Tony Cummings reports on the last three years of CCM star TOBYMAC's busy life
The last time Cross Rhythms reported on CCM best seller Toby Mac it was 2007 and the singer/rapper/producer had released the 'Portable Sounds' album. Prior to that in 2004 we reported on Toby's 'Welcome To Diverse City'.
In a recent interview with Christianity Today Toby was asked whether an album about every three years was his typical creative cycle. He responded, "It is probably my typical creative cycle, although there are songs on each album that I have been sitting on for a couple of years. I usually end up with 30 to 40 songs to choose from, and I always believe the cream rises to the top. Another reason for the delay between records is I am touring the entire time from release to release and rarely slow down to make the record. Unfortunately in the Christian industry it takes a while for everyone to be aware of it. We have to work harder and longer on the road to make people aware of our releases. In other words, we got to 'let it stew'."
The title track on 'Tonight' contains the line, "Locked up and held captive in the clutches of my doubt." Toby explained his experience leading to writing such a line. "In my pursuit of holiness sometimes I'm sprinting down the road to the mark, while other days I'm lying on the side of the road, gasping, doubting whether or not I can continue the race. Sometimes it's insecurity, other days it's pride, but either way I'm tripped up and fearful. Whether from a friend or from God's Word, I am reminded of his grace, which gives me the courage to get back up. Maybe people can just dial it in and maintain; I have never had that strength. The ebb and flow of my spiritual walk in a crazy world has always been a frustrating routine."
Toby's son Truett, aka TruDog, has appeared on every one of Toby's studio albums, including this new one. Toby spoke a bit about the father-son collaboration. "The TruDog tracks have always been a father-son moment, really just that simple: A dad and his kid messing around in a studio, having a good time and some laughs. It started when he was two. He stood on the chair that I sit in between takes; he got on the microphone and started talking. We placed his musings over a beat. It ended with a true confession, 'I can't get off the chair.' That was my first album, 'Momentum'. After that it sort of became a 'thing' that he and I both look forward to. I look at it as a commercial break in the middle of my record. It's tongue-in-cheek but who knows where it's going. And he was definitely more passionate about it this time around-he had opinions!"
The song "Start Somewhere" was inspired by a marital argument. Explained Toby, "Anyone who is married knows the feeling of offending and lying in an ice cold bed yet sweating. Sometimes our resolve to confess and seek forgiveness is more difficult to navigate than we can imagine. This song sums up a typical 'post-stick my foot in my mouth' moment." As the lyric goes, "Toby jacked up/How do I make this right, when do I make this right/I can't take this anymore, something's got to give/I'm sorry baby. . ."
So why include personal struggles in his music? "If I write from what I experience, joy and pain will always co-exist; it's what I feel. And if I am experiencing these things, I know that we all are. We are not that different from each other; we are all moving through this life, experiencing internal issues that result in relational issues. If one isn't struggling, one isn't living, I would say. I have found that when I write honestly, it resonates with listeners. Maybe it encourages them to know that we are all going through them."
Toby may be a CCM recording star and a father of five but he's still a hugely busy musician. He said, "I have been writing a lot. As a matter of fact, after I handed in my 'Tonight' album, I did a two-week writers' camp and wrote with a different artist each day. That was a first for me; I have never done it with such a focused time, but it awakened a different side of creativity for me, not focusing on my own art but focusing on expressing for other artists. I enjoyed it, but now it's time to be putting a show together based on the 'Tonight' album. I love getting together with the band and pulling off the album live. Otherwise, I've been in training for a half marathon to raise money for a multicultural school, playing hoops in a rec league, and attending my kids' basketball games, piano and drum recitals. Helping Truett with the latest school project (the others are too young for projects). Helping with homework and long division. Man I have forgotten a lot. . ."
Toby has developed a habit of keeping the product pot boiling in between albums with remix albums or, in 2008, his first live project. Toby spoke about the 'Alive And Transported' album. "Between my first two releases I put remix records out. People kept asking for a live DVD after seeing my show, but I guess I was just in remix mode. I figured after three studio releases I had enough material to do a lot of songs people were familiar with. My band (Diverse City) and I have been together for over seven years. I wanted to showcase their talent also, because they're all-stars and one of the funkiest bands in the world." Toby described 'Alive And Transported' as "an energetic, intense live show. Pure passion. Shot in HD, behind-the-scenes footage. Basically an hour and 15 minutes of controlled chaos."
TobyMac continues to tour, record and write (his latest book, inspired by 'Tonight's first single "City On Our Knees", is a challenge to believers to "step across the line" to change their world). It follows his previous best sellers Jesus Freaks and Under God. Recently Toby was asked what God has been teaching him lately. His response was illuminating. "About the power of the people that surround us, and the effect they have on our lives. It's amazing when you can walk with people that cause you to walk more deeply and live more passionately. I am blessed. At the same time it breaks my heart to watch people get dragged down when they roll with jaded, cynical and bitter people. Simply put, who you walk with is who you become."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.