Christian Living


TobyMac Gets Brave with The Elements

TobyMac, credit: Lee Steffen
Album Reference

TobyMac, the beloved Christian music artist who's sold 11 million records over his 17-year solo career, is taking some risks with his latest album, The Elements.

"Starts With Me", TobyMac's powerful duet with singer Aaron Cole, deals with race relations. Not one to back away from the issue, TobyMac believes it's beyond time to take an honest look at where we are as a country. Only then will healing begin.

Recently, TobyMac spoke with CBN.com about "Starts With Me", and two other special tracks ("Scars" and "It's You" -- his new worship song!). Here are excerpts from our phone call:

Hannah Goodwyn: You recently said in an interview with Billboard.com that the most important thing to you are the concepts of an album and what you're trying to say through your music. What is The Elements saying?

TobyMac: The whole record is about life and the things that I've experienced the last three years. I have to live some life to write a record, and I have to experience the ups and downs, the trenches, the achievements, the hard times, and the good times to write songs. I don't make songs up. They come from the grit and beauty of life.

So, I think The Elements, it's about what comes against who I set my mind and my heart to be every day. It's the scars that come with life, the things that we face, race relations, the times that our friends break our hearts or the times that we break theirs. All of these things that come against us trying to be the person we want to be, trying to be the person we feel called to be, the husband I want to be, the father I want to be, the friend that I want to be. It feels like everything's working against that. It feels like the whole world's telling me to think about myself when I'm called to think about others.

With all of that comes these stories that equal these songs. When I looked at the whole record, I felt like this record is about the elements. It's about fighting to be who you feel you're supposed to be and keeping that and reminding yourself of that every day, because you can look up and be a runaway train going in the wrong direction.

Goodwyn: Who are you supposed to be?

TobyMac: I'm supposed to be someone that loves well. I'm supposed to be a good father, a faithful husband. I'm supposed to be a friend that's there when someone needs me. I'm supposed to be someone who isn't caught up in the stage or branding, but is caught up in being a real man and a real friend and a real, hopefully, asset to my community – not from the stage; that's automatic – but in everyday life in my town.

Goodwyn: Your new song with Aaron Cole, "Starts With Me", is a powerful one. What is at the heart of that song's story? And, what is it saying to Americans specifically?

TobyMac: It's saying that we're still not there. We're not even close to there as far as race relations and coming together. My band is called Diverse City. My household is a mixed household. My band is a mixed band. My label is mixed race artists. I by no means know everything. I'm a man that's learning every day, but I just feel like unless we're willing to take an honest look at our history and realize that some of the things that have been handed down to us, we need to overcome…

And, in my opinion, it's not one swoop. It's not easy. It's every day waking up and being sensitive to what another man is walking through. When we begin to do that, then confession and forgiveness and ultimately compassion are the only things that are going to reconcile us. Until we're willing to take an honest look, there's always going to be trouble in the waters.

Goodwyn: 'I was born with two dirty hands' … That's such an honest lyric. It presents a challenging image some in our society and even in the Church might not be comfortable with…

TobyMac: Yeah, that's probably the most risky lyric on the record. But, it's the truth. I know there are a lot of people that are just going to immediately cry out, 'I'm not into the "white guilt" thing.' But, I think I'm willing to take an honest look. We can't just overlook the past. We have to be forthright and honest about it, and that will be the beginning of some type of healing.

Goodwyn: If you could sing one of your new songs to everyone on Spotify right now, which song would you sing and why?

TobyMac: My mind immediately goes to "Scars" because I think people need to know that they're loved and they're not alone. People isolating themselves is what's troubling society, at this point. So, when you tell someone they're not alone, and when you tell someone to lift their head up to where their help comes from, I believe you're speaking to a lot of things that are going on in society.

It was a personal thing for me, you know. I had to let someone dear to me, I had to let them know they're not alone, but I have my scars, and I'm here for you. Bigger than that, God is there for you, so lift your head to where your help comes from.'

Goodwyn: A lot of your fans are followers of Jesus like you. Which new song off The Elements would you sing to them?

TobyMac: To them, I would sing, "It's You", for sure. Because when all the elements are coming at you, when things are as fuzzy as they could possibly be, when you're hurt, confused, angry, if you can put things in the right order in your life, there's a peace that is overwhelming.

I'm talking to God directly on that song. I'm not a worship artist, but this is a worship song. The song says, 'It's you and everything else just falls in line. You, you will always hold this heart of mine, you. It's you and everything else just falls in line.' That to me is worship. I'm recognizing the deity of God. I'm recognizing that He is God and I am not. I'm recognizing that He is first and nothing else is. That's worship to me.

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