‘This is not a test’


TobyMac’s experimented sound at the Nutter Center

By Alan Sculley

Photo: TobyMac performs at the Nutter Center March 10; photo: True Artist Management
TobyMac says one thought he had as he went in to make his latest studio album, This Is Not A Test, was to create “soul” music.

That doesn’t mean the popular Christian artist was going to step aside from his familiar hip-hop and pop sound and go Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett on his fans. Instead, TobyMac had a more multi-faceted meaning for soul music in mind.

“It might have something to do with music. It might have something to do with the lyric,” TobyMac explains in an interview. “But there’s a mentality behind it that was sort of like, ‘Let’s make soul music,’ which to me calls for depth in the lyrics and in the music.

“I wanted everything to be a little deeper and be a little richer,” he says

One such song that’s deeper lyrically is “Love Broke Through.”

“You know, ‘Love Broke Through’ is the first time I have ever written a song about my personal first encounter with God, my initial step into faith,” he says. “I don’t know why I had never really written that song much [before].”

Another song that found TobyMac (Toby McKeehan, as he is known on official documents) exploring a richer level of emotion is “Love Feels Like,” which features guest vocals by Michael Tait and Kevin Max Smith, his former musical partners in the ground-breaking Christian hip-hop group DC Talk.

“It’s a very personal song to me…the song is about, really, a deeper sort of love, a new depth of love that I had never gone to,” TobyMac says. “Like my dad passed away about eight months ago, and the last few years of his life… my family ended up caring for him because he couldn’t care for himself. I think it’s interesting how much it really wears you out, but at the same time, you’re filled. The song says ‘empty has never felt so full.’  It wears you out. You pour it out. But somehow or another you’re able to give, and it’s fulfilling.”

Doing a song with Tait and Max that held such profound personal meaning was special, TobyMac says, although he notes it was actually the music for the song that made him think of the collaboration.

The subject of a DC Talk full-on reunion tour—possibly an album—has been floated from time to time since the trio parted ways in 2000. But, the three band members have remained close friends all along, and now a reunion of sorts is happening, as TobyMac, Tait, and Max reunite for several performances on the Jesus Freak Cruise in July.

TobyMac said he remains proud of what DC Talk accomplished, which, in a nutshell, was to become, as the “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music” puts it, the most popular overtly Christian act of all time. The group broke through commercially with its third album, 1992’s Free At Last, and followed that with the double platinum Jesus Freak and then another hit album, Supernatural, in 1998 before going on a hiatus in 2000.

As a solo act, TobyMac, 52, has enjoyed major success. His first four solo albums all produced hit singles on the Christian charts—including a pair of chart toppers (“Get Back Up” and “City On Our Knees”) from 2010’s Tonight.

He then reached a new high point with his 2012 album, Eye On It. It became only the third album by a Christian music act to top the all-genre Billboard Magazine Top 200 album chart when it debuted at No. 1. It also featured the number one Christian hit, “Me Without You.”

This Is Not A Test topped the Christian album chart, debuted at No. 4 Top 200 album chart, and went on to win a Grammy in 2016 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. It’s a musically varied album that touches on glossy dance pop (“Like A Match”), tuneful hip-hop (“Backseat Driver”), and EDM-infused pop (“Til The Day I Die”).

TobyMac’s tour this winter follows the recent release of a 16-track live CD/DVD, Hits Deep Live, which was filmed and recorded on last year’s tour promoting This Is Not A Test.

He says some of the past hits featured on Hits Deep Live will remain in his current shows, but he actually plans to play every song from This Is Not A Test in his upcoming performance. Other new elements will come from seeing the support acts on the tour—including Mandisa, Mac Powell, and Matt Maher—join one another on stage for performances at various points.

“I always loved it when I was younger, going to shows coming up, when bands would do songs together, because I think it makes it special,” TobyMac says. “Like, where else can you see that? Unless these two bands are touring together, that’s not going to happen. So when they are and it does happen, I think it makes it really special for the people. So I think I’m having every act up on stage with me.”

TobyMac performs Friday, March 10 at the Nutter Center, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway in Fairborn. Show starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets range from $15-19.75 and are available for purchase with Ticketmaster. For more information, please visit TobyMac.com or NutterCenter.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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