Idol Chatter

tobymapicforic.jpgSince he released his third solo album, “Portable Sounds,” a year ago, Christian music veteran tobyMac has been, well, reborn. The hip-hop heavy collection entered the Billboard 200 at #10— tobyMac’s highest showing ever—and this year, with his Diverse City band, he’s been dubbed best Christian act by anyone who makes such distinctions, including the Gospel Music Association, which honored him as Artist of the Year at this month’s Dove Awards ceremonies.
While it’s been 12 years since he’s won that prize (as a member of the groundbreaking rap group dc Talk), Toby has never really been out of the game.

Besides his own music, his Gotee Records produces Christian acts like Reliant K and Family Force 5, But tobyMac has signaled his return to Christian rock’s center stage by releasing a DVD of his live show from the “Portable Sounds” concert tour. Idol Chatter chatted with the star about his new DVD, his old band, and his career:
Congratulations on your second Artist of the Year award.
Oh, thanks, man.
You took the same award home with dc Talk a decade ago. Am I wrong in thinking you’re having a comeback?
I don’t know if it’s a comeback for me or for the people listening to me. I think people can sense passion. The last two songs DC Talk did get out, “Chance” and “Sugar Coat It,” the last two songs on our greatest hits record, they just didn’t do anything. We had our eyes on other [goals] when we made those songs.
Did you create the new band hoping to get that passion back?
I didn’t know it was a permanent situation. I thought I’d just do this for a while, because I miss hip-hop a little bit. I think all three of us [in dc Talk] would have said, “Yeah, we’ll just do this for a few years and then get back.” But now my heart is in these new relationships, with Diverse City, and all of the sudden, even thinking about going back to do some dc songs, it’s like, wait, this is my family. I didn’t foresee that at all.
Diverse City, obviously, is a play on the word diversity—how did that become a theme for you?
I just finally found a term that described who I aspire to be, who I am. dc Talk was one of the first biracial groups in the Christian market. I married a Jamaican wife and put together this band from every socio-economic level and race, from a Haitian background singer, to kids born on the farm in Iowa. And then I have three birth children and two adopted children that are biracial. So my world is diverse, because I wanted it to be, because God placed that in me. If we’re ever going to be the shining city on the hill, we have to be a “diverse city.” I think we’re more beautiful diverse than we are separated and divided.
People have been after you to release the concert film for a while. Why now?
The band and I have been together literally for seven years now, since the day I stepped out and began pursing this vision. We understand each other. We can look at each other and we know how to change things on stage. It’s really become a musical unit that works together well. So our live show is what we’ve become known for. People say it makes them want to dance, want to throw their hands in the air. I’ve just been waiting to get enough material to where it was justified. So after I got my third record out, I thought now’s the time.
Looking back to the last time you won the award, in ’96, what’s the biggest change in Christian music?
Well, we lost the plastic model. The guy in a perfect stance in front of the microphone singing, “Great is the Lord.” Which is an amazing song, but I think Christian music needed to have another dimension, about how this faith really hits the streets, what it looks like when we walk around, when we’re struggling with sin, with anxiety and anger and pride and ego. These younger bands are honest about their own struggle. We’re saying, “Man, this is hard. It’s hard to live a life of faith.”

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