TobyMac on ‘The Elements’ of Life, Aaron Cole’s Future, & Who’s on His Radar
The is the final installment of our conversation with TobyMac. He’s spoken at length about the beginnings of Christian hip-hop and how DC Talk formed. Now, he shares his thoughts about the future of CHH, who’s on his radar, and his new record The Elements.
Unlike prior eras of Christian hip-hop, Toby believes that there will be plenty of mainstays for the years to come.
“I see lots of people doing amazing things,” said Toby. “[Christian rap] It’s moving forward and has more advocates than it’s had. Before it was just 116 moving things forward but now there are more and I love being part of it.”
One of the artists he believes is on the forefront is Gotee Records signee, Aaron Cole. The 54-year-old artist sees the “vision” and the voice behind Cole’s art.
“Lately the most important thing to me for an artist is, yeah, being able to write, being able to deliver vocals passionately, but the main thing I look for is the vision. The Bible says, ‘Where there’s no vision, people perish’. Aaron Cole has the vision,” TobyMac said. “I don’t have to tell him to go in the studio. I don’t have to challenge him on his songs over where he is going and wondering if he’s putting the work in. I’m trying to hear the songs before he puts them out. That’s how fast he’s going. He’s just crushing it right now and I’m honored to work with him.”
Toby admitted it was “almost embarrassing” how long it took him to sign Cole. He said having Gotee’s history with Grits, Knowdaverbs, and John Reuben should have been an indication to pull the trigger sooner. He was just waiting for someone new to come along.
“When I met Aaron at 15-years-old, I said, ‘Man, I can’t sign you. I want you to graduate from high school’. Some of that was just me waiting for him to have vision. He would say he had it then, but right now, it’s topping out.”
Aaron came back to Toby at 18 and said, “Let’s go,” and the label head said, “I’m in.”
“Lecrae became the new godfather, the new pioneer,” said Toby. “His wake alone and the people he’s worked with and signed is amazing. It’s given it a place in the world.”
He continued, “Obviously Andy, he’s unbelievable. The way his mind works, when I listen to his records, his mind is so creative and so quick. It’s impressive. I love what KB is doing. NF is doing really cool things. There’s just so much good going on right now…[Referring to nobigdyl.] I’ve only heard a little but I was really impressed him.”
“I think you can say the talent pool is as good as it’s ever been.”
Lastly, TobyMac spoke about his 7th non-Christmas/remix album, The Elements. He has stated in interviews that it’s his “most personal” work yet.
“I think some people are open books from day one. I’ve always tried to be, but there are still some things in the shadows. Having that confidence to open up a little more, admit to my weaknesses, admit to things that I fear and scare me, at the same time the things I feel great about and can overcome. That along with just looking deeper into me,” he revealed. “When you’ve traveled this road awhile as I have, I think you sort of owe people depth and wisdom. The lighter stuff is for other artists to do at this point. I’ve journeyed for awhile and with the journey comes scars to look back and say, ‘I owe it to the people in this room’.”
“The Elements” can really be anything. The storms of life, the seasons of change, feelings of cold and warmth are all things that play into this double entendre.
What are some of the things that make up the Elements in Toby’s life?
“I’m not a guy who has an extreme natural gifting vocally. I think I have to outwork everybody. I spend a lot of time in the trenches. It’s not a glory run, I’m in the trenches working, shaping vocal tones, crafting lyrics. It’s not going to step out and be improvisationally striking. More like crafting and working,” he explained. “In that, one might call it insecurity and one might call it being aware of your need. I call it the latter. I’m very aware of my need which makes me look to God. It causes me to lean not on my own understanding and my own talent, but lean into God and recognize his role in everything I craft – in every piece of art I have the opportunity to make. That’s the biggest element.”
Toby said he is also aware of his need for family and community. It’s his elemental makeup that keeps him striving to reach people.
“I’m a big advocate for family. Even in art, the guys I collaborate with, write songs with, take the stage with every night, just having the same band as many years as I have. It should tell you that I value the people around me greatly,” TobyMac shared. “Most things that I do are collaborative effort. I think there are people that can do it all. They can play it, they can sing it, they can rap it…I’m not one of those, therefore I value team and collaboration and people’s input.”
In interviews with Todd Collins and Aaron Cole, they shared they believe TobyMac has been around as long as he has is because he treats people well. He knows how to value relationships in the industry and takes care of people. M.C. Gegee explained how Toby set up a show with her and DC Talk after her brother D-Boy died. As mentioned in the previous article, DC Talk dedicated their 1991 Dove Award to D-Boy. It just seems to be a pattern of genuineness that certainly goes beyond these few examples that have kept Toby at the time of people’s lists. Obviously, it’s the passion, drive, and musical talent, but you have to be a special person to survive relatively unblemished in the music industry for just over 30 years.