I originally wrote this for the Christian Post. http://www.christianpost.com/news/tobymac-on-christian-hip-hop-his-new-tour-and-being-a-jesus-freak-99479/
Christian hip-hop, rock and pop superstar artist TobyMac helped shape the foundation of Christian music and how that music can infiltrate the mainstream with his unabashed proclamations of Christ through his music, books, and philanthropy work.
The artist, who's real name is Toby McKeehan, began his career in 1987 with DC Talk along with Newsboys current vocalist, Michael Tait, and Audio Adrenaline current vocalist Kevin Max. Together, these three were among the most successful gospel acts of all time, making albums that mixed genres such as hip-hop, soul, and gospel. They later on experimented with grunge, alternative, and contemporary music until their hiatus in 2000.
Since then TobyMac has made quite a name for himself as a solo artist, winning virtually every award possible and selling lots of records along the way, all while praising Jesus at every stop.
You have won several major awards this year. Which of these has been the most meaningful to you?
It's always hard to surpass a Grammy Award. It's kind of the shot heard round the world when it comes to music. It's not just a United States thing, it's beyond. Anywhere you go whether it be Africa or Jamaica, if you win a Grammy Award, people recognize that immediately. A Grammy Award winning artist just gets people's attention, and there's a reason for that, its a different standard.
I will say I've been up for I don't know how many between DC Talk and my solo career, I've been up for American Music Awards and I've never received one ever, probably swing and a miss 10x but I got one this year and that was awesome. That was an amazing time, and it means so much because it was voted in by the people that listen to music, the fans.
The K-LOVE awards, because it was the inaugural year, that did mean a lot to me because that's the people who listen to Christian music, and to choose me as Artist of the Year, I was truly honored and humbled.
Since your days in dc Talk each one of your albums has had a different sound. How do you continue to reinvent yourself, and how have you evolved as an artist since going solo?
I think I'm moving...I'm a pop artist leaning towards hip-hop definitely. I think for me it's like one of those things where there's a river moving, and it is called music. I feel like I am part of that river, I'm not separated from it. I like to move with music. It's not necessarily reinventing myself as much as it's just moving along the river of music and where it's going where the drum sounds change and the tempos change, just choosing to be a part of that rather than stop and get off at a certain river bank and stay there. I want to keep moving with it.
How do you feel music is a great communicator of the gospel?
I think music is what you choose to make it. You can bring any message you want in music, and everyone is bringing some message in music. Even if it's a message just to have fun, or have a party. Like Macklemore's current song, "Same Love," he's obviously telling us to stop judging homosexual people, and that's what he's saying in the song. Music has always been there, there's always been messages in music. There's something being said whether it's love people well, or whether it's be angry, and I think it's natural to me to choose to tell people about Jesus with my music because that's the most important thing to me. Something about his love, or something about the attributes I've learned in God's word is going to come out in my music. It's when I'm at my best, it's the centerpiece of my life, it's the center of my life, so when I write it just kind of flows out even when I'm writing a song about somebody who got hurt or failed in a way or stumbled and fell, I'd write a song like "Get Back Up," to remind them that forgiveness is there for them. God's love is there for them.
There's been a lot of school shootings, tornados, hurricanes, etc, what would you say to someone who has experienced tragedy?
I would say, God's love is bigger than anything you are going through. I think that we go through things that turn us to him. Sometimes it's beautiful and sometimes it's really tough, but if we turn to Him, I think we'll find comfort in His arms.
How does it feel to be a pioneer of Christian music, and where would you like to see Christian music move to?
Hip-Hop is dear to my heart, I started out a rapper and have become sort of a rapper/singer, always leaning to hip-hop beats, always leaning to hip-hop culture. It's part of me. I wouldn't call me a flat out hip-hop artist because some people might be up in arms, but hip-hop is part of what I do, part of where I've been since I came into this industry. I will never deny, I will always embrace it. I will always wear it like a badge of pride when it comes to my musical passion.
