DC Talk

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DC Talk
DC Talk members left to right: Michael Tait, Kevin Max Smith, Toby McKeehan
Background information
OriginLynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
Years active1987–present (hiatus)
LabelsForeFront, Virgin

DC Talk (stylized as dc Talk) is a Christian rap and rock trio. The group was formed at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1987 by Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max Smith. They released five major studio albums together: DC Talk (1989), Nu Thang (1990), Free at Last (1992), Jesus Freak (1995), and Supernatural (1998). In 2002, the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music called DC Talk "the most popular overtly Christian act of all time."[1]

In 2001, the group released an EP titled Solo, which contained two solo songs from each member. Since that time, DC Talk has been on an indefinite hiatus, and the three band members all have led solo careers. They performed and recorded individual songs together several times during the 2000s, although the group never officially reunited or disbanded.

The group's musical style evolved significantly throughout its career. Its first two releases, DC Talk and Nu Thang, were of the hip hop genre. DC Talk's third album, Free at Last, also mainly took influence from the hip hop style, although the group's music began taking on a rock sound. The trio's last two albums, Jesus Freak and Supernatural, were predominantly pop rock.



"DC Talk" was a nickname that Toby Michael McKeehan, later "TobyMac", (1964- ), who was born in Falls Church, Virginia, was given for being from the Washington D.C., area.[2] While attending Liberty University, McKeehan met Michael DeWayne Tait (1966- ), and the two began to perform together. Tait had been featured singing on Jerry Falwell’s The Old Time Gospel Hour and recorded with the Falwell Singers.[3] He also performed solo, what TobyMac later described as "kind of an R&B / church-oriented music."[4]

The two joined forces to record a song that McKeehan had written, "Heavenbound".[3] They performed the song before an audience of 8,000 Liberty students with McKeehan rapping and Tait singing the chorus.[3] The song was well received, selling out the approximately 3,000 copies[3] of their demo tape, Christian Rhymes to a Rhythm. The tape included "Heavenbound" and was distributed by the group in the Washington D.C. area.[2] The group’s demo tape eventually led to a recording contract with Forefront Records in 1988.[3] Kevin Max Smith, later "Kevin Max", (1967- ) came from a campus rock band to join the group,[4] and the trio called themselves "DC Talk and the One Way Crew".[2] The name was later simplified to "DC Talk", which came to stand for "decent Christian talk".[2]

DC Talk (1989)[edit]

After signing the recording contract with ForeFront the label released their self-titled debut album, DC Talk, in 1989 with Mike Valliere and Vic Mignogna. The music video for their first single, "Heavenbound", received airplay on the BET network.[5] According to Kevin Max, the self-titled record is the only DC Talk record that doesn't feature him singing even though he is credited on the album.

Nu Thang (1990–1992)[edit]

Their follow-up release, Nu Thang, and a Christmas EP titled Yo, Ho, Ho!, were released in 1990. Yo Ho Ho had three songs — the title track, "Reason for the Season" and "The King", which was also on DC Talk's first album. Nu Thang had two successful singles: "I Luv Rap Music" and "Can I Get a Witness".[6] Apart from dealing strictly with Christian themes, the band incorporated songs addressing social issues, such as racism in the song "Walls" and abortion in "Children Can Live Without It".[5] The hip hop/pop styling of the album earned the band attention, expanding the group's audience, and by 1991, Nu Thang had sold 200,000 copies.[2] The band became an opening act for Michael W. Smith and received a Dove Award.[2][7] The release of their Rap, Rock, n' Soul video garnered a wider audience for the group, being certified gold for long form video.[1][7]

In 1992, a year after its release, Nu Thang sold more than 300,000 copies and gave the trio two more Dove Awards.[2] In addition to the increasing attention that the group began to receive, DC Talk appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show that same year.[2] "Nu Thang" was eventually certified gold, selling over 500,000 copies, an impressive feat for a Christian artist at that time.[1]

Free at Last (1992–1994)[edit]

In November 1992, the group released an album that would forever change the landscape of Christian music, Free at Last, which was certified as platinum by the RIAA in 1995.[8] In 2001, CCM ranked "Free at Last" as the 9th best album in Christian music.[9] The album included "The Hardway"; a cover version of the Bill Withers song "Lean on Me"; and a remake of "Jesus Is Just Alright", originally recorded by the Art Reynolds Singers.[6] It stayed at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard CCM sales chart for 34 weeks.[6][7] DC Talk became one of the first contemporary Christian groups to perform on late-night television when, on November 12, 1993, the band performed "Jesus Is Still Alright" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.[10] Free at Last also garnered the group's first Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album in 1994.[1][6] The success of the album is attributed to the group moving away from a strictly rap sound to a blend of hip hop and pop.[7] The album also prompted the filming of a documentary film with the same name.

