Dec. 03--Even though he's considered one the genre's biggest stars, TobyMac has never felt comfortable with the label "Christian pop."
"I wish my music was just out there with all the other music," TobyMac, whose real name is Kevin Michael McKeehan, said in a phone interview last week. "I'd rather be known as a Christian who's making music, rather than someone who is making Christian music."
For the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and rapper, it's an important distinction; while his faith does inform his music, he doesn't want anyone to feel left out.
"I've always made music for everyone," he said. "Everyone is welcome. Everyone is invited."
That will certainly be the case when TobyMac's Hits Deep Tour descends on Bridgeport's Webster Bank Arena on Friday, Dec. 6. The 49-year-old icon will share the bill with a lineup of fellow Christian artists, including Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Colton Dixon, Chris August and newcomers Capital Kings.
As the tour's name implies, the artists will take turns playing their biggest songs.
"We took a page from the old school Motortown Revue Tours," TobyMac said, referring to the package concert tours of Motown artists in the 1960s. "It gives the people what they want."
TobyMac will close out the concert with his own slate of chart-toppers, including "Gone," "Burn For You," "City on Our Knees" and "Get Back Up."
His discomfort with the "Christian pop" label notwithstanding, it's hard to ignore his star power in the Christian community.
As a member of the group dc Talk, he introduced faith-based hip hop to a mainstream audience. (Their hit song, "Jesus Freak," received regular airtime on MTV.) Three of their six studio albums won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album.
As a solo artist, TobyMac has produced a dozen songs that have cracked the Top 10 of Billboard's Christian Songs chart, and he's taken home a whopping 18 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards.
"TobyMac is a legend," Christian rap sensation Lecrae recently gushed. "I told him if he ever wants to do a song with me, all he has to do is ask."
But when it comes the larger music listening public, "my music sometimes falls on deaf ears," TobyMac lamented. And that's too bad, given that the subjects (relationships, race, equality) and the musical styles (hip hop, rock, reggae) he explores have nothing directly to do with God or religion.
"I'm trying to make music I'm passionate about, that moves people, that makes them want to dance, that makes them throw hands in the air," he said. "I want them to be absolutely entertained."
Keeping audiences entertained is undoubtedly TobyMac's first priority. Inspiring people to reflect on their faith -- that's something he leaves to the man upstairs.
"I can share my experiences, but I'm not a proselytizing type dude," he said. "That's more in the hands of the big man, the almighty."
Scott.firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @scottgarg
Webster Bank Arena, 600 Main St., Bridgeport. Friday, Dec. 6, 7 p.m. $65-$25. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
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