Last week, one of the pioneers of Christian rap, TobyMac, carved his own piece of history by topping the Billboard 200 with the album “Eye On It,” making it the first time in almost fifteen years – and the third time ever – that a Christian album scooped the coveted leading position on the mainstream music chart.
“Christian music has been very