Return of the Edge
Posted July 22, 2015
By SarahFine_NRT, Staff Reviewer
TobyMac struck gold with his 2012 release Eye On It. Adding to a mile long list of achievements in his 25+ year career, the massive success of singles "Me Without You," "Steal My Show" and "Speak Life" helped propel him to levels once thought impossible for anyone in Christian music, including an overall #1 charting album on the Billboard Top 200.
While the album was well received by listeners and critics, longtime fans of the once-upon-a-time rapper widely panned the album for his unabashed shift into the pop circuit, with very little urban influences felt through the project. As someone who also loves the more diverse aspects of Toby's style, I'll admit it became a sore spot as time went on.
Three years later, with yet another offering from the CCM pioneer on the horizon, both old and new fans are wondering: what's next?
This Is Not A Test brings back the eclectic musical edge TobyMac is known for that many listeners have been waiting a long time to see reappear. The album meshes the best of his pop sensibilities with some subtle nods to his once forthright hip-hop roots.
A song like "Backseat Driver" is a good example of what can happen when Toby blends several elements rather than focusing on just one. Featuring a now all grown up TruDog (aka teenage son Truett) and new Gotee Records signee Hollyn, the upbeat song talks about letting God take the wheel in our ever changing lives.
The standout track "Lights Shine Bright" also features Hollyn. Her breezy, soulful pop vocals paired with Toby's whimsical delivery make this bubbly song irresistibly fun (mark my words: Hollyn is going to draw CCM comparisons to Ariana Grande).
"Til The Day I Die" features up and coming rap artist NF in a blazing feature as this gritty, pointed tune splices with a theatrical drama unlike anything we've seen Toby do in quite some time. Think Jay Z meets EDM.
An unexpected gem is found on "Love Broke Thru," channeling an Americana vibe and syncing it with the classic style of synth beats Toby is known for: "I did all that I could to undo me, but You loved me enough to pursue me."
Of course when it was mentioned that this album would feature the first reemergence of dc Talk since Kevin Max's "The Cross" back in 2007, fans took notice. Let's not pretend "Love Feels Like" isn't the first song you're skipping to!
The song is more than fans have could have expected it to be. Kevin's soaring vibrato, Michael Tait's leather pipes and Toby's signature punchy rhyming create a modern day marriage any and all dc Talk fans should be both excited and proud to see continue-- even if it's just for one song.
The "Funky" Jesus Music:
For the handful of hits being presented here, there are a few glaring misses.
Lead single "Beyond Me" is alright on its own, but in context quickly breaks the creative flow the rest of the album has worked so hard to develop, becoming a weak link despite a strong first string. And while "Undeniable" is no doubt a fantastic song, resurrecting Toby's harder edge of days gone by, let's be real: it sounds almost a little too familiar (think Grits' "Ooh Ahh").
The press conference bridge between "Lights Shine Bright" and "Til The Day I Die" feels forced. The puns are all old hat, and as much as I missed the comedic interludes on his last record, this one just feels unnecessary.
TobyMac is the reigning king of Christian pop, and there isn't much wrong he could do that would revoke his title, even if there have been moments on his past two albums that put his creativity in question. That being said, This Is Not A Test firmly solidifies Toby's place in the industry and proves that he isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Fresh, diverse and incredibly relevant, this is easily his best work since Portable Sounds. Is this going to be a CCM game changer? Probably not. But is it a game changer in the career of TobyMac? I can assure you that it is.
Song To Download Now:
"Lights Shine Bright" (Get it on iTunes here.)
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