TobyMac is a prime example of an artist that can stay relevant through a long career in music--he's grown as a vocalist, he changes up his sound for every album (but not too much), and he consistently puts out quality music roughly every three years. His latest studio offering, The Elements, is a collection of 11 no-filler tracks that are focused on Jesus and jam-packed with infectious melodies. Thematically, the elements are a metaphor for the "bad weather" in one's life--pain, suffering, difficult circumstances, etc. Toby recognizes that these difficulties are inevitable in life ("Scars") but calls us to completely rely on God ("I Just Need You," "It's You") and to fight through them together ("The Elements," "See The Light"). The relatively serious theme of the record, the artwork, and the decrease in the amount of bubbly songs, like "Me Without You" or "Backseat Driver," makes The Elements feel like a more mature album for Toby.
While all the usual ingredients for Toby's musical gumbo are in place (hip-hop, pop, soul,horns, and a mix of singing / casual rapping), there is also a healthy dose of variation. This is evident from the first verse of the of the title-track with the style drawing comparisons to NF from Toby's emotionally-charged flow to the minimalist haunting piano notes. Another example is "Horizon (A New Day)," which takes cues from Twenty One Pilots, featuring quick rapping, bleeping synthesizers, and bouncy keys. Any amateur attempting these styles would quickly be dismissed as a knock-off, but Toby takes these influences, uses them sparingly, and makes them his own. In addition to pulling from popular trends, he also dips back into some of his older sounds--the rap/rock title track could be considered a modernized throwback to Momentum and the second verse of "Edge of My Seat" uses an vocal style similar to the chorus of "Diverse City."
One of the best tracks present is "Starts With Me," featuring 19-year-old Gotee Records artist Aaron Cole. Toby and Aaron trade off vocals perfectly over a contemplative electric guitar tone, powerfully singing about ending generational racial discrimination. Toby has occasionally found success in the secular music industry, but "Starts With Me" has the potential to be his biggest mainstream hit yet. Fans will recognize the creative re-use of a lyric from 2010's "City On Our Knees," "we're one choice from together," both compelling us to choose unity and reminding us that, while not explicitly stated in "City on Our Knees," Toby has always stood strong against racism throughout his 30-plus years as a recording artist.
TobyMac has delivered another quality album that lands among his best solo albums, along with Welcome to Diverse City, Portable Sounds, and This Is Not A Test. The catchy hooks, strong bass, and pounding drums make you want to play this music loud, and the emotion and musical variety make you want to listen on repeat. Toby's uncompromising faith in Jesus is a huge encouragement, while his call to action on songs like "Starts With Me" and "The Elements" don't just leave us in a comfortable bubble. Those who have written off TobyMac in the past might find themselves reconsidering their position, and those that have been loyally following his career will find a lot to love with this record.- Review date: 10/11/18, written by Christopher Smith of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Forefront Records
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