Best Album of 2022| Posted August 24, 2022 Life After Death is 57-year-old TobyMac’s eighth studio album, and his first since 2018’s The Elements and the 2019 death of his 21-year-old son Truett from an accidental drug overdose. The 15-song album is the best I have heard this year.
Eight of the fifteen songs were released prior to the official album release date. The songs, which date from 2020’s “21 Years” and “I’m Sorry (a lament)”, include themes of loss, lament, hope, racial equality, the goodness of God, relationships, living for Christ and rest. Toby has said that there is life after death, and that the album chronicles the journey he has been on over the last two years. And somehow, through it all, he has experienced the goodness of God.
There are several collaborations on the album, including with Blessing Offor, Tauren Wells, Sheryl Crow, Zach Williams, and former DC Talk bandmates Michael Tait, and Kevin Max. Musically, the songs feature excellent, catchy melodies and beats, and the production is top notch. In other words, exactly what you would expect from a TobyMac album.
Below are a few comments about each song: Help Is On The Way (Maybe Midnight) – This song was written and produced by Micah Kuiper and Toby, and features Jon Reddick, Gabe Real, Michael Cochran, and Kuiper on backing vocals. The upbeat song was released in February 2021 and was a hit on Christian radio. This was the first song of hope that Toby wrote after the death of Truett. A great start to the album and it was the opening song on his recent tour.
Key lyric: It may be midnight or mid-day He's never early, never late
He gonna stand by what He claimed
I lived enough life to say… Help is on the way The Goodness – This joyful song was written by Kyle Williams, Gabe Real, Bryan Fowler and Toby. It was produced by Fowler, Williams and Toby, and features vocals from Blessing Offor, and backing vocals from Fowler, Williams, Real and Ryan Stevenson. Through the good and the bad and the ugly, he can still see the sunshine above him.
Key lyric: Everywhere that I go
You keep showin' up Lord, You make me wanna shout it, oh
You're the goodness in my life Deeper – This song was written and produced by Micah Kuiper and Toby, and features Tauren Wells on vocals. The song features bass, percussion, and backing vocals. He wants to go deeper. He is tired of surface level conversations and friendships.
Key lyric: Deeper, I wanna go deeper I'm gettin' tired of the surface Show Up Choose Love – This song about racial unity, was written by Jon Reddick, Tommy Sims, Janice Gaines, Micah Kuiper, Benji Cowart, Tony Wood and Toby. The song was produced by Kuiper, Reddick and Toby, and features Worship Pastor Jon Reddick on vocals. The song features keys, bass, drums, and a choir. Sometimes the next right thing is all you can do.
Key lyric: We've come a long way Been through some dark days We seen some things change
And we shall overcome Promised Land (Collab OG) – This song was written by Adam Agee and Toby and produced by Micah Kuiper and Toby. This is an alternate version of the “Promised Land” radio single and features Sheryl Crow on vocals. The song features guitar, bass, drums, and backing vocals. Toby and Crow’s voices blend well. The song claims that in the midst of his grief, God is still his Promised Land.
Key lyric: Through all these seasons I'm still believin'
You're my promised land
In all my grievin'
I'm still believin'
You're my promised land Everything About You – This song was written by Marlee, Jon Reddick and Toby, and produced by Bryan Fowler, Kyle Williams, and Toby. The song features Toby’s daughter Marlee on vocals in this heartfelt song about missing Truett. The song features a live orchestra (strings and horns), drums, bass, keys, and organ.
Key lyric: I miss everything about you I just miss bein' around you
Outta sight, outta mind
Don't add up, not this time
It's the cold truth
I miss everything Life On It – This hard-driving song was written by Bryan Fowler, Saint X, Reske, Ging, and Toby. The song is produced by Fowler, Saint X, Micah Kuiper, and Toby and features Sarah Reeves on vocals. The song features, keys, guitar, drums, horns, and a rap by Toby. He’d rather live for something than to die for nothing.
Key lyric: From the blessings poured out to me losin' my son You're my way and my truth, I'm a disciple of You
Through the highs and the lows, my heart will always stay true
They could put me in chains, they could lock me away
They would slay me in vain, I will always remain Faithfully – This song was written by Kyle Williams and Toby, and produced by Micah Kuiper, Williams, and Toby. The song features horns, bass, strings, guitar and backing vocals. He may never be the same man, but he’s a man who still believes.
Key lyric: 'Cause when my world broke into pieces You were there faithfully
When I cried out to You, Jesus
You made a way for me Cornerstone – This upbeat worship song, which has a bit of a classic rock sound, was written and produced by Micah Kuiper, Bryan Fowler and Toby, and features Zach Williams on vocals. The song features drums, guitar, bass, and backing vocals and samples a bit of the 1834 hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote.
Key lyric: You're the only Rock that I could ever stand on You're the only one for me Found – This upbeat praise song was written by Lydia Lubben, Dave Lubben, Mutiat Isola and Toby and produced by Dave Lubben and Toby. The song features Terrian and Wande and Terrian. The song features keys, piano, guitar, drums, and backing vocals. He once was lost, but now he’s forever His.