Free at Last: The Movie[edit]

During the Free at Last tour, the band was followed around by camera crews to film a documentary. The documentary was going to be released as a theatrical film, Free at Last: The Movie, and was heavily promoted on Lightmusic TV, a Christian music video show. After months of teaser trailers, they abruptly stopped. A trailer included in the enhanced CD single of "Jesus Freak" advertised a September 17, 1995 theatrical release date for the film. It was never released to theaters, as it could not find a distributor.[11] Eight years after the film was to be released theatrically, the movie was finally released on DVD in unfinished form. Some of the footage used for the movie was shown in the video for the song "The Hardway". In 1994, they released one more Christmas single which was their remix version of the classic, "We Three Kings" which was on the album "Joyful Christmas" featuring many other Christian artists.

Jesus Freak (1995–1997)[edit]

Jesus Freak was released in 1995, and it achieved the highest first-week sales of any Christian release in history,[6] reaching No. 16 on the Billboard 200.[12] The album, which was ultimately certified double platinum,[8] was certified gold within thirty days of its release.[13] This album was a fusion of the musical stylings, with a more pop-rock oriented sound combined with hip hop.

Jesus Freak marked a milestone in the group's commercial career as they signed a deal with Virgin Records in 1996 to distribute their music to the mainstream market.[7][14] It also earned dc Talk their second Grammy.[1]

The title track is also of historical importance. It is believed to be the first link between grunge and rapcore in Contemporary Christian music, and was the first non–Adult Contemporary song to win the Dove Award for Song of the Year. The song was also played on some secular stations.[1]

[15] "Between You and Me" was a successful single, reaching No. 24 and No. 29 respectively on Billboard's Adult Contemporary and Hot 100[12] and No. 12 on Casey's Top 40, while the video received regular airtime on MTV and VH1.[6]

With the release of the album, the group launched a massive tour titled the Freakshow Tour,[6] which took the trio across the United States, Canada, and Europe. The group released a live video titled Live in Concert: Welcome To The Freak Show which contained footage from the Freakshow tour.[7] An audio CD of the soundtrack from the video was also released under the same title, reaching No. 109 on the Billboard 200.[12] The CD Welcome to the Freakshow was certified gold and won dc Talk another Grammy award.[1]

The album is looked at by many as one of the greatest and most important albums to be released in Christian music.[16]

Supernatural (1998–2000)[edit]

Supernatural, released in 1998, was their last all-new studio album. Upon release, the album overtook Jesus Freak to set a new record for the highest first week sales for a Christian release.[6] It debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 charts, a feat for a Christian rock album.[7] Supernatural abandoned the hip hop/rap style found on the group's earlier releases to settle for the pop/rock sound.[7] The group has stated in The Supernatural Experience video that this album was different; it was a collaborative effort of all three members.[7] The songs "Consume Me", "Into Jesus", "Red Letters", and "My Friend (So Long)" received their fair share of radio play on Modern Rock, Contemporary Christian, and Alternative outlets. The group then embarked on a 60-city tour across the United States titled, The Supernatural Experience. Footage from the tour was combined with interviews and released as The Supernatural Experience video and was certified gold for long form video.[1]

In addition to touring and recording Supernatural, the members of the group went on to co-author a book titled Jesus Freaks in collaboration with The Voice of the Martyrs in 1999. The book contains the shortened biographies and incidents in the lives of famous and lesser-known Christians who stood up for their faith. Since then, the group has co-authored a series of other books.

Hiatus begins (2000)[edit]

In 2000, DC Talk hosted a show titled Intermission: A Decade of DC Talk.[17] A compilation album titled Intermission: The Greatest Hits was then released, containing many of their previously recorded songs either remixed or in their original formats. Two new songs, "Chance" and "Sugar Coat It", were recorded for the album. Intermission reached No. 81 on the Billboard 200.[12]

In 2000, the members announced that they would be taking a break from the group to pursue solo efforts. They released Solo: Special Edition EP, which contained two new songs from each member's solo ventures and a live version of the U2 song "40" performed by all three members. The EP reached No. 142 on the Billboard 200 and won dc Talk their fourth Grammy award.[1][12]

Reunions and developments since hiatus (2000–present)[edit]

In September 2002, DC Talk recorded and released a single about the September 11, 2001 attacks titled "Let's Roll". A 10th Anniversary Edition of Free at Last, which includes all of the songs from the original album (including interludes), a 2002 remake of "The Hardway", as well as a commentary at the end was released. The Special Edition releases also include the DVD of their Free at Last documentary, as well as the music videos for "The Hardway" and "Jesus Is Just Alright".

