tobyMac is more than just your run-of-the-mill triple threat. On one hand he ranks among the most successful artists in Christian music history in terms of radio success, sales power and critical acclaim. On the other tobyMac is universally recognized as a creative force, an artistic maverick and a prophetic voice for racial reconciliation, social justice and a fierce devotion to faith and family. On the third hand, tobyMac’s the most humble and approachable merchant of cool on the scene today. Yeah; that’s three hands. Some things defy common logic.
Obviously, when it comes time for a newtobyMac record to drop there are a lot of people paying attention. His rampant eclecticism and consistent excellence have set the bar very high, and on his third solo outing, Portable Sounds, tobyMac does not disappoint. An increased commitment to melody and soulful singing abounds, while his now trademarked rock/funk/hip-hop side hits deeper grooves and catchier hooks than ever before.
tobyMac's solo career took off from the first notes, with two Gold albums, six Number One singles, two Grammy nominations and widespread critical acclaim. But to hear tobyMac talk about the passion and drive he has for this, his third solo outing, it sounds like all that was just the wind-up, and Portable Sounds is the pitch. The artist, producer, songwriter, industry leader and father of five was not the slightest bit interested in going through any motions. “Passion for my art drives me so long as I feel the Most High breathing new songs through me. I committed on this project that when writing and recording I will never rely on what has worked in the past and never fear what hasn’t. The canvas is blank and the colors are endless.”
It’s all part of the plan. “I’m always trying to fill in the void,” he insists, “especially stylistically. There are certain things I enjoy about doing a record that’s diverse; I just enjoy it. I want something that hits hard, and something that grooves. Sometimes it’s both of those together and sometimes they are separate. Sometimes I want something that speaks to the whole human race or I may drop something that speaks to the church.”
tobyMac’s just as intentional about the sounds used to convey those sentiments. With musical reference points set on the magical time in urban music when disco was dying and funk was being born, tobyMac, along with his main producer Chris Stevens brought in authentic horn sections and strings to add genuine color to the already funky tracks. “Bands like Parliament, Sly and the Family Stone, The Gap Band, Earth Wind and Fire, The Commodores and Cameo were all in the back of our minds in this production,” he reveals.
“I almost called this record A Soundtrack to Life,” he reveals. “This is a record of thoughts moving through me, and music that best supports and enhances those ideas.” His blue eyes gleam when he’s in the zone, and with absolutely humility he knows that he is. “This is what it is, and I love it. It’s who I am.” It’s a recording that is heart and soul, street smart and gritty, yet vulnerable and honest. It’s the rallying cry and the confession, the strength and the weakness; “Portable Sounds” is real life.
tobyMac released a Grammy award winning live album in 2008, Alive and Transported.
With his fourth studio album Tonight, TobyMac is poised to take things higher yet again. The songs on Tonight certainly matter—everything from the prayerful first single “City On Our Knees” to the testimonial “Changed Forever,” from the worshipful “Captured” to the confessional “Start Somewhere,” and even down to the put-on-your-party-hat grooves of “Funky Jesus Music” and “ShowStopper.” One theme that runs loud and clear throughout is the idea that we all need God, and we need him now—this morning, this afternoon, tonight.
Sonically, Tonight is typical TobyMac in many ways—an eclectic mix of rap, rock, pop and funk, all laden with catchy hooks and melodies just itching for airplay and audience singalongs. There’s even a healthy dose of reggae on the album closer “Break Open the Sky,” where Toby flexes his Jamaican family ties while Israel Houghton provides guest vocals. Other visiting vocalists include Skillet’s John Cooper on “Tonight” and Relient K’s Matthew Thiessen on “Wonderin’.”
Of course most of the vocals belong to TobyMac himself. Co-producer Chris Stephens says TobyMac “has stretched himself as a vocalist, he writes about things he is passionate about and his vocals reflect that urgency”. Toby agrees: “I do more singing on this record than ever before. I’m learning to use my vocal instrument in different ways, and I’m getting more comfortable with it everyday”.
It all adds up to a project that reflects one man’s desire to push himself beyond “very good,” to dig deep in the quest for that other country where greatness resides. TobyMac certainly reached for it. Hard.
Listen to tobyMac Here
|Re: Mix Momentum||2003||Forefront Records|
|Welcome to Diverse City||2004||Forefront Records|
|Renovating->Diverse City||2005||Forefront Records|
|Portable Sounds||2007||Forefront Records|
|Alive and Transported (CD/DVD)||2008||Forefront Records|
|Christmas In Diverse City||2011||Forefront Records|
|Eye On It||2012||Forefront Records|