Toby McKeehan’s hip-hop/rap/pop sound can be heard just about everywhere these days.
Better known as TobyMac, the former DC Talk member has grown from Christian radio to frequent play at department stores and gyms, and his name is atop lots of honors lists.
Those honors came as recently as Sunday when TobyMac was named favorite artist in the Contemporary/Inspirational category at the 40th annual American Music Awards.
And Friday, TobyMac will perform at the Baton Rouge River Center for the second stop of his Hits Deep Tour.
“Hit songs are hits in our marketplace for a reason beyond just to sell the sonics. They are hits because they are intersecting with people’s lives and touch them in a deeper way. So that’s how we came up with the ‘Hits Deep’ concept. It’s hits, but they are hitting you in a deep way,” TobyMac said.
TobyMac said the Hits Deep Tour concept “is kind of old school ... Way back in the day — the Motortown Revue or even back in LaBamba, Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis. These guys would tour with one band, and all the people with hits on the radio would come out and do their one or two or three hits. So we were like, ‘What if we did that?’”
This tour features Brandon Heath (see Facets of Faith on this page), Mandisa, Chris August, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace and Group1Crew using TobyMac’s band Diverse City.
TobyMac said, “With my music (being) very eclectic and a mixed bag, they (Diverse City) are really good at a lot of different styles. So we thought we’ll take my band and get them to play all the hits with all these artists, voices that people know and love.”
He said, “It’s one band. The show is going to kind of flow. Each artist is going to do a couple of songs. There’s not going to be a big setup or reset for the next artist. Each artist is just going to ease out as the music continues. It’s just going to be hit after hit after hit.
“We will do an intermission before my set. Other than that, it is going to flow.”
TobyMac’s music has been flowing deep since the summer. The first single, “Me Without You,” was released in June, and by September, it was No. 1 on Billboard’s Christian Songs list.
The album “Eye On It” debuted in August and was at the top of iTunes within hours. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 album list, a first for a Christian album since 1997.
“When I heard it entered Billboard at No. 1, I was like ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” TobyMac said.
“I was not anticipating that (the success of ‘Eye On It’) at all. I was really surprised and honored by it going out so strong. Really, it’s the people reacting to it, they want that music that is positive.”
TobyMac described “Eye On It” as “a bunch of songs about life.
“I usually try to write from the things I’ve gone through and try to be real transparent and talk about my struggles, as well as the things I am striving for.”
He said he tries to include the good and bad of life and of loving people and God.
“There’s songs about everything. Usually I find that when I write about my own situation, then they kind of connect better to people’s lives cause they are real.” Musically, “Eye On It” is just about everything also. “It’s all over the place,” TobyMac said. “Stylistically, I’ve always been a big old pot of musical gumbo. ... It’s always sort of hip-hop based, but it might extend to a straight pop dance song. It might be a song that leans sort of rootsy hip-hop.”
And just like the styles and the tour, guests are numerous.
The album has “Lecrae, one of my favorite rappers out there; Jamie Grace, who is an artist that I signed to a label and write songs with her; then also Britt Nicole is on the album,” TobyMac said.
One of his sons, Truett, performs under the handle TruDog, in “Mac Daddy,” a piece encouraging his father to help him get a computer faster than he can save the money.
“I am just thankful I’ve grown as a writer, and I think I grow with every record and with every life experience,” TobyMac said. “I really hope and am always hoping that my records would be some kind of medicine to people’s lives.
“I know that at the end of the day, it’s God that does that, but that is always my hope and my prayer as I set out to do a record.”
He quickly added, “I also don’t want to make it sound too serious, ’cause I definitely want to get the party started with my music. I don’t want to shy away from that. Some bands are made for live experiences. And that’s kind of what we are and what we want it to be. I want people worn out after these shows — sweating from all the dancing, screaming and worshipping.”
Because “Eye On It” released so recently, TobyMac isn’t talking about plans for a new album. “I’m just excited for people to get that (‘Eye On It’), and I’m excited to play those songs live in Louisiana,” he said.
“I love Louisiana. A lot of national musicians are from Baton Rouge or Shreveport, and they make their way up here. I always love the heart of those people. They are always such good people that understand how to make funky music,” TobyMac said.
Among those is Brent Milligan, who was featured in March in People & Faith. Milligan played with DC talk for several years. TobyMac said, “Brent and I are good friends.”