When Toby McKeehan, better known as TobyMac, met Michael Tait and Kevin Max at Liberty University in the 80’s, little did the three of them know what would come of their friendship. They formed the music group DC Talk and would go on to sell eight million records and win four Grammy’s before parting ways in 2000. TobyMac would go on to have a solo career that continues today. In addition to having a solo career, he also started Gotee Records. It has helped to launch the careers of such artists as Relient K, Jennifer Knapp, Sonicflood and more recently, Jamie Grace, Capital Kings, Finding Favour, Morgan Harper Nichols and Ryan Stevenson. Five years ago, we interviewed TobyMac and talked about how he comes up with the lyrics of his songs and how he got his start with DC Talk.
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20
TobyMac gave us insight into how he develops and gets the inspiration for his songs.
“Well it is a grueling process – ninety percent of the time it’s grueling. [For instance] I have a chorus, now I need to support that chorus with verses. What do I want to say? God what are you telling me? I’m watching people interact – which is the main way I write lyrics – usually sitting in a corner somewhere at a coffee shop having a Bible study. And when I see humans interacting it just brings [lyrics] up. Whether they are arguing or walking down the street hand-in-hand…human interaction moves me, it makes me start to write lyrics. I think I write a lot of songs, not just about God working in our lives, but how He works in our lives through relationship with each other. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or friendship, I want to write. I write about the times I’ve failed to be there for a friend, but I also want to write about the times I was there for my friend. I think when I write honest lyrics, it connects with people’s lives and it inspires them, or they may learn from my mistakes. I think it does take me a long time. I might take three months to write a lyric for one song. [But sometimes like] City on Our Knees, I wrote that song in 20 minutes. So it all depends. I’m kind of, well I’m not kind of, I am a perfectionist. I sit there and I just work and work and work and I try to throw out lines that are pretty good, to get lines that are great. My great may not be your great. Great to me is a street sensible conversational line.”
“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” Habakkuk 3:18-19
TobyMac reflected on how he went from writing raps to becoming a part of DC Talk.
“I always loved music and I always wrote little rap songs, to instrumentals of other people’s music. I think the person, that without a doubt said I could make a record, is Michael Tait, from DC Talk, now Newsboys. When I met Michael in college he was making a record and I was like, ‘Wait, you can make a record? You don’t have to be like U2 to make a record?’ When he was making the record I started toying around with the DC Talk sound in a spare room of the studio. There was a little drum machine and I wrote this little song called ‘Heaven Bound.’ I wrote the raps and had Michael come in and sing the chorus. That sort of began DC Talk. But it’s because Michael was making a record and grabbing the bull by the horns and said, ‘I want my voice to be used by God. I’m going to make a record,” that led to DC Talk.
If you have musical aspirations, pray about pursuing them. Whether it is singing, playing an instrument or producing, God wants you to use your gifts and talents to glorify Him. Consider volunteering at church to be a part of the worship team or play worship music for a group or ministry that needs someone. Look for ways to serve others with your talents. Read about your favorite artists and how they got their start. Ask the Holy Spirit to be your encourager when you face closed doors or opposition.
Share a song with a friend that has impacted you. Music has the power to bridge people from different spiritual backgrounds and beliefs. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you a friend or family member that might be going through something similar to you. You can share about how the lyrics from a certain song helped you through your hard time and even share your relationship with Christ helped you. If there is a concert or worship music event, pray about inviting a friend who might need to hear a life-changing message or song.
Get inspired. You may not be a musician, but all of us could use some time with God to be inspired. Start your day with your favorite worship songs, reading the Bible and praying. Spend some time in nature. Thank God for creating you. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal more of Himself to you. Be still. Make time so that you don’t have to rush. God wants to speak to you and spend time with you!
To read our entire interview with TobyMac click here.