I think there are so many artists out there who are expressing their faith through hip-hop and their beliefs through hip-hop, and I find more and more mainstream artists talk about their love for God through hip-hop. But then there's a movement that's happening with Lecrae and those guys that are making people just stop and notice. We've always had some great hip-hop groups along the way from Grits to any other groups in the 90s and 2000s. To me they are doing it and they're not compromising and people are stopping and noticing and appreciating them for what they do. It reminds me a little bit of when dc Talk, when I wrote Jesus Freak and dc Talk wrote Jesus Freak, I think people recognized it for how bold the statement was. There was no watering it down, there was no underlying message. It was a bold message and a blatant message, and that's the way I see Lecrae and those guys. They are not two stepping this thing or half stepping, they are not treading lightly on this Jesus thing, and I love it.
Three of the biggest groups in the 90s, dc Talk, Newsboys, and Audio Adrenaline. Michael is in Newsboys, Kevin is in Audio A, where's dc Talk? (three band tour)
I think Talk is in a little bit of each of each of these groups. Dc Talk is in three forms I guess.
You never know my man, you never know. I don't think any of us are opposed to it. Just waiting for the write timing and hopefully everything works out and something like that can work out. Nobodies against it, everybody's open to it.
Tell us about the ERACE Foundation and Camp Electric.
The ERACE Foundation is something we started a long time ago with dc Talk and we've always been about trying to create dialogue between races where there's situations and problems. Sometimes we'll go in different campuses and just promote dialogue. We'll bring an author with us who's written a book about racial reconciliation and we'll try to make it not like a professor student situation but just promote dialogue for people who have questions. For people who have this burning question for people of a different race. It sort of dispels some of the stuff people fear about the other race. Or maybe it's just on a lighter note, we've just always tried to have been intentional about bringing different people together and appreciating different races, and appreciating different cultures and sort of cherishing them instead of wonder or be fearful of or hate on. So just try to love the way God loves or try to flex the beauty of his artistic handy work and the colors of our skin.
Camp Electric is something that was started by a few guys and after the first year I just saw the beauty of it and trained up a whole new future of people who love God and want to make music. I quickly became a partner and became an advocate of it and began to play it. I play the shows every summer at the camp. We have three different locations this summer which I'll play all three. I teach a songwriting class there, and I get to share with campers on how important it is to align yourself with what you do and surround yourself with people who will encourage you in your face walk and ask God to breathe songs to you. I really started delving into that a few years ago, and I think it's love speaking into this next generation of God loving musicians.
If you could leave any sort of legacy on this earth, what would it be?
I think it would be, I man that loved God with all my heart and that acknowledged God in the songs he wrote, and loved his family and lived what he sang about.
Who are your top 5 emcees dead or alive?
I think Rakim. I like some old school junk. KRS-One. I know it's on the lighterside, Whoodini. I know they weren't about conscious rhymes but they taught me about how to mix singing with rap. They would always have the singing, 'the freaks come out at night, how many of them are friends.' You know they really taught me something more than they were some kind of conscious emcees. Q-Tip. I mean I know it's real controversial, but it's hard not to say Jay-Z. I mean I would say I put Jay-Z and Kanye right there. I know some people would kill me for saying that. Jay-Z for his changing the game and Kanye for his experimentation. I have to say a byline to all that. I do not agree with everything they say. I do not like the vulgarity. I always get the clean version, and I do not suggest that anybody go out and buy it because there's a lot that they talk about that I don't think is good for younger ears, lets just keep it at, I don't agree with everything they say and I don't agree with everything they say for my life. I respect their gifts. Their abilities to rhyme.
Ability plus heart, I'd put Lecrae on that list. It's easier for you to listen to him because I feel like our hearts are in the same place because we desire the same things generally.
Anything else you'd like to add or talk about?
I'm doing a tour called the Hits Detour with a lot of different artists on it. Mandisa, Brandon Heath, Jaime Grace, Chris August, Capital Kings. That will be going out in November/December in the West Coast and will end in February.