From his early days in influential group dcTalk to his very first solo album, Momentum, Toby has worked hard to inspire his audience with words of conviction, hope, empowerment and the redemption found in his faith in God. He furthers that vision on the thrilling Eye On It, produced by Toby, Christopher Stevens, David Garcia and Jamie Moore.
“What is it like to live a life of faith? It doesn’t look perfect, I can promise you that,” Toby admits. “We’re all struggling. We’re struggling to mend relationships, to love people well, and to love God. But the gift of walking this life of faith is that you can make it right each day. You can turn and start over, determined, with your eye on it.”
The follow-up to 2010’s Tonight (which debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200), Eye On It is an elevating collection of 12 tracks, all of them written or co-written by Toby—and many of them deeply personal.
The album’s first single, “Me Without You” looks at the importance of God in one’s life. Toby wrote the song from the perspective of who he might be without his faith, instead of who he is because of it. The result is an inspired bit of songwriting. “I’d be a mess,” he says with a self-depreciating laugh. “I’d be insecure, self indulgent and probably doing all the wrong things.”
“Made For Me” chronicles the love-at-first-sight courtship of Toby and his wife Amanda, driven by a passionate but poppy vocal and a jangly beat. “I stand in awe that I have this amazing woman as my wife. “
Still, he admits the pair has their differences, and even sings about them. “We’re opposites in a way and see things very differently. She’s from a third-world country and I grew up just outside of Washington, D.C., in Virginia. She’s a morning person; I’m a night person,” he says. “But we are committed to laying down our minor differences and holding on to what brings us together.”
With five kids, family is a cornerstone of Toby’s life, so it’s fitting he titled a song as such on Eye On It. But “Family” isn’t an exaltation of his wife and children—instead, it’s a glimpse into the everyday disagreements between two people who love each other. “The song ‘Family’ comes from personal experience. There are many times my wife and I are sitting there, with a wall between us, trying to figure out how we can get back to being unified. Inevitably, what penetrates the wall is that we both want the same thing: preserving our love, our family and our faith in God. We are on the same side,” Toby says.
Yet each song on Eye On It—even those that deal with Toby’s home life—has universal appeal, speaking to the flawed human side in all of us.
“I want my music to depict what I’m going through. I want to write about the things that upset me, move me, hurt me and haunt me. The things that are real,” he says. “With Tonight, I was determined to live more passionately with God. I was throwing down the gauntlet. Eye On It is a continuation of that. It’s saying, ‘This is the person I want to be and I’m going to keep my eye on it, God willing!’ I am going to remain focused on what matters to me.”
The vulnerable “Forgiveness” (which features Lecrae) epitomizes that sentiment. With its unforgettable hook and yearning chorus—we all make mistakes some time, and we all steps across that line—the song is a plea for something we all crave: not only forgiveness from God, but forgiveness from others and from ourselves. “There are two sides to forgiveness. There’s asking for it and there’s offering it,” Toby explains. “But before you can be forgiven, you have to confess. In a lot of ways, this song is a confession. We’re all going to cross that line one time or another, but the important thing is recognizing it and turning around.”
Toby has clearly been taking all the right steps, moving through the often prideful music business with a sense of humility that belies his success: To date, he has sold more than 3 million albums as a solo artist and 11 million overall. In “Thankful for You,” he details his ascent to the top of the Christian music charts—the Tonight single “City on Our Knees” spent a staggering 8 weeks at No. 1—giving a shout- out to the spare bedroom in which the aspiring hip-hop artist-producer first experimented with two turntables and a microphone. Sings Toby: It’s never been my dream to see my face in magazines, it’s always been about the music, hoping God would use it to set some people free.
“Every line I write, I’m thinking about how to serve humankind, whether they’re people who share in the faith I have or not,” he says, citing one of his chief influences, reggae icon Bob Marley.
“Marley was a writer who understood spirituality, society and music. We might not see things exactly alike when it comes to our faith, but I learned a lot about how to write socially and spiritually connecting songs to people’s lives,” Toby says. “That is the purpose of the music that I make.”
And nowhere is that purpose more evident than during Toby’s live performances. This year alone, he is projected to play to more than 2 million fans, and his on-stage energy has set the bar for what it means to be a touring Christian artist.
“I’m wired for the live show,” he says. “That’s the way you get your music out there and every year we’re doing 100 shows or more. The most amazing feeling for any artist/songwriter is to take a song that came from your heart and have the audience sing every word along with you. That is a sweet humbling moment.”
“The music is a labor of love that I create for people to enjoy; and hopefully be inspired by, it’s not a self-indulgent thing. It’s my way of serving the listener he says. “I hope Eye On It, and all my albums, point people toward something deeper, something more hopeful.”
Toby believes that’s already happening. The way he sees it, faith songs are breaking into the mainstream.
“The wall is coming down for sure. I’m watching bands that have these delicate, wonderful messages of hope and faith in their music. There is real purpose in that,” he says. “Gospel/Christian artists are an important part of society and our voice needs to be heard, for all the right reasons.”
Thus, TobyMac’s latest album. With its messages of perseverance, determination and hope, the record is further proof that music can better lives, reassuring listeners that it is indeed possible to find grace, if only they keep their Eye On It.
Sep 24 SaturdayCharlotte, NC, US Carowinds
Oct 26 WednesdayWinnipeg, MB, Canada Burton Cummings Theatre