TobyMac on Bringing Soul Back to Christian Music

The Christian hip-hop artist talks his new album, This Is Not A Test, and how he's helping Christian music go mainstream. 


- Posted on May 15, 2015

TobyMac singing on Beyond A.D.

Chances are, if you haven’t heard of TobyMac, you’ve at least heard his music. Not in church or at a Christian conference -- though his songs certainly get played there -- but on the television, the radio, and on the big screen. His tunes have graced everything, from Volvo commercials and Super Bowl pre-games to popular TV series and big-budget blockbusters.

Toby’s sound has been described as the gateway drug to Christian music. I’m still not sure I like that term as it carries with it some negative connotations, and there’s nothing negative about what the man -- who got his start more than 28 years ago as part of the famous DC Talk trio -- is doing. With more than 11 million albums sold, two GRAMMY’s, a couple of Billboard Music Awards and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, the artist credited with blazing the trail in the Christian hip-hop game is introducing people to God in a way that hasn’t been done before.

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“I’ve always made my music for all people, not just people that believe the way I do,” the singer told Guideposts.org. “I’m grateful for that and I’m happy that my music can go out and be a light out there.”

Currently, the singer is readying to share his latest album This Is Not A Test with fans when it releases later this year and he’s experimenting with a new sound and even more personal lyrics than his previous records.

“It’s weird, I almost call it soul music instead of hip hop music because that’s kind of where I am right now,” the artist said. “I wanted to dig into soul music a little bit, and at the same time, I did a couple songs that I feel have heart. The way I approach records is I sort of chase down thoughts and think, ‘How can I best express this thought, this sort of truth nugget that God has given me?’ Something I’ve lived out in my own life, a time I’ve been there for a friend when they needed me and the time I failed to be there for them, and sort of take all that and make songs out of those experiences. I write songs from a believer’s perspective that’s trying to pursue holiness in this crazy world, the good the bad and the ugly of that.”

That honesty mixed with melodies that appeal to the masses is just one reason why the line between Christian music and mainstream is slowly starting to blur, and Toby thinks the reason people are flocking to this new sound is very simple: it’s just good music.

"The world is realizing that we’re making passionate music, intense music, music that makes you want to dance or music that makes you weep or music that makes you cry out with joy. I think that, that real emotion, that real soul-stirring stuff is really attractive to the world at large, from a believer to a non-believer.”

The same can be said of the revolution taking place on screen. Toby’s currently waiting to tape an episode of Beyond A.D. – he’s been kind enough to squeeze us in, in between sound checks and rehearsals – and according to him, the way Christian music is quietly starting to trickle into the secular world mirrors what faith-based films and TV shows are starting to do in Hollywood.

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“We watched the first series, The Bible, and now A.D. is, in some ways, more interesting because you’ve seen the story sort of portrayed so many times [but] the post-Jesus story, we haven’t seen that very often so it’s bringing some things to life that we haven’t seen brought to life in film before. You’re actually learning things, which I think is great.”

For his part, Toby had to do some studying before gracing A.D.’s after show.

“It’s such a historical look at things that you have to be pretty on point with your knowledge of God’s word. I was a little nervous. I was like ‘Ok, let me do a little studying.’ But hey, it got me to look a few things up so I enjoyed that process.”

On top of recording new music and gracing talkshows, Toby’s also busy mentoring the next generation of artists. His project, Camp Electric, is a place where teenage students from around the country can come together to learn from and play with some of the top musicians in the industry. It’s a cause close to the singer’s heart.

“That camp moves me in a lot of ways,” Toby admitted. “When you combine music with youth culture, that’s what I’m about. Kids that are into using their gifts to glorify God, I want to be mentoring and encouraging those students all the time. That’s part of who I am.” 

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