Many artists, no matter their genre, struggle to remain relevant for one decade, let alone several. TobyMac (born Kevin Michael McKeehan), who first took over the Christian music world as one-third of the group DC Talk in the late '80s, has continued to pump out hit songs and win big awards.
His secret? He doesn't do it alone. "I've never been an island artist," he says over the phone. "I'm an artist that collaborates, and I think there's richness in collaboration. Different people's perspectives coming together and creating something together is always richer in my opinion."
He and his current band, DiverseCity, will be in Dallas on Feb. 24 for the Hits Deep tour, to which he's bringing along several friends to play "just hit songs." He'll do a longer set of his own, but he wants special guests Matt Maher, Mandisa, Mac Powell, Capital Kings, Ryan Stevenson, and Hollyn to show off with their breakout material.
When he's on stage, fans can expect the same high energy and thoughtful lyrics that have kept his fanbase so strong for so long. "I always hope people leave sweaty from dancing all night long, hoarse from singing and screaming, but refreshed in their spirit," he says. "I want it to be completely entertaining ... but at the same time I want people to leave with things to think about."
But TobyMac doesn't want the "Christian artist" label to scare people away, because he's not out to shove his faith down anyone's throat. "Do I want to tell people [about my faith]?" he asked. "Yes. If it's not for you? So be it."
The message in TobyMac's songs can be boiled down to a motto he repeated several times during our interview: Loving people well.
Love is a theme that has permeated his songs since the early DC Talk days, when the group tackled issues like racism in songs such as "Colored People" and "What Have We Become?" There were specific instances in those days that drove the band to address those topics. "At times it was people making Michael Tait feel lesser because he's African American. Then there are other times when I've been in hip-hop circles and I've felt lesser because I'm Caucasian. In those moments it became very dear to my heart, this message."
Yet here we are, in 2017, and race is still as relevant a topic as it was then. "I'm a little shocked that I still need to scream it from the mountaintops today, but I do," TobyMac says. "We just did a new video called 'Love Broke Thru' that deals specifically with people coming together. I think that we're more beautiful together than we are apart. We should be there for each other rather than pushing each other away."
Something else TobyMac doesn't push away: His past. He doesn't shy away from acknowledging how passionate people still are about DC Talk, and he takes that in stride. "I look at artists' careers like climbing a mountain," he says. "I'm climbing a mountain with my band DiverseCity, and they've been with me for 16 years. I don't compare that to the mountain I climbed with Michael [Tait] and Kevin [Max] as DC Talk. That was a different mountain, and I never expected what I'm doing now to surpass that in any way. I just try not to compare them."
In fact, DC Talk is reuniting this year for the "Jesus Freak Cruise." The announcement was controversial to fans who were hoping the band would tour again, but TobyMac hopes that parts of the experience can be captured on video for anyone who can't make it on board the boat.
"And who knows what tomorrow holds?" he says. "We're sticking our toe in the water, you know? Hopefully not literally, since it's a cruise," he jokes.
Feb. 24 and 25 at the Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. Starting at $15. verizontheatre.com
Check out photos from TobyMac's 2015 Dallas concert in the gallery below.