Big enough to sing about

TobyMac on seeking God in the midst of a wildly successful career

Last September, TobyMac's latest album, Eye On It, debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 chart. It was the first time in 15 years—and only the third time ever—that a Christian album has reached the top of the chart.

It's just one more achievement in what has been a remarkable career for the former dc Talk member, also known as Toby McKeehan, whose blend of pop, hip hop, rock and reggae has made him one of the most successful musicians in today's Christian music scene.

Still, McKeehan is wary of the term "Christian." Rather than using the term to describe a style, he believes it should describe a lyrical perspective.

"Art is about expressing what is in your heart, what you love and what you struggle with," the 48-year-old told Time magazine in September. "The things I'm going through can't be that different from anyone else. But faith plays a big role in my life, big enough to sing about it. It is not on every song, but every song is from that perspective."

This past February, he told PBS.org that he wants to balance out some of the negative music that is out there.

"I've always been about diversity," he said. "I've always been about, if we're gonna have explicitly vulgar music [out there], we need to have explicitly clean music. We have to have explicitly passionate music when it comes to faith and when it comes to morals and when it comes to character."

McKeehan added that during his 25 years in the music industry, his perspective on how to get the gospel message across has changed.

"I think when I started I was a lot more, 'I'm going to shove this message down people's throats.' I don't know if it was that extreme, but it was out there. Whereas now I think people really learn from my mistakes, people really are drawn to my weaknesses."

"I think gone are the days of the Christian musician holding the mic perfectly, acting like he's got it all together," he added. "We know we don't have it all together. We're flawed people depending on grace and our faith in God."

McKeehan will start the month of May with a tour that includes stops in eight Canadian cities. Full details areavailable on his website.

While it's easy for a performer to go through the motions, McKeehan said he's committed to always doing his best and being present in the moment.

"I'm committed to sitting on the edge of my seat and wonder what this song can do—sitting on the edge of my seat and wonder what tonight's show can be like," he told PBS.org. "I think if you can retain that heart, that soft heart and moldable heart, that childlike [view]—what can this audience react to, what can God do in the middle of this, what can God choose to do through music in the middle of all this. If I'm [in that mindset], I feel like I stay right where I need to be, and that's sort of my goal."

He also hopes there's a spiritual element to his music and live show.

"That's what I ask God for; that's what I hope for," he said.

"When I sit down to write, I just say, 'God, hollow me of my junk, hollow me of all the things that would get in Your way—pride, insecurity, doubt—hollow me of that and make me hollow enough to where You can breathe through me and change some lives.'"

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About the author


Special to ChristianWeek

Aaron Epp is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer, Musical Routes columnist, and former Senior Correspondent for ChristianWeek.