to do it.

“And I feel like that's why what we're doing is so unique because it's tailored specifically to my experiences and my own personal relationships with my wife, my children, my friends, my family and people I grew up with.”

Updated: December 12, 2023, 3:04 AM