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"When I first started as a solo artist I had a passion to ignite the party. I think that is partly still there. Coming out of dc Talk I just had this desire to ignite a party. I felt like in Christian music there was a lot of worship and a lot of heartfelt lyric but I felt there were very few things that said, 'Let's just express our joy. Let's drop a joy bomb on this joint and get the party popping." Most music fans would agree that the speaker on the other end of the telephone line, tobyMac has indeed partied his way to the top of the charts.

As "One World" comes roaring through your speakers and earbuds you become instantly aware that the CD Portable Sounds may be the
biggest 'joy bomb' dropped on the music scene in 2007. tobyMac brings back Joanna Valencia who first appeared with him on the CD
Momentum (2001) and the duet serve up some cool rhymes. The opening track serves as a great introduction of this collection of rap, funk and urban beats.

In understated fashion tobyMac talked about creating a party atmosphere with his music, "I wanted to do that without sounding trite. I wanted to have purpose in doing that. That is what I set out to do. I guess that has been satisfied."

Portable Sounds features several segues consisting of conversations between partygoers. There is the sound of a phone ringing followed by a knock at the door with a request to turn down the music. The sound does not stay turned down for long as one of my favorite female singers Nirva Dorsaint-Ready accompanies tobyMac for the good vibes of "No Ordinary Life." This is such an amazing album I swear I saw my cat finding the groove.

"Made to Love" the first single released from these beats has shattered the sales and ratings charts debuting at number two on the Billboard Hot Singles Chart. As the first week of March dawned, the song still held a spot in the top five and topped the SoundScan Christian Digital Track chart. Other members of the digital community including iTunes also turned in impressive numbers for the album. No doubt, those sales will be further spurred by an aggressive twenty-one city tour during the months of March and April.

Serving as one third of dc Talk, arguably the most successful group to conquer the Christian music scene, tobyMac's career as a solo artist
could have easily sputtered through no fault of his own. To the rue of many talented artists, their careers were so closely identified with a former band or group that music fans just could not make the adjustment. One need look no further than the Beatles to see that the only one of the Fab Four that really enjoyed a substantial career post Beatlemania was Paul McCartney despite the fact that both John Lennon and George Harrison were gifted songwriters. The same argument can also be put forward for Crosby Stills Nash & Young.

TobyMac has however proved to be resilient and as he unleashes his third solo disc Portable Sounds, he demonstrates that 'the voice'
is alive and well. He has refused become trapped or develop a narcissistic attitude as a result of the critical acclaim and recognition that has come his way both as part of dc Talk and now as a solo artist. He simply said, "It is always an honor to know that people connect with your music."

His humility and passion are intertwined in the words to the closing track "Lose My Soul," "I don't want to gain the whole world and lose my soul." The song features Kirk Franklin and Mandisa.

Portable Sounds is tobyMac's most personal album to date and reflects the heart of a man is not afraid to take risks. Those risks begin with his willingness to be raw and vulnerable through his music.

"I feel like I am wading into deeper waters with some things that are really on my heart. I am airing some struggles within me. My shortcomings are out there. Many songs on this record started as the things about which I have been praying. I wasn't that vulnerable before," he said.

"I like to write songs about life and the things that I am experiencing. I am very conversational as a lyricist. I write about real life situations," he said.

The song "Gone" is another deeply personal song. "I feel the song "Gone" (Welcome To Diverse City--2004) is a simple relationship song to which anyone can relate. When (an individual) is hurt badly in a relationship, someone has to resolve that somehow. They have to figure out where to go with and what to make of it. In most places in my life, it ends up at God. It should start there but in many cases, it ends up there. I take it to Him and try to figure it out. I like to write from that kind of perspective and keep it very real," he said.

"Without a doubt we have writers who write more universally and we have writers who write more conversationally or poetically but in any
case we can use a lot more of that stuff that is kind of gritty and human like," said tobyMac. He confessed to, "Having moments when I go
there (poetic) but generally speaking I am writing about situations in my life or in the lives of my friends. I am spelling out simple truths
and asking does God really play a role in how I treat the person at Starbucks?"

In describing the songs on his current album the rapper said, "There are songs that have reggae beat ("No Signal") and there are songs that
feel like they have a Motown Jackson Five rhythm. Some songs have maybe a hint of a European leaning or groove. The record is full of
raps but also full of melodies."

