The Fast and Furious World of tobyMac
- Wednesday, July 09, 2003
TobyMac is leaning over the mixing console, trying to incorporate more bass in a mix he’s working on. We’re in the very same studio where dc talk recorded "Jesus Freak," the little white-framed house in downtown Franklin, Tenn., featured in the CD’s photo shoot. Toby’s engineer, the mild-mannered Marcello, touches a knob, everything gets louder and, sure enough, you can feel the bass.
There aren’t any verses yet, but one can already sense the irresistible hook. It keeps repeating the word “phenomenon,” indicating the life-changing love and grace of God. What we’re hearing are just rough mixes of new tracks for tobyMac’s second solo disc, which will hit shelves this fall, just two years after his successful debut, "Momentum" (ForeFront).
It’s not exaggerating to point out that tobyMac could be considered a phenomenon, based on his long list of accomplishments. Given his energy, creative talents and the impressive level of success on a variety of levels, he’s a veritable force of nature within the Christian music industry.
Toby balances two successful careers: first with dc talk and now as a solo artist. And he’s also the founder, CEO and go-to guy for Gotee Records — home to Out of Eden, The Katinas, Relient K, Jennifer Knapp and Grits. He also appears to maintain a healthy family life, too, with his wife, Amanda, 4-year-old son, Truett, and newly adopted twins.
Today, Toby sits in the studio’s living room for an interview, talking, laughing and telling stories about his life and work. Hearing about all that’s on Toby’s agenda, it’s nearly impossible not imagining him running from one job to the next, balancing the different professional and personal challenges.
Toby McKeehan’s entrepreneurial spirit developed early in his life. Reared in Arlington, Va., a D.C. suburb, Toby’s father managed a real estate company and owned a bar. Toby remembers, “He was a hustler, even when he ran the company; he was always out selling.”
When it came to spiritual matters, Toby says, “Mom would drag us to church. My dad wasn’t a believer. Dad worked hard and played harder until six months after I became a Christian, then he became one as well. We went from having this dad who lived a bit on the wild side to having a father who was a Baptist deacon.”
Toby’s own spiritual journey began after meeting a counselor at church camp. “For the first time [I met] someone who cared enough not to shove religion down my throat,” he says seriously. “Instead this person spoke truth in love. Suddenly, I heard about Jesus, and I wanted to talk to Him.”
And while he may have grown up in the church and followed Christ in his youth, it wasn’t until much later that he knew a subculture of Christian music even existed.
“My church preached against contemporary Christian music so much that most people just listened to mainstream,” Toby explains. “For us, it was hymns or mainstream music, so I went mainstream.
“I remember, probably in ‘79 or ‘80, hearing ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugarhill Gang on the radio. My cousin Joey [Elwood], who runs Gotee, and I would go down on the D.C. Metro to Douglas Records and get the 12-inch vinyl. I didn’t only buy hip-hop, I liked Aerosmith’s "Toys in the Attic," but at the same time I bought Run DMC’s "Raisin’ Hell.”
Toby became so intrigued by rap that he began pursuing his own version of hip-hop. “When I was 14 or 15, I set up two turntables in an extra bedroom and started mixing beats. I had a little mixer, and I did it the old-school way. I’d cut a cassette and then drop a rhyme on it.”
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