In 2004, they performed together on a remix of tobyMac's "Atmosphere" as the final track of the Welcome to Diverse City album.

On September 12, 2005, they performed "In the Light" and "Jesus Freak" together during a September 12 concert in Redmond, WA.

On January 12, 2006, Gotee Records (co-founded by DC Talk's TobyMac) announced the production of a 10th anniversary Jesus Freak tribute album entitled, Freaked!. This album, which was released in June 2006, features songs from such Gotee Records artists as Relient K, Sarah Kelly, The Showdown, House of Heroes, Verbs, Liquid, and Family Force 5. It also features a reunion of the Gotee Brothers. In August 2006 an album titled The Early Years, a compilation of songs from their first three albums, was released. On December 26, 2006, a 10th anniversary special edition of Jesus Freak was released.

In 2007, the members joined together to cover the Prince-penned song "The Cross", featuring on Kevin's album, The Blood.

In 2008, Gospel Music Channel interviewed TobyMac, Michael Tait, Joey Elwood, Michael W. Smith, Greg Ham, Peter York, Amanda McKeehan, and Dan Pitts for a TV show called Faith and Fame. Another Greatest Hits album was also released that year.

In 2010, the trio performed with Aaron Shust, Brandon Heath, Matthew West, Natalie Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Casting Crowns, and many other artists to serve as backing choir for "Come Together Now", a song about the 2010 Haiti earthquakes. The song was co-written by Michael W. Smith, David Mullen, and Cindy Morgan.[18] On February 21, 2010 TobyMac and Michael Tait, along with the Newsboys, performed the song "Jesus Freak" during Winter Jam in Nashville, Tennessee.[19] In June 2010 Kevin Max tweeted that he was trying to arrange a reunion tour for "perhaps" 2011.[20] On August 3, 2010 "Jesus Freak" was released as a download to the Rock Band store. The song has a "Supervision Recommended" rating.[21] The Rock Band store states that "Supervision Recommended" tracks "may contain suggestive lyrics and the infrequent use of strong language," and the song is not playable in LEGO Rock Band due to the rating.[22] In October 2010 Kevin Max discussed the prospect of new DC Talk music. He admitted that he would love to make more music but he thinks "that time has passed us by...". He then explained, "as individuals we are so different in our approaches that it might be quite a process." Kevin expressed interest in a reunion tour for the fans.[23]

In January 2011, TobyMac stated that a reunion tour would probably happen "sooner or later". He mentioned talking with Michael and Kevin about "when it should be" and "what it could look like." Fans hoping for a reunion tour in the near future may be disappointed: "Right now, I think we're really just enjoying the mountain we're climbing, each of us individually. It's never been a completely closed door. We've always sort of laughed about it, smiled about it. It's timing, I guess."[24] On May 28 and 29, 2011, at the Big Church Day Out in Wiston, UK, TobyMac joined the Newsboys twice to perform "Jesus Freak", and Michael sang "In the Light" on both days with Toby's band, Diverse City.[25] In June 2011 Toby admitted that he thought about Kevin and Michael for every song that he writes. His song "Wonderin'" is about his past with Kevin and Michael in DC Talk. "It's just a warm look back at DC Talk," says Toby, almost wistfully. "It's reminiscing about Michael and Kevin and what we did together, and recognizing their influence on me. I love what I do today, but there are times when I wonder, What if we stayed together? I've got these dreams I'm pursuing now, but are they stealing me from you?"[26] On June 7, 2011, Back 2 Back Hits, featuring songs off Jesus Freak and Supernatural, was released.[27]

In January 2014, Tait indicated that he liked the sound of a "20-years-later" tour in 2015, and that he and tobyMac continue to have conversations on the subject, but that tickets would be pricey.[28] In February 2014, tobyMac admitted he is asked "close to every day" about a reunion tour and that "nothing concrete is in the works" due to conflicting schedules, but that he had not ruled out a reunion.[29] The three celebrated TobyMac's 50th birthday on October 22, 2014.[30]

In 2015 it was announced by Gotee Records that they would be issuing Jesus Freak and Supernatural on vinyl for the first time.[31] The trio also reunited for their first studio track since 2007 to record "Love Feels Like" on TobyMac's sixth studio album This Is Not a Test.[32] It was accompanied with a lyric video.[33]

On October 11, 2016, DC Talk performed "Love Feels Like" [34] at the Allen Arena in Nashville, Tennessee at the 47th Annual GMA Dove Awards.[35] The performance was posted Live on the DC Talk Facebook page,[36] making it the very first Facebook Live[37] performance for the band.

