Most music acts peak early, scoring near the beginning of their careers the big hits that sustain them when new, younger artists come along and grab the spotlight.
But not Christian hip hop performer TobyMac, real name Kevin McKeehan. Twenty-five years into his career, the former member of the Grammy-winning Christian rock band dc Talk is experiencing his biggest success. His fifth full-length studio album Eye On It, released in August, sold 69,000 copies in its first week, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, the first time a Christian artist had done so in 15 years.
"I didn't expect that at all," says TobyMac, who also won favorite contemporary inspirational artist Sunday at the American Music Awards. "I was hoping for a good week. We had a good week. We didn't know it would be better than anyone else's week."
Though he may now find himself at the top of his game, on his new Hits Deep Tour, which kicks off Thursday at Cordova's Hope Church, TobyMac is taking the unusual step of sharing the limelight. Inspired by the old revue-style tours of the 1950s and '60s, the tour features a long and diverse list of contemporary Christian acts, including Mandisa, Brandon Heath, Chris August, Jamie Grace, Group1Crew, and Britt Nicole. Each act will perform a mini set of their biggest hits, and TobyMac promises there will be plenty of unique cross-collaborations as well.
"We're going to really work together," he says. "We're all looking at this tour differently. Matter of fact we kicked it off with a dinner at my house. We just talked about how we can make this tour different. We want to do some things that people can only see that night, whether Jamie Grace guests on my set or if I guest on Mandisa's. We don't normally tour together, so we want it to be a special night for people and try to put together a few couplings they would never get to see any other time."
As the headliner, TobyMac will get a longer set, all the better to accommodate the long list of hits he's built up over the years, including his latest Christian No. 1 "Me Without You" from Eye On It.
That song and the rest of the record have won praise for integration of electronica-influenced production. The artist credits the record's freshness in part to his nephew Cole Walowac, one half of the electronic duo Capital Kings, featured on several tracks.
"(Cole) moved in with me and my family in Nashville about a year-and-a-half ago and he started pitching me tracks all the time and I started writing melodies to those tracks," says TobyMac, who has since signed Capital Kings to his Gotee label and taken them on tour with him during his recent stint headlining the annual Winter Jam.
TobyMac's modern sound — and the success he has had — are evidence of the mainstreaming of Christian music. "I think that people are beginning to understand that Christians can make music that doesn't beat you over the head but is true to where they're coming from and can speak to many people's lives, not just people who believe exactly like we do," he says. "When I'm at my best my faith is at the center of my life, but I'm not always at my best and I want to write about all those days."
7 p.m. Thursday at Hope Church, 8500 Walnut Grove Road Advance tickets: $20, $25, $35, and $40; plus $5 for day-of-show tickets. Tickets available at 901-507-1900, 800-965-9324 or online at itickets.com. For more information, visit hopepres.com.