Key lyric: All I am is because of You All I'll be is because of You
All I was is lost
But now I'm found Fire’s Burnin’ – This upbeat worship song was written and produced by Micah Kuiper, Bryan Fowler and Toby, and features Cory Asbury on vocals. The song features guitar, bass, drums, backing vocals and a memorable chorus.
Key lyric: I put it all on the table You're the one that I choose
You got my whole heart, Lord
This fire's burnin' for You Space – This song about relationships was written and produced by Dave Lubben and Toby, and features DC Talk bandmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max on vocals. The song features keys, drums, percussion, guitar, bass and backing vocals, and could be about the space that has grown in the relationship between the three. The song includes a bit of 1 Corinthians 13. It is great to hear their three voices together again.
Key lyric: How can we start to erase? How can we start to erase this space between us? 21 Years – This powerful song was written by Bryan Fowler, Blake NeeSmith, and Toby in 2020, as a tribute to Toby’s son Truett, a song Toby never wanted to write. The song was produced by Fowler and Toby. The song features keys and strings.
Key lyric: Well until this show is over And you run into my arms God has you in Heaven But I have you in my heart I’m Sorry – This song was written by and produced by Tommee Proffit and Toby. The song laments our falling short of what Jesus asks of us as His church in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. The song ends with Toby reciting the Beatitudes. The song features keys, drums, a choir and a passionate vocal by Toby.
Key lyric: Wake us up, wake us up, wake us up, Lord Wake us up, wake us up, wake us up Rest – This short ending song was written and produced by Dave Lubben and Toby, and features Terrian and Gabe Real on vocals. The song features keys, strings, guitar, and backing vocals. This song about the Sabbath includes each artist sharing a Bible verse about the topic.
Key lyric: Fall into the arms of God and rest your weary head Just rest Favorite songs:
Help Is On The Way (Maybe Midnight)
Promised Land (Collab OG)
Life on It
I’m Sorry (a lament)
Hope, Rest, and Life After Death| Posted August 19, 2022
Before the global pandemic that put everything in a new perspective for us, the most world-shifting news that fans of the Christian music industry were recovering from was the heartbreaking loss of TobyMac’s firstborn son, Truett McKeehan. A week after his first live performance and at only 21 years old, the son of the legendary CCM artist had lost a battle with substance abuse, bringing his father to immediately cancel the tour he was on and return home to grieve with the rest of his family. Add to that the nightmare that was the following year, 2020, and fans were rightly wondering: how is TobyMac going to respond to all this pain that he, his family, and his band are experiencing? Fortunately, Life After Death shows us that he responded by finding hope, joy, and rest in God. Toby has had no shortage of interviews, videos, and live shows since then to describe the valley he’s been walking through, with thoughts ranging from the agony and sorrow that no parent should have to face to questions of if he’d ever be able to even write an upbeat song again. He’s made a point to thank all the family, friends, and fans that offered their prayers and support, but above all, he’s made it clear that it was the recognition of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love through it all that kept him going. TobyMac has been through the darkest period of his life, and now he’s ready to present that journey to us in the way he knows best: through his music.
“Help Is On The Way (Maybe Midnight)” serves as a perfect opener to the album, proving that Toby is still holding on to the Lord’s promises while also confirming that his upbeat songs are indeed not behind him, giving us the highest-energy moments on the record. More recent radio hit “The Goodness” brings Blessing Offor in to add some tasteful vocals and excellent piano work, starting the album’s trend of utilizing more outside-the-key chords than the average TobyMac release. Toby’s typically top-notch lyrics are on full display here, celebrating the goodness of God with lines like “You made the rain, so when it falls on me / Should I complain or feel You callin' me?” and “Through the good and the bad and the ugly / I can still see the sunshine above me / Lord, I love all the ways that You love me.”
One of the only songs nearly resembling a “sore thumb” sticking out in this tracklist in my opinion is the Tauren Wells collab, “Deeper.” The idea of singing about wanting to go past our surface-level conversations and meet each other where we’re really at is a noble concept, but the on-the-nose intro verse trying to use mobile phone jargon and the simplistic chorus sound out of place in the thematic context of the album, let alone in the lyrical portfolio of a veteran like TobyMac. I'll admit it has fared a bit better on repeat listens; the song is saved by the vocal talent of the pair and the more meaningful verses in the latter half (the subtle and possibly unintentional reference to 2004’s “Atmosphere” at the end of the bridge was particularly appreciated by this fan).
The latest single, “Show Up Choose Love,” features worship pastor John Reddick and is a grooving call-to-action for one of TobyMac’s favorite messages: combatting hatred and racism with love. The re-released Sheryl Crow collab version of “Promised Land” follows, bringing the softer side of Toby that has become more prominent over the years. The minimalistic instrumentation supports the reflective nature of the verses nicely, and the buildup to the musical climax embodies the simultaneous conclusion that “In all my grievin' / I'm still believin' / You're my promised land.”