DC Talk performed two concerts on July 13, 2017, and a third show on July 14, 2017. These were aboard the MSC Divina in the Bahamas on the reunion cruise announced over a year earlier. The group hinted at more reunions to take place in the future.[38]


The group is notable for its stances against racism (as evidenced by "Colored People", the second track of Jesus Freak), as well as the uncompromising Christian message in its music. "We're very open about our Christian faith," says McKeehan, "but when we make our records we want to create a musical experience that anyone can immerse themselves in." But still, he says, "one of our goals is to encourage listeners to question themselves and to seek out truth."[39]

E.R.A.C.E. (Eliminating Racism And Creating Equality) was launched in September 1997 when DC Talk participated in the "Racial Reconciliation Rally" in Little Rock, Arkansas. The rally was part of a week-long emphasis on racial reconciliation.[40]

In 1998, the group began the E.R.A.C.E. Foundation to combat racism.[40] The foundation was started after four years of discussion and planning with manager Dan Pitts and Gotee Records President, Joey Elwood. The primary aim of the foundation is to educate and equip America's youth with "an understanding of the importance of interracial unity". The foundation works on healing historically divided groups and healing rifts within the society.[40]

Group members[edit]


  • Jason Halbert – keyboard, organ
  • Otto "Sugar Bear" Price – bass
  • Mark Townsend – guitar
  • Erick Cole - guitar
  • Martin Upton – guitar
  • Brent Barcus – guitar
  • Will Denton
  • Rick "Mayday" May  – drums
  • Ric "DJ Form" Robbins – DJ
  • Marvin Sims – percussion
  • GRITS – choreography
  • Barry Graul – guitar




  • Jesus Freaks (1999)
  • Live Like a Jesus Freak (2001)
  • Jesus Freaks: Promises for a Jesus Freak (2001)
  • Jesus Freaks Volume II: Stories of Revolutionaries Who Changed Their World Fearing God, Not Man (2002)
  • Jesus Freaks: Revolutionaries (2005)
  • Jesus Freaks: Martyrs (2005)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1992 Nu Thang Best Rock/Contemporary Gospel Album Nominated
1993 Free at Last Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album Won
1996 Jesus Freak Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album Won
1997 Welcome to the Freak Show Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album Won
1999 Supernatural Grammy Award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album Nominated
2001 Solo Grammy Award for Best Rock Gospel Album Won

Dove Awards[edit]

Year Nominee/work Award Result
1992 Rap, Rock, & Soul Long Form Music Video of the Year Won
"I Love Rap Music" Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year Won
1993 "Can I Get a Witness" Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year Won
1994 "Socially Acceptable" Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year Won
"Jesus is Just Alright" Rock Recorded Song of the Year Won
1994 "Luv is a Verb" Rap/Hip Hop Recorded Song of the Year Won
1996 DC Talk Artist of the Year Won
"Jesus Freak" Song of the Year Won
"Jesus Freak" Rock Recorded Song of the Year Won
1997 "Between You and Me" Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year Won
Jesus Freak Rock Album of the Year Won
"Like It, Love It, Need It" Rock Recorded Song of the Year Won
"Jesus Freak" Short Form Music Video of the Year Won
1998 "Colored People" Short Form Music Video of the Year Won
1999 DC Talk Group of the Year Nominated
DC Talk Artist of the Year Nominated
"My Friend (So Long)" Rock Recorded Song of the Year Nominated
Supernatural Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year Nominated
2000 The Supernatural Experience Long Form Music Video of the Year Won
2001 "Dive" Alternative/Modern Rock Song Won
2004 Free at Last: The Movie (10th Anniversary) Long Form Music Video of the Year Nominated


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  31. ^ Staff. "First Ever Vinyl Release of dc Talk's 'Jesus Freak' and 'Supernatural'". CCM Magazine. Retrieved 2016-02-07.
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  35. ^ "The 48th Annual GMA Dove Awards | Honoring Outstanding Achievements and Excellence in Christian Music". doveawards.com. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  36. ^ "dc Talk | Facebook". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  37. ^ "Live | Facebook". live.fb.com. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  38. ^ 7 Takeaways from the DCTalk Cruise, retrieved 2017-07-21
  39. ^ "DC Talk: Bio Page".
  40. ^ a b c "the E.R.A.C.E. foundation - our history". Erace.com. Retrieved September 21, 2011.

External links[edit]