TobyMac remembers going to his first official songwriting session for his current album, “Life After Death,” and it wasn’t the usual pleasant feeling.

“It was about 45 minutes from my house and I was driving out there and I was like ‘What am I doing? Am I going to write a song like everything’s back to normal?’” he recalled in a mid-January phone interview. “It made me sick, almost, honestly.”

Normally, writing songs with a collaborator would be exciting, something to anticipate as an artist wonders if some creative magic will happen in that writing room that day.

For TobyMac (whose real name is Toby McKeehan), this was different, and something felt very wrong about getting back to being a songwriter and music artist and embarking on a new album.

In October 2019, Truett Foster McKeehan, the oldest of his five children, died from an accidental overdose. An aspiring musician, Truett, 21, had just launched his solo career. He had battled addictions in his past, but signs were pointing toward a bright future, and Truett’s father was proud of what his son had seemingly overcome and accomplished.

“You feel like you shouldn’t go back to what (you do),” TobyMac said of the first writing session. “If you go back to normal, in some way you’re dishonoring your lost loved one. 

“But when I got there, I just started writing this song ‘Faithfully’ about, it’s a very personal song,” he said. “It’s the only song on the record, really, without a guest because I just couldn’t hear anybody else singing it. It was so deeply personal to me, about God’s faithfulness at the hardest time in my life.”

It should be noted that “Faithfully” wasn’t the first song TobyMac had written about losing his son. He released the top 5 single, “21 Years,” in January 2020.


“‘21 Years’ came like almost within the first month, but it was because I didn’t view that as songwriting,” TobyMac said. “I viewed that as a song to honor my son’s life. Thank God for the 21 years I got to interact with my boy. I immediately started just turning my faith to God and trying – trying – there were times when I struggled through that, but I found God to be kind in the end and I wanted to remember all of the best things about my son in that song.”

As he moved forward with songwriting, it became clear that “Life After Death” would be about losing Truett and the path toward healing that TobyMac and his family had taken over the preceding two years. The lyrics and musical styles just came out naturally as songs happened.

“I think I definitely had things in my heart to say, and tried to wrap those in a musical journey where I wouldn’t have any fear about it going in any direction,” TobyMac said. “It was a lyric-led record and the music came alongside the words. It wasn’t like ‘Ooh, I’d like to do a song in this style.’ It wasn’t like that. It was like I have this I want to say. What form should the music take around this thought?”



It was only natural for “Life After Death” to become the story of TobyMac’s journey after Truett, from the pain and the many steps along the way to reaching a point of hope and trust that God would be present for TobyMac and his family as they dealt with the emotions that followed the tragic loss. The subject matter was different, but TobyMac approached “Life After Death” the same way he always has gone about writing all of his albums.

“I’ve always written songs about the things that I’m walking through and the things that I’m feeling. I’m not really good at writing fictional songs,” he said. “I write about my own life and I figure as I walk with God in this crazy world and try to pursue heaven, that became the most important thing. The people that listen to my music, they’re not that different than me. We’re all trying to live out this faith that we talk about and we want to pursue, but the world mixes us up sometimes. I think that’s what I’ve always written about, so it was natural for me to write about what I was walking through.”

“Life After Death” starts on a hopeful note with “Help Is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” and “The Goodness,” songs that promise God will be “rolling up His sleeves” to help in times of trouble. And even when songs touch on “dark days” and “long nights” (as on “Show Up Choose Love,” “Faithfully” and “Rest”), a similar ray of hope from God’s love filters through the lyrics. There’s also a sense of acceptance that life will come with struggles in “Everything About You” (a duet between TobyMac and his daughter, Marlee) and “Promised Land” (a duet with Sheryl Crow). Musically, the album isn’t the downer the subject matter may suggest. Yes, several songs capture the sadness of loss. But the soulful “Help Is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” and the hop-hop track “Life On It” are upbeat and at times even bouncy, while “Deeper” and “Fire’s Burnin’” are chipper bits of R&B-laced pop.

The aforementioned “The Goodness” became a key song in helping TobyMac find his emotional footing during the writing, as it describes how God is the unshakable goodness in life.

“I didn’t think I’d ever write another song that felt like joy or was uptempo,” TobyMac said. “And when I got hit with that, there was just so much promise in it for me at that moment, that that song poured out of me.”

Honest and relatable lyrics – and lots of catchy songs that have blended hip-hop, R&B, pop and rock — have been key ingredients in making TobyMac one of Christian music’s biggest stars.

He began his career alongside Michael Tait and Kevin Max in the trailblazing and hugely popular Christian hip-hop group, DC Talk, which released five albums (three of which went platinum) before TobyMac moved on to his solo career in 2001.



His six most recent solo albums have all gone No. 1 on the Christian album charts and six of his eight albums overall have been certified gold so far, with his 2018 album “Elements” and “Life After Death” on their way to achieving similar sales. In all, TobyMac’s solo albums have sold more than 5 million copies. “Life After Death” is nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Album in this year’s Grammys, which would give him eight such career trophies.

So far “Life After Death” has given TobyMac two No. 1 Christian music singles in “Help Is on the Way (Maybe Midnight)” and “The Goodness,” as well as a top 5 single in “Promised Land” to go with his seven previous chart-topping songs.

Those songs, some other hits and selections from “Life After Death” figure to be included in TobyMac’s headlining set on his “Hits Deep” arena tour this winter. As the tour title suggests, this multi-act tour features artists TobyMac and his opening acts (Crowder, Cochren & Co, Tasha Layton, Jon Reddick & Terrian) playing sets that feature their hit songs. Even with TobyMac planning to perform upwards of six or seven of his new songs in his set, he feels his show very much fits the “Hits Deep” theme.


“The beautiful part about it is we’ve already had three significant singles off it, so those three, I’m not forcing them into the hits category. They’re actually hits,” he said.


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