Once again, that sense of living on the edge or total abandonment to his craft surfaces, "I don't think there will be any surprises. I am a song driven person. I follow the song wherever it takes me. The song starts with an overall theme and a hook. I let the music take me and I am not scared to go down any path therefore my records are always very eclectic or diverse."

One of the places his music has taken him is to two Grammy Award nominations for the CDs Momentum and Welcome to Diverse City.
In response to my question concerning the importance of a Christian artist being recognized by the Grammy Awards he said, "I don't think
it is a secret that the walls are barely in place when it comes to the future of Christian music having its own bubble, Christian music city,
ghetto or whatever they want to call it. I think when you have believers out there who are having impact like Mercy Me (with a) song that comes in and out of the city. Then you have (artists such as) The Fray who live outside and Matt Kearney who started in then quickly moved out and nobody even knew he was in. I am just throwing names out there and these are all artists that I love. There is a new day coming. I don't know how long it (Christian music) will be recognized as a separate division. In a way, I cheer for anyone out there who is a believer who is just making hot music that is looked (upon) the same as other artists. That is the day that we have always wanted."

Focusing for a moment on another genre he said, "When we are talking about pop music I think it is true that the walls are coming down. It
is looking more as though it is going to be an open marketplace. You are described more in terms of who you are as a person rather than
what (others) have labeled your music."

The desire to keep culturally and youth relevant music alive on the music landscape led to the formation of Gotee Records with co-founder
Joey Elwood in 1994. "At the time I sensed a lack of passion as it related to youth culture and the labels. I had a desire to fill that void. I think that part of that had to do with urban music but really, it had to do with all kinds of music. The first four acts that we signed were Out of Eden, Johnnie Q. Public, Christafari and Grits. That's a reggae band, a hard rock band, an R&B pop group and a hip-hop group. To me that was where youth was and that is what they wanted. They were being served up a smaltzy version (of that kind of music). There was nothing on the urban front," said tobyMac.

"When Joey and I first started Gotee, met with Out Of Eden and started to work with them in the studio our desire was simply to make a record
that felt like modern urban music," he said. Today the label has added to their collection of artists and boasts names such as, Sarah Kelly,
Relient K, LA Symphony, DJ Maj, Jennifer Knapp and John Reuben.

If you are going to appreciate tobyMac completely then it is also critical that you know he recognizes the need that an identifiable Christian music scene fulfills. "I know there is a reason for this market (existing). I know people who want a safe place and they want to know all about an artist. They want direct edification not indirect. It is almost as though they are believers within the walls talking to other believers and sharing with them from the perspective of the church. I understand the reason for it," he said.

TobyMac asks penetrating questions about the type of music that flies under the Christian banner, "Is it music that is going to inspire you to live out your life? Is it music that is going to put you into a place where you are truly worshipping and having that experience?"

Where do tobyMac and his music fit into the mix? "I have never struggled to put myself out there. When I wrote the lyric to "What If I Stumble," (Jesus Freak - dc Talk) I put it out there, that at any given moment I could botch this thing for all of us. I could embarrass the entire church. I have always felt free to fail. I know some of my best friends feel that in this marketplace you are in a box. I have never felt that way. I can honestly say that I write from my heart. I write from my life. Do my songs typically resolve some dedication, some desire to be renewed, and a desire to step out in faith or to hope? Yeah they do but that's how my life rolls," he said.

The elements of melody and rap unite in the intriguing song "Face of the Earth" provide the foundation for a powerful song that poses those
same tough questions that the artist both poses and at times grapples with in his own life. The rhymes are jarring and question why there are those in our midst who drop or feel compelled to drop out of sight when going through difficult times. The song also questions why it is that we allow these people to disappear. If there were, a music award for reminding us of our responsibility to others this song would get my vote. If you cannot afford to buy your teenager the CD, you can probably come up with enough cash to download this tune. If you are a pastor and you are reading this you need to listen to this song. Regardless of what kind of music you like or dislike "Face of the Earth" is a song every Christian should listen to at least once.

There was a time when tobyMac felt disenfranchised by urban music and rap listeners, "I tired of being the white guy who was never really
fully accepted into hip hop. I was never completely embraced and felt that at some point I would get my legs cut out from under me because I
wasn't born and raised in the inner city. I felt that the white artists who had gone before me would get a hit or two and then be kicked to the curb because of their illegitimacy." Today tobyMac stands as a music powerhouse both as an artist and as the co-founder of one of the most progressive labels in the industry Gotee Records.

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.


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