To hear the name “TobyMac” is as familiar to me as breathing. Jesus Freak was, is, and always will be standard that music is judged against. Say what you will. “It’s dated!” “It’s Christain rock!” “It’s….Jesus Freak! This is 2015!” No matter. That record shaped the foundation that my love for music firmly stands on. TobyMac was only part of the trio alongside Michael Tait and Kevin Max, but while looking at reviewing an artist’s entire solo discography, he simply seemed like the obvious choice to start with. He hasn’t put out any EPs along the way (like Kevin Max), or started a full new band that couldn’t simply be considered solo (like Michael Tait). Heck, those small items aside; he didn’t become the front man for freakin’ Audio Adrenaline or Newsboys like his former bandmates did!
Let’s get down to it. Toby’s discography ranked six to one.
TobyMac – Momentum
November 1st, 2001
Have mercy, this record is from two-thousand-one. This record was me at age fifteen; I remember being so excited for New Release Tuesday. It was TobyMac, from the newly departed dc Talk, releasing his first solo record. I know you can’t get inside my head at that age, but this was essentially the best thing that could ever happen in the world. Rachael didn’t come along for another hundred-and-forty-six months. Man, that was a long time to wait.
Toby’s debut is easily the most heavy thing in his catalog. Just listen to the grungy riff that starts off Get The Party Started. The live, open drums come in, and the turntable starts scratching. It’s kinda distorted and dirty, and my brain didn’t know how to process it all when I first heard it. It sounded completely unique to my fifteen year old ears, and it was! For example, take the next track: What’s Going Down. It’s urban hip-hop and rock smashed up together, and it samples For What It’s Worth, the nineteen-sixty-seven game changer from Buffalo Springfield. I just can’t believe I didn’t blow my childhood’s bedroom speakers while listening to this. Plus, its lyrics were insightful and dynamic, taking on race issues (not simply on this track, but throughout the full record) and continuing Toby’s dialogue on diversity, which started in the early dc Talk days, and continues through the present. This “heavier” sound was so easy for me to gravitate towards. The killer call-to-arms of Extreme Days continued this tradition, and was probably the most influential track in his catalog for me personally growing up in my young teen years. The bridge of Extreme Days built up into a battle cry that took hold of me. Toby delivers it with such aggression, that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it: Move out the way / give up the mic / “X” to me is extremely Christ / Livin’ up in me like it or not / With an “X” on my chest cause “X” marks the spot. Say what you will, but to a youth group kid like myself, that burned in me. The title track Momentum brought more of it. Yours is easily the heaviest thing here, and was certainly my favorite track when this record was released. That heavy-grunge guitar with Toby rapping over it, building up with the don’t get me started / don’t even get me started for the chorus….if you know this record, you already can hear it in your head; I’m sure of it. SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS SO YOU CAN TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT! Man, I loved this stuff.
Skin tone is out the window when it comes to stereotypical styles on the rest of the record. dc Talk rewrote those rules early on, and they are here with an even more fierce quality. Even in the laid-back hip-hop soul of Love Is In The House, Toby plainly states Daddy always said that I wished I was black. Does that offend you? If it does, you’re only looking for attention. Irene may be Toby’s most popular song, and with good reason. That Spanish guitar is unmistakable and completely unique onto the industry in the year it was released. The lyrics were profound, speaking encouragement to a girl with seemingly no way out of her very dim situation. That rewound/backwards vocal effect on the second take of the bridge (Father, I’m stronger than when I first believed) continues to be one of my favorite portions of this record. J Train features the unmistakable Kirk Franklin, and is bursting so full of Southern Baptist, roof raising, get-your-praise-on-and-get-with-Jesus that it barely needs any other explanation without you just hearing it. Hades to glory in the blink of an eye / Hear me now / Hear me now / As I testify! – what else do you need? Kirk preaches in his signature styles and makes his demands….DO YOU WANNA RIDE THE TRAIN NOW? It sounds like a question, but it’s anything but.
Smooth is the only way to speak on the rhymes of Wonderin’ Why. Somebody’s Watching improves this style even more, with some easily accessible help as it samples Rockwell’s 1984 hit single of the same name. In The Air comes near the end of the record, and feels like the beginning thoughts of all that was to come on Welcome To Diverse City. Interludes are here in galore, and are all short enough to make them enjoyable, from a late-night radio spot called Quiet Storm, to a quick verse from his three-year-old son Truett (aka Tru-Dog…I know, I know). It’s cute, if I can say that. He returns with later verses on each subsequent record, but the cuteness factor fades the older that he gets – so much so that I haven’t even mentioned them on any of the other reviews thus far.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love nostalgia, so it would have been easy to just simply say that Momentum is the best TobyMac record. However, when push comes to shove, there are still two more records (Portable Sounds and This Is Not A Test) that I believe edge it out.
7.5 / 10
If you had to listen to two tracks: Yours / Irene