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Welcome to Diverse City

  • reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Oct
Welcome to Diverse City
Sounds like … an eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, reggae, pop, and dance that at different times brings to mind dc Talk, Parliament, Superchic[k], Soul Junk, and OutkastAt a glance … while Diverse City isn't dramatically different from tobyMac's solo debut, it's still a fun and hook-filled journeyTrack ListingHey NowCatchafire (Whoopsi Daisy)SlamPoetically CorrectAtmosphereGoneTruDog, The ReturnDiverse CityStories (Down to the Bottom)Getaway CarBurn for YouFresher Than a Night at the WIll-M-IPhenomenonGotta GoAtmosphere Remix

Hard to believe that tobyMac has been in Christian music for 15 years, many of those with dc Talk. That's about as long as Steven Curtis Chapman, and like the celebrated pop/rock contemporary, tobyMac shows little sign of slowing down. In 2001, he revealed himself to be the primary creative force behind dc Talk through his solo debut Momentum, which ended up selling more than 450,000 copies (approaching Gold certification).

Those who have come to love tobyMac's high-octane sound and concert performances will also surely enjoy his sophomore effort Welcome to Diverse City, which attempts to further drive home a lifelong mission close to his heart: tearing down the cultural walls of division in America. One of the ways he's striving for this is through his eclectic style, which he likens to "musical gumbo." tobyMac's solo work is generally more hip-hop intensive than the dc Talk albums, though some hip-hop purists take issue with the music because it does incorporate rock, dance, pop, and reggae elements. Which is precisely the point, since tobyMac's trying to create music that appeals to people across boundaries of race and color.

He may not be the first or only hip-hop act to do this, but few do it better. The key is being able to believably pull off the eclecticism without sounding like a poseur or an amateur, and tobyMac plays between the genres effortlessly. The title track is one of the most fun, a rowdy disco-funk throwback to the classic sound of the Gap Band, Parliament, Bootsy Collins, and Sly & The Family Stone—it's a blast only five seconds in. A similar retro funk hip-hop blend is heard in "Getaway Car," about fleeing temptation and doubt to pursue God's ways. "Catchafire (Whoopsi Daisy)" is probably the most eclectic track on the album, offering an aggressive combination of hip-hop, rock, reggae, and world music for spiritual inspiration.

Also lending to the album's diversity is a slew of guest appearances. In addition to T-Bone, MOC, and dancehall reggae sensation Papa San, Superchic[k] contributes to "Stories (Down to the Bottom)." The bouncy mix of pop and hip-hop is exactly what you'd expect from a collaboration of these two artists, sharing a mix of testimonials about how we all face pain and have tales to tell. And longtime fans will want to take special note of "Atmosphere," a pop-laced love letter from God to the crestfallen and downhearted. A remix at the album's end reunites tobyMac with his dc Talk buddies, making the song resemble past hits like "Consume Me" and "Godsend."

The album is varied like Momentum, and maybe too much so. Though it took three years to make, there are times when Diverse City seems like it should be called Momentum 2: Welcome to Diverse City. Which isn't necessarily a complaint. Like a good sequel, familiar bits are revved up to be bigger and better. If you enjoyed "Extreme Days" and "Yours" the first time around, check out "Slam," tobyMac's hard-rocking response to The Passion of The Christ. Stylistically, it's the opposite of the film's brooding style, likening Christ to an extreme sports athlete pushing his marathon of love and suffering to the limit. Playing out like the flip side to "Irene," "Gone" is a west coast pop hip-hop ditty that scolds a guy for mistreating his lady. And yes, there's even a return appearance by his now six-year-old son TruDog; man, this kid is cute enough for a father/son EP someday.

It's impossible to touch on everything about Diverse City and its 16 tracks, with only a few of them throwaway interludes. There's the cover of Soul Junk's 2000 trip-hop classic "Ill-M-I" that's more arty than goofy, the space rock 'n' reggae of "Phenomenon" that belies the influence of Paul Meany (Mute Math, Earthsuit), and "Gotta Go," the humorous look at the hectic day-in-a-life of tobyMac. Since the album is fairly similar to his last, and since many of the songs feature simplistic shout-along choruses, some will debate whether tobyMac has grown artistically with this album. Considering how fun and hook-filled the album is—perfect for live show interaction—I'm not sure it matters. Diverse City is a journey worth taking again and again.