By Eliza Marie Somers
TobyMac sheds the image of someone who is approaching 50 by continuing to speak life into his music. One of today’s most influential contemporary Christian musicians, TMac brings his high-energy sold-out show to Red Rocks Amphitheater this Sunday, May 4, with support from Lecrae and Skillet.
TobyMac turned Christian music on its ear as a founding member of the groundbreaking group dcTalk with Michael Tait and Kevin Max in the late 1980s when they stretched the genre with hip-hop beats encompassed in a hard rock wrapper. But instead of resting on past accomplishments, TMac remains focused on the task ahead, and that’s creating music that speaks to the listener’s heart.
“I feel like I’m just pushing the music,” said TobyMac, a six-time Grammy Award winner. “I’m climbing the mountain with my team. I don’t look back too often. I’m enjoying the climb, and focusing our energy on reaching the top. That’s what moves me. I’ve been with the same group of (musicians) longer than when I was with Michael and Kevin.
“But when I do look back it was very fast paced. I see three young guys with a lot of vision, who liked to debate and argue and dream and explore creativity. It was a nice mix. We all came from different backgrounds musically. It was the perfect storm. We stretched the boundaries of what was considered the frame of music with God and faith. It was an interesting sort of blend.”
That blend is a mixture of hip-hop, hard rock with a pop melody. It may be hard to describe, but it’s a combination that has unlocked doors for many genres to the Christian music scene.
“It’s still what I do,” TobyMac said. “I’m hip-hop with a hard guitar base combined with melodic pop. By no means am I doing true hip-hop like Lecrae or hard rock like Skillet.”
Despite the open doors, being labeled a Christian musician still causes people to pull up the welcome mat.
“There is still a stigma associated with Christian rock.” TMac said “It would be nice to release myself from that label – not release myself from my faith. My Christianity is first and foremost, but the moniker causes the music to fall on deaf ears. I would like for people to choose and decide what to hear not based on a label but to figure out if the music resonates with their heart and soul.”
Instead of retreating to the comfort of his base camp with his wife and five children, TobyMac remains active as he ascends the cliff face of the music mountain.
“I love music,” he said. “I stay involved. I’m interested in music especially if you can move to it. I compare it to being in a river. It’s happening musically and you are moving with it and changing with what is happening in the river. I’m not that kid of the ’90s rock, I’m still moving. I love what the current music is evolving into. I haven’t pulled my canoe out of the water just yet.”
Switchfoot, Mat Kearney, Lecrae and Kayne West are some of the artists currently in TobyMac’s playlist. Yes, Kayne.
“I’m a fan of hip-hop,” TobyMac said. “I don’t agree with (Kayne’s) message or his politics at times, but he is pushing the boundaries. He’s inspiring. But really I’m mostly making music. Right now I’m listening to demos that I’m writing with my 15-year-old son (Truett). We are down in the lab mixing beats and melodies. It’s fun to watch him grow as a musician.”
This short “shed tour” that TMac is bringing to Reds Rock is sure to light up the sky over Morrison with some of the best live acts in the Christian music world on the bill.
“(Skillet and Lecrae) are my favorite live performers,” TobyMac said. “I’m excited about this tour. Lecrae is turning hip-hop upside down. I applaud him, and I’m proud of him like an older brother. And Skillet is the best live performance that I have ever seen. This tour is about the live performance.”