Portable Sounding-Board: tobyMac's Reconciling Passions
- Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Technically, he might not qualify as a renaissance man since he doesn’t seem to be doing much to advance the frontiers of mechanical engineering and mathematical theory, but all the same, tobyMac’s a pretty talented, pretty busy, multifaceted guy.
From business to production to artistry to advocacy to philanthropy, he’s had a hand in much of the movings and shakings going on in recent years, not just in terms of what we hear on the radio, but in terms of the larger, evangelical church-shaping conversation as well.
And while he’s one of the most genial, unassuming and genuinely friendly multi-Platinum artist/moguls you’re likely to ever meet, at Toby’s core is a bit of a bulldog who’s unwilling to compromise the things he believes are of fundamental importance. So whether it’s a question of passion vs. commerce, family vs. career or racial reconciliation vs. the status quo, Toby is all about making conscious choices and leaning into the art, the life, the culture, the journey, come what may. He’ll push; he’ll inspire; and, as his music suggests, he’d also like to celebrate a little along the way if you don’t mind, because, after all, isn’t history moving toward one really big party?
The recent release of Toby’s third—and fastest-selling—solo project, Portable Sounds (ForeFront), finds him once again set loose in a playground of current hip-hop and alt-pop influences. But it also finds him passionately articulating for the umpteenth time, in case some of us don’t quite get it yet, some of those same core themes that have long been his mission, including the emphatic “love thy neighbor.”
Portable Sounds is, in fact, bookended by cuts that evidence that passion. The opener, “One World” is a straightforward, welcoming invitation to lay down the prejudices that divide us and, in light of the coming great reconciliation we claim to believe God is drawing all of history toward, to begin to live our lives as reconcilers now. The closing cut, “Lose My Soul” simply stands as good evidence of the way that reconciling vision works its way into every aspect of Toby’s life and art. The track, which features Kirk Franklin and American Idol luminary Mandisa, is Toby’s wrenchingly honest prayer to stay true to the main narrative in his life. The subtext of the track, though, is the two-way-street of Toby and Kirk’s friendship and mutual commitment to cooperatively build bridges between “black music and white music.” Which, of course, isn’t really so much about the music as it is about finding ways to bridge some of the long-standing rifts between white and African-American believers.
Because racial reconciliation and the appreciation of diversity have remained front and center for Toby for more than 15 years, we decided to dig a little deeper into the subject.
“My passion for reconciliation was rooted in how I grew up,” he says, though it took him a while to realize not everyone shared his privileged upbringing. Of course, when Toby speaks of a “privileged upbringing” he’s not referring to a posh crib and an Ivy League education. He’s talking about a richness of diversity in relationship and the things you take for granted at Luther Jackson Intermediate School in the D.C. suburbs.
“It was interesting to be in a bi-racial group,” he says, referring to his years in dcTalk, “and to travel the nation opening for early Christian pioneering rock bands and rarely see a black face in the audience for years. . . . I started to understand that not all people had the experiences I grew up with. Not everyone got to see the beauty in their fifth grade class of having three Asian people, two Latinos, three black people and eight white people. Not everyone had that.”
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