In her first true appearance as a featured artist, Toby’s only daughter, Marlee McKeehan, joins her father for one of the most personal tracks on the album, “Everything About You.” The two allow their sorrows and feelings of loss to be showcased in all honesty, and the accompanying keyboard and live orchestra bring just the right touch to make this one of the most heartfelt songs TobyMac has ever put out. “Life On It” definitely took me by surprise, giving us some of the hardest-hitting raps the Mac has thrown down since his DC Talk days and some stylistic autotune usage that fits right in with a lot of modern rap. Sarah Reeves tops it off with an excellent vocal performance that balances the edginess of the track with soaring elegance.
“Faithfully” is one of only four songs without a featured artist (and the only one of those not to be released as a single beforehand), and it gives us another honest look at Toby’s journey from the pain of his darkest hour to the resolution that God didn’t leave him. The line “I may never be the same man / But I'm a man who still believes” serves as a fitting summary of the album’s message. In probably TobyMac’s closest thing to a country song, Zach Williams joins on “Cornerstone” to reiterate that through it all, Jesus is the solid Rock that we should build our lives on in a world of sinking sand. Overall, the song lands in the more generic territory and doesn’t provide much new, unfortunately, making it one of the weakest songs here.
On “Found,” recent Gotee Records signee and Diverse City bandmember Terrian accompanies TobyMac and Reach Records’ first female artist, Wande, for a soulful hip hop track that plays on the famous line, “I once was lost, and now I’m found.” The two rappers each share a bit of their story of God finding them while Terrian sings the resulting praise, “All I am is because of You / All I'll be is because of You.” Cory Asbury fits in nicely on the very pop-y “Fire’s Burnin’,” which has one of the catchiest hooks on the record. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this one ends up finding its way onto the radio in the near future.
Obviously, one of the most anticipated songs in the tracklist was the newest DC Talk reunion, “Space.” I am pleased to say that it doesn’t disappoint, and it is one of my favorite songs that Life After Death has to offer. The unique styles of the three vocalists still play off each other incredibly well, the message of wanting to reach each other despite differences and conflicts from the past is relatable and heartbreaking, and the composition and heavy use of reverb create a perfect vibe that balances between haunting and otherworldly-beautiful (I can’t deny that the latter creative choices and the repeated usage of the word “space” had images of stars and planets floating through my head). The only disappointing aspect of the track is that it clocks in at only just over 3 minutes, and I would’ve loved to have more than that (DC Talk did tend to put out songs longer than your average 3.5-minute pop song).
Being the first single for the album and the first song he released about Truett’s passing, “21 Years” gives us the most raw and personal description of Toby’s emotions at the time. The modern hip hop style serves as a nice tribute to his son’s own music, and the last half of the song might be the most hard-hitting emotional segment of the album, almost working as a narrative climax considering its place in the tracklist. As such, the following two tracks somewhat fit the role of falling-action/resolution (more so with the final track). “I’m Sorry (a lament)” is Toby’s expression of remorse on behalf of all followers of Christ for how far we’ve fallen, and “Rest” has his Diverse City bandmates Terrian and Gabe Real join him in reciting passages of Scripture that encourage finding solace in the Lord. It’s a solemn yet reassuring end to the album that acts more as an outro or interlude track than a typical song (somewhat reminiscent of his Momentum days), but it nonetheless gives the album’s narrative the proper conclusion that Toby had found on his journey: after all the pain that we experience in life, we can find rest, relief, and relaxation in God.
As always, TobyMac proves that he can adapt musically to whatever is popular while still maintaining his signature pop/rap style (though it is worth noting that funk is notably lacking in this edition of Toby’s “pot of musical gumbo”). While the lyrics this time around are understandably more genuine and straight-from-the-heart than normal, I can’t deny that even upon multiple listens, this album hasn’t been resonating with me as much as most of his others. Over the years, Toby seems to have grown more consistent than anything with the quality of his musical output: it’s rare that I find a new song of his that I consider “bad” or skippable (“Deeper” and “Cornerstone” are the closest to that here), but few of his songs have solidified themselves as absolute favorites of mine for many years (with “The Goodness” and “21 Years” having the best shot of doing that this time around). There are a number of lyrical nitpicks I could make throughout the record, the genre palette follows The Elements’ trend of being a bit less diverse, and even the DC Talk reunion doesn’t quite reach the incredible heights of the previous “Love Feels Like” from This Is Not a Test (my favorite TobyMac album).
I certainly like Life After Death; it’s mostly good, solid music with impactful lyrics and professional style and production, but it’s currently sitting pretty comfortably as my 2nd-least favorite of the now 8 main TobyMac albums (unpopular opinion, but I actually put Momentum as the lowest). That still puts it as “above-average” in terms of albums in general to me, but I honestly spent a while debating whether my 4/5 rating was a half-star too high. There’s always the chance that that will change over time - in fact, I’ve recently begun appreciating softer songs and ballads more, which could raise my opinion of a number of these songs in the future. I also think it’s worth noting that many people who share similarities in their life stories with Toby will find a great amount of therapy and healing through this music, as the artist certainly has. All things considered, as a lifelong fan of TobyMac, I will definitely be listening to this album for years to come. It marks a turning point in his life, it serves as a moving tribute to his son, and it gives us a great reminder of the hope that we all have, even in our darkest times.