TobyMac’s album “Eye on It,” which was released last August, was the first Christian album since 1997 to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s all-genre chart, and only the third Christian album ever to do so.
“I definitely have my ear to the ground as far as sonically what is happening,” TobyMac said. “I’ve always been a pop artist, you know. I rap, I sing, I scream, whatever gets the point across.”
Many 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. And that success is continuing in 2013. In mid-January, Christian artist Chris Tomlin’s new album “Burning Lights” opened at No. 1.
“It shows the power of the Christian music consumer,” said Price, who has covered Christian music for Billboard for almost 20 years.
“For people who tend to want to relegate Christian gospel music to the basement, when an act like Chris, or TobyMac comes in at No. 1, you have to give that music its due.”
According to the Nielsen Company, in 2012, nearly 23 million albums were sold in the Christian/gospel market, which also saw substantial increases in digital album sales.
“That niche market is bigger than other smaller genres, like jazz, classical, Latin,” said Price. “The (Christian) musicians are just interpreting a timeless message in the music that’s relevant today and that keeps younger listeners coming and widening the demographic.”
The Christian rock band Skillet just announced that its “Awake” album hit more than one million sales, making the group one of only three rock bands overall to certify platinum in 2012.
Another big seller is Christian rapper Lecrae, whose newest album “Gravity,” debuted last September at No. 3 on the Billboard chart. In his music and his publicity, Lecrae is outspoken about his Christian faith.
“I’d be crazy to not talk about the thing that’s most passionate to me and that is my faith,” Lecrae told “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”
“It’s all that I am. It defines me.”
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.
“I really mocked it,” he said. “I remember one time ripping out Bible papers and using them to roll drugs up with.”
His life became a downward spiral of drugs and partying, but he says before he reached 20, he realized the emptiness of it all. Then a friend invited him to attend a Christian meeting and study the Bible, and he says to his shock, the classic Christian teaching about salvation struck a chord.