Concluding our look back at the debut albums of the members of dc Talk, we come to TobyMac's Momentum. In terms of raw commercial success, the pop music icon has arguably had the most of his dc Talk peers: artists Michael Tait and Kevin Max.
TobyMac, real name Toby McKeehan, is a household name among most Christian families, with a body of hits to rival music industry all-time greats. But the commercial pop and hip-hop sound that he's known for is something that's developed over time. On Momentum, the artist's solo debut album, Toby showcases his raw hip-hop glory. As it turns 20, we take a look back.
Among the dc Talk trio, TobyMac was most certainly the beat (the artist took his stage name once he launched his solo career). For Momentum, Toby used a raw and gritty rap sound, at least relative to his later pop hits. Just a quick listen to opening tracks "Let's Get This Party Started" and "What's Going Down" should be enough to get listeners moving into a funky groove. Notice the difference of sound between then and now. It's staggering
"Extreme Days" showed the edgier side of Toby, proving that even apart from dc Talk, the rock hadn't disappeared.
Hip-hop and rap, like rock before it, wasn't known for its wholesome lyrics in the '90s. dc Talk pioneered a cleaner and more Christ-focused alternative of the nascent genre. As TobyMac, Toby took this vision even further. While some of Momentum's lyrics can move into cheesy territory, songs like "Irene" were resonant. Portraying a young girl who becomes a teenage mother, the song doesn't shy away from difficult topics, but also offers a Christ-centric solution to it. Songs like "What's Going Down" also tackled the topic of unwed mothers, as well as confronting racism in America, a topic familiar to Toby from his dc Talk days.
Hip-hop hadn't become fully mainstream in Christian music as of yet. This allowed Toby to have more creative freedom to delve more bluntly into the darkness facing much of his young audience.
dc Talk is one of the biggest Christian bands of all time. Their members going solo seemed primed to multiply their success. Yet the final picture seemed to go in surprising directions. Kevin Max's trajectory seemed to be largely in the "artistic" back burner of Christian music. While Michael Tait had a few notable hits in his solo career, it wasn't for another decade as frontman of the Newsboys that he made a significant imprint on the Christian market apart from dc Talk. Toby, on the other hand, became a major success as a solo artist. Perhaps this first album does little more than scratch the surface of what he'd become.
As far as wide-reaching hits go, this album contains scarcely any of Toby's most popular cuts. "Irene" is probably the album's most recognized song. But even that is likely overshadowed by some of his later hits. In the coming decades, Toby would go on to become a regular presence atop various Christian music charts.
With a seeming endless streak of hits, Toby would become one of the kings of Christian music, regularly headlining festivals and major A-list tours. Several of his singles and albums would be certified Gold and Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
He'd also serve as a mentor or inspiration to many an artist over the years. While perhaps nothing would match the success of dc Talk at their peak, it's hard to deny that TobyMac has ridden the momentum of this debut into the top tier of Christian music history.
J.J. Francesco is a long-time contributor to the NRT Staff. He's published the novel 'Because of Austin' and regularly seeks new ways to engage faith, life, and community. He is currently working on releasing a brand new novel.
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