What does it take to survive in a harsh environment? Skill? Certainly. A bit of luck? Sure. But arguably even more important than those attributes is adaptability. And if there’s one skill tobyMac has consistently demonstrated throughout his chameleon-like musical career, it’s adaptability. Few Christian artists—few mainstream artists, for that matter—have so consistently managed to integrate emerging new sounds and trends into their music while still maintaining their own identity. Which is why, perhaps, Eye on It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s mainstream album chart.
Musically, Eye on It reflects a broad range of up-to-the-minute pop, rap, R&B and electronic dance music influences. A couple of tracks tip the hat to pounding Skrillex-approved dubstep beats, while other songs recall artists as diverse as Owl City, Maroon 5, David Guetta, Jason Mraz, Usher and Bruno Mars.
Lyrically, the emphasis is exactly where you would expect it to be as the former dc Talk member ponders how his relationship with God has transformed his life and relationships.
Album opener “Me Without You” muses about how much different tobyMac’s life would have been apart from God delivering him from his own reckless impetuosity: “I’d be packing my bags when I need to stay/I’d be chasin’ every breeze that blows my way/I’d be building my kingdom just to watch it fade away.” Instead, the singer realizes humbly, “You rescued me/You are mine, I am Yours/ … You saved me, remade me.”
“Steal the Show” invites God to be the center of attention at a concert: “Need You to steal my show, can’t wait to watch You go/So take it away.” That openhanded stance is even more apparent when he later sings, “My life/My friends/My heart/It’s all Yours, God/My dreams/My fears/My family/My career/Take it away/Take it away/It’s all Yours, God.” With a similar spirit, “Lose Myself” prayerfully asks God to replace a man’s natural dreams with those birthed and shaped by his heavenly Father.
The title track references both 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Philippians 3:14 as tobyMac fixes his eyes on the prize of a life lived totally for Christ. “This is the race of my life, and I can’t wait for this shot/ … Feet are movin’, and my mind is locked/I got my eye on it/ … Eye on the prize.” Album closer “Favorite Song” is a beautiful reminder of God’s love-filled song for His children (“You sing to me/And my heart comes to life”).
“Forgiveness” recognizes that we all make mistakes and are in need of grace and a second chance, while “Speak Life” encourages listeners to choose words that breathe hope and love into others’ lives. “Unstoppable” triumphantly reiterates Philippians 1:21 with, “We’re not afraid/We’re not afraid/To live is Christ/To die is gain.”
One of the album’s few moments voicing anything akin to angst comes on “Family,” where the specter of divorce seems to linger over a struggling couple. “Are we too far apart?/ … You’re gonna take a piece of my heart if you leave.” But the singer says he’s going to work hard to save his marriage (“I wanna fight for what we got/’Cause I believe in family”), and he’s not willing to surrender the idealism they once shared (“I still believe in the dreams we’ve been dreamin’/The hope that we built on”). On the other end of the marital relationship spectrum, “Made for Me” lists the many ways tobyMac and his wife are perfect for each other.
“Mac Daddy (Tru’s Reality)” finds tobyMac’s son Truett trying to talk him into letting him buy his own Apple Macintosh. Dad counters by suggesting that the lad hasn’t quite saved up enough money yet.
Eye on It brims with youthful enthusiasm. Listening to it, you’d never suspect that Toby McKeehan was nearly 48 years old—except, perhaps, for that song about his son angling for a new Mac to craft some beats of his own.
You’d also be forgiven for thinking that tobyMac’s vibrant faith was in its early years too, given how earnest, muscular and unapologetic it feels here. Doubt? Weariness? Existential paralysis? There’s none of that. It’s almost as if the dreary ’90s never happened at all. Indeed, tobyMac’s idea of a midlife crisis seems to be grabbing hold of the prevailing musical trends of the day and reshaping them according to his own gospel purposes.
All in all, he sounds as purposeful and unflagging in his faith as he did back in his “Jesus Freak” heyday nearly two decades ago—no small feat in an industry that doesn’t always treat survivors well over the long haul.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.