Tobymac has been slumming lately in Diverse City. That’s not to say that there’s not a crown jewel here and there, but the latest albums haven’t been dominating the way that something like Momentum did. But the latest album, Christmas in Diverse City seems to be years in the making. Rather than rehashing old tunes or beats, the Mac is back, and fans of R&B in their Christmas yuletide should rejoice.
Beginning with a song that rhymes, raps, and bounces, “Christmas This Year” proves to be something different, and not just because of the beautification of the song thanks to Leigh Nash’s crystal clear solos that jive (in a good way) with the sounds of Tobymac’s rap techniques. What becomes clearer by the second (or by reading the notes) is that the first half dozen are Tobymac and friends. Owl City highlights the techno-vibe of “The First Noel,” before Jamie Grace and Nirva Ready take their turns later on.
“Mary’s Boy Child” bounces an old hymn in a new way, Jamaican-style. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is Tobymac’s, but not nearly as rewritten. But “Little Drummer Boy?” It was written for R&B/hip-hop, and it’s possibly my favorite Tobymac track on the album. I can’t dislike the Toby original, “This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless),” which is a rerun, (I think) but still has a powerful story about family and the season of Christ’s birth. That said, the second half of the thirteen-track album is handed over to Toby’s Diverse City friends, and while it changes things up, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
“Carol of the Kings” is Maj (featuring Gabe Real & Liquid) that bounces some Spanish on us before dropping into spoken word mixed with gospel choir delivery. Superherose, who I’d never heard of before, drops “Birth of Love” that is again narrative/party it up, while Arch Nemesiz does a reasonably straightforward “What Child Is This?” Another narrative, “It Snowed” blends country rock thanks to Tim Rosenau, with a strange change from Toby’s hip-hop vibe. Nirva Ready brings it back with a semi-standard “Angels We Have Heard On High” with an R&B take, but the prerequesite Santa song follows that up with toddiefunk’s “Santa’s Comin’ Back ‘Round!” Thankfully, Byron “Mr. Talkbox” Chambers’ “Christmas Time” wraps (or raps) it up with a sensible Christmas blend about the night before Christmas.
Overall, I’m digging the album. Some of Tobymac’s “friends” don’t perform quite up to the same standard, but the rocking vibe with its heavy beats is a nice change from the standard “one dude and an acoustic guitar” vibe that too many folks bring to their Christmas albums. At least Tobymac didn’t try to be something he’s not; Christmas albums can rock the beats, too!