WATCH: Christian Artists Like Tobymac and Lecrae Take Jesus Where the People Are

From Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: This is Christian recording artist TobyMac in concert. He's bringing the house down and shattering lots of stereotypes along the way

DEBORAH EVANS PRICE (Billboard Magazine): Toby blows away everybody's perception of what Christian or gospel music is, because Toby makes Jesus look cool.

TOBYMAC: I definitely have my ear to the ground as far as sonically what is happening. I've always been a pop artist, you know. I rap, I sing, I scream, whatever gets the point across.

LAWTON: Experts say thanks to artists like TobyMac, the contemporary Christian music industry is experiencing a revival, with strong sales, record-breaking tours, and new success in the mainstream charts.

For three consecutive weeks last fall, the Billboard 200 chart included Christian albums that debuted in the Top Ten. One of them was TobyMac's "Eye on It," which was the first Christian album since 1997 to debut at number one. And it was only the third Christian album ever to debut on at the top of Billboard's all-genre chart. That success is continuing in 2013. In mid-January, Christian artist Chris Tomlin's new album "Burning Lights" opened at number one.

PRICE: It shows the power of the Christian music consumer. For people who tend to want to relegate Christian gospel music to the basement, you know, when an act like Chris, or TobyMac comes in at number one, you have to give that music its due.

LAWTON: Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian music for Billboard magazine for almost 20 years.

PRICE: They sold nearly 23 million albums last year in the Christian gospel market, and that niche market is bigger than other smaller genres like jazz, classical, Latin. What's wonderful about this genre of music is that the musicians are just interpreting a timeless message in the music that's relevant today and that keeps younger listeners coming and and keeps widening the demographic.

LAWTON: Take, for example, Christian rapper Lecrae, whose newest album "Gravity" debuted last September at number three on the Billboard charts. In his music and his publicity, Lecrae is outspoken about his Christian faith.

LECRAE: I'd be, you know, crazy to not talk about the thing that's most passionate to me, and that is my faith. You know, how can I leave that out? It's all that I am. It defines me.

LAWTON: That wasn't always the case. Lecrae says he grew up with few positive male influences and looked to hip-hop for guidance. He wanted nothing to do with his grandmother's Christian faith.

LECRAE: I really mocked it. I thought it was silly. It was for old people. I remember one time ripping out Bible papers and using them to roll drugs up with. So it really didn't matter to me.

LAWTON: His life became a downward spiral of drugs and partying, but he says before he reached 20, he realized the emptiness of it all. Someone invited him to attend a Christian meeting and study the Bible, and he says, to his shock, the classic Christian teaching about salvation really struck a chord.

LECRAE: The simple truth that if there was a God he did love me enough to sacrifice himself for me, like no human being would ever come up with the story that says God reached down to bring me up. And that really, it rocked me in a way I'd never been rocked.

LAWTON: Now he raps not only about his religious beliefs, but about being a faithful husband and a responsible father, not typical themes in hip-hop.

LECRAE: When you turn on the radio and you hear all these perspectives and philosophies, misogyny and you know, hedonism, most Christians say, 'I got to find the Christian station to get away from this.' How beautiful would it be if Christians were to invade the airwaves of mainstream culture and give an alternate view to some of those things.

SOURCE: PBS / Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
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