The multi-Grammy-winning Christian music artist plays Van Andel Arena on Sunday with Grand Rapids’ own hip-hop artist George Moss joining him on stage. The interview and back story at Local Spins.
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Toby McKeehan said he came to the point where he wanted “everything to stop” and “to just stay home and be broken.”
In late 2019, the singer-songwriter better known as TobyMac suffered a deep personal loss when his 21-year-old son died of an accidental drug overdose. Months later COVID hit, throwing a blind-sided slam on the careers of nearly every performing artist.
“Starting to even write (songs) again was painful, and I thought I might never write one with hope in it, let alone an uptempo song,” said the faith-based artist during an interview from his Nashville area home.
But new hope emerged.
“Friends came around to help me with what I was walking through – my community at home, people in the (music) industry, and my road community,” said Toby, 58. “It’s been the hardest time of my life, but we’ve felt surrounded by love.”
The creative result is last year’s “Life After Death,” a collaborative album with songs that cover the musical spectrum with no shortage of either hope or tempo.
The collection from the Christian music artist is filled with vocal contributions by fellow artists who showed their support for the seven- time Grammy Award winner.
Several of the new songs are unfurled on his current “Hits Deep” tour, which stops at Van Andel Arena at 7 p.m. Sunday (March 5) with special guests Crowder, Cochren & Co., Tasha Layton, Jon Reddick and Terrain. Tickets are $12-$89 and available online here.
One new selection, “Promised Land,” features vocals from Sheryl Crow.
The pairing came from a chance connection. “Essentially, we first met in the (car) pick-up line when our kids were in elementary school,” Toby recalled. The artists stayed in touch over the years, and when Toby had a song he felt fit her voice, he invited Crow to join in.
“I know from a standpoint of faith and belief she likes that kind of message and is wide open to it,” he added of the hopeful ballad.
VIDEO: TobyMac, “Promised Land”
Also on the album is the melancholy “21 years,” the first song the artist wrote following his son’s death.
“Help is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” and the latest single “Cornerstone” are songs which have found their way to radio audiences.
A GRAND RAPIDS TOUR STOP WITH A LOCAL CONNECTION
Toby’s longtime band member Gabe Patillo has some health challenges and could not make this tour. So the headliner selected Grand Rapids-based rap/hip-hop artist George Moss to fill in on the 30-city jaunt.
The two had met early in Toby’s solo career.
“His name kept coming up and I didn’t audition anybody,” Toby explained. “We just chose George. He’s been doing a phenomenal job and his work ethic is absolutely impressive.”
Moss said he felt like a high school football player called up to play in the Super Bowl.
“I had four days to learn the ‘playbook,’ but I’ve gotten nothing but positive encouragement from everyone,” added the East Kentwood High School graduate who contributes background vocals and choreography in Toby’s ensemble.
Moss already has main-stage experience: More than a decade ago, he performed at Van Andel Arena on the nation-wide Winter Jam tour with Christian hip-hop artist KJ-52.
With a mix of hip hop, rock, pop, rap and urban music elements, TobyMac’s songs are immersed in his faith-based approach.
He may lean more toward pop now than during his days with his former group, dcTalk. (The new tune “Space” features his former bandmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max, who’s from Grand Rapids.)
Nevertheless, his faith overflows as he writes and sings from the heart.
“I’d rather people just listen to what I do and enjoy it for what it is,” he said. “I’m not looking for some label or moniker. Christianity, my faith, works its way into my music because I like to write songs about the things I’m living.”
Family now has an even greater focus for Toby. His new song “Everything About You” includes vocals from his daughter Marlee. “It’s directly about Truett,” Toby said of his departed son.
“It’s a timeless song done in a very classy way, and her voice sounds so good on it,” he beamed.
Toby moved his Feb. 5 tour date so he could attend Grammy Award ceremonies with his teen-age son Judah with “Life After Death” nominated for an award. Truett had accompanied him to the 2016 awards when Toby came home a winner for his album “This Is Not A Test.”
The last song he wrote for the new album is “The Goodness,” which is full of hope and recognizes how good God is, according to the artist.
“I looked up at God and told him I’d give him a chance,” he recalled of his initial despair. “It was crazy, but I feel like I learned God was good even in the deepest of valleys.”
VIDEO: The story behind “Everything About You” (featuring Marlee)
VIDEO: TobyMac, “Promised Land” (Original Version)
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