TobyMac returns three years after the release of his debut solo project Momentum with this year's Welcome To Diverse City. Picking up where he left off last, Diverse City is just that - a diverse blend of different styles and themes collected to comprise one fun record.
Toby McKeehan has never been known to do things small-scale. As an artist, he pours all he has into each second of playtime on a recording, tweaking things relentlessly till attaining complete satisfaction. Momentum was an album so meticulously crafted that nearly each song could be a radio hit. Welcome To Diverse City is no exception. It opens with a sort of sequel to "Get This Party Started" entitled "Hey Now," featuring the talents of Coffee from Grits. The dance-friendly party track, "Hey Now," sets the mood for Diverse City. "Catchafire (Whoopsi-Daisy)" ups the ante with its anthemic and bold reggae-rock-hip-hop blend that is easily one of the best tracks on the record. "Slam" keeps the album's momentum running strong with an aggressive rap-rock intro in the same vein as Kid Rock before the song switches gears, becoming a signature TobyMac rocker like "Yours" or "Extreme Days." Also an album highlight, "Slam," peaks with a subtle but tasty cameo from rhyme ruler T-Bone.
"Atmosphere" has a similar vibe to previous hit "Irene" as it is penned from God's pespective and contemplates His omnipresence. "Gone" is a groove-glazed pop/rock highlight about taking things for granted which is followed up by the aptly titled "TruDog, The Return." Truett, Toby's six year old son, makes his comeback as he offers this adorable hip-hop tune that's tossed in the mix just for fun. The album's title track is another rousing party song with a sound somewhat reminiscent of the dc Talk Free At Last days. "Stories" features a guest appearance by Superchick for a blues and reggae tinted effort. The vocal accompaniments by Tricia Brock are a nice touch, but the rap vocals from Matt Dally just seem, ironically, out of place. Lyrically, "Stories" addresses the benefits of the hard times and being able to use those times to see God's hand in our lives. The funky sounds of "Getaway Car" have a Will Smith feel with an undeniable TobyMac twist, while "Burn For You" is a delectable rock song with a classic 80's vibe and inspiring lyrics about feeling revived by the Holy Spirit.
While it's typical for artists to tuck away the less impressive tracks in the latter half of their album, TobyMac has consistently defied this trend. One of the many standout tracks is the industrial hip-hop cover of Soul-Junk's "Ill M I." Originally an eccentric electronic buffet for Soul-Junk's version, Toby breathes new life into the song, giving it his own spin and one of the most catchy and savory beats on the disc. Another strong cut follows, the otherworldly "Phenomenon," which was originally released as a single in the Summer of 2003, with Diverse City marking the song's first appearance on a nationally-released record. Immediately following the song, we're treated to four rather amusing phone messages that serve as the perfect opener for "Gotta Go," a lighthearted prayer for focus and God's grace through stressful times. A clever and fun song, the verses of "Gotta Go" are made to sound like pieces of phone conversations from Toby's life that help present the busy feeling of constantly being on the run.
Welcome To Diverse City closes with quite possibly one of the most anticipated song recordings of the year. "Atmosphere Remix" is a new version of the song heard earlier in the record, with the addition of Kevin Max and Michael Tait of dc Talk, reuniting the three together again. The end result is a gem. While a new song or two and a couple remixes have been released since dc Talk's last studio record six years ago, none of those songs have sounded as good as "Atmosphere Remix." Like hearing from a dear friend you haven't spoken to in years, it's a treat to have the three back together again. Stylistically, "Atmosphere Remix" feels lifted from the band's Supernatural days. And with the remix sounding this good, it renders the regular album version earlier in the record almost obsolete. It's a fine way to finish the record, but manages to feel like a bonus and a tease at the same time.
Considering how solid TobyMac's solo debut Momentum was, it seemed a tall order to expect his sophomore record to surpass it. However, surpass it it does. With thirteen solid new songs and a few extras thrown in for good measure, Welcome To Diverse City is a catchy and solid pop/rock/hip-hop blend. Surrounding himself with incredible talent doesn't hurt either, and the diverse recipe serves up what is easily one of the best and most fun records you may hear this year.- Review date: 10/2/04, written by John DiBiase
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