Dove Awards highlight Christian rap's rising popularity


NASHVILLE — After winning his second Dove Award for artist of the year Tuesday night, Christian rock star Toby McKeehan—better known as TobyMac—used the platform to celebrate hip-hop's rise in popularity among believers.

"I've always come from hip-hop roots albeit I'm a pop artist," he said after the show. "I've always thought, man, if you're talking about hope, if you're talking about faith, you can't limit it to one style of music. … Gospel hip-hop has always existed, it just has never had the platform it's finally getting."

One of the genre's rising stars, rapper Lecrae Moore, praised TobyMac for his role in bringing urban music into the Christian mainstream: "TobyMac is a legend. … I told him if he ever wants to do a song with me, all he has to do is ask. I'm excited to see the transition is bigger than me. It's a movement."

In addition to winning the annual gala's top award, TobyMac took home four other Doves, including one for Best Pop Contemporary album for Eye On It. He and Britt Nicole dazzled the audience with a live performance of the title song, an eclectic, pop-dance piece in which TobyMac sings about "Reachin' for what lies ahead," keeping his "Eye on the prize," and "Pressin' on with everything I got." 

The most awards went to British worship leader Matt Redman, who won six Doves, including Song of the Year for his popular worship melody, 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord). Christian Bluegrass singer Jason Crabb won four Doves, including one for Best Inspirational album, Best Southern Gospel Album of the Year, and Best Southern Gospel Song for "Love is Stronger." 

Lecrae won best Hip Hop Song for his single Tell the World, featuring Mali. Brother duo, For King & Country, won Best New Artist award in the wake of their 2012 debut album Hope Is What We Crave.

The annual gala, emceed this year by Amy Grant and Kirk Franklin, recognized some of the most notable faith-based music across 42 categories, a mixture of styles TobyMac praised as an expression of the Christian community's diversity.

"I think the show flexed the gospel/Christian music muscles of diversity tonight," he told Billboard backstage. "It's filled with life, not only life in the lyrics we sing, but in the style of music that we make."