TobyMac was born in 1964. He’s the same age as the lead singer of Third Eye Blind. And Biz Markie. And Nicolas Cage. And yet, somehow, he’s still relevant.
Kidding aside, his staying power is a profound testament to the creativity and energy that have become hallmarks of McKeehan’s musical career. His new releases are greeted with anticipation and a mix of questions. Will he continue to do his own thing, or start to sound like he’s trying to hard or pandering to whatever sounds current? With recent dips into EDM and radio-friendly CCM sounds, what will his own style sound like in the first place? Finally, one of the most pointed questions is asked right there on his latest release, This is Not a Test. “Til the Day I Die” (f/NF) is preceded by a fake press conference that jokes again about incessant DC Talk reunion questions, but ends on a suddenly serious query: “You’ve been running at the pace for a while. How much more you got in you, my man?”
The answer is abundantly clear: plenty. Test is a delight. McKeehan continues to innovate, driving himself to create funky Jesus music that sounds relevant because it’s not trying to be relevant, it just is. And here’s the best news: TobyMac has embraced the horn section.
The gang vocals and brass on opener “Like a Match” are ear candy. The handclaps and bass line on “Feel It” (f/Mr. Talkbox), which recently saw its video debut on ESPN Music, layer over more horns to invoke the best of the 70’s. “Move (Keep Walkin’)” is the standout, with enough funk to transform what would otherwise be a fairly conventional motivational lyric – and that gospel breakdown a minute and a half in is just stellar.
The expected contribution of McKeehan’s son Truett serves a greater purpose than the novelty track it has been in the past, using his driving gaffe to convey a spiritual truth on “Backseat Driver”. Other guests include Hollyn, Capital Kings, and (on the Deluxe edition) Ryan Stevenson. Oh, and a couple of other guys named Max and Tait. “Love Feels Like” is the DC Talk reunion I’ve always wanted. I’m just thrilled the song exists. After fronting other established bands with mixed results, Kevin and Michael mix it up with Toby and include just the right vocals and raps and shouts to immediately reestablish hopes for a full-on revitalization of DC Talk.
There are a few weaker moments on the album. “Lights Shine Bright” has a nice groove, but never becomes a complete song. “Undeniable” wades too far into conventional radio waters and winds up diluted. Nonetheless, This is Not a Test is solid, and it plants TobyMac right back into the ageless status he’s known before. I’ll greet future releases with less doubt and more anticipation, and like so many I’ll quietly keep my ear to the ground for news of a certain three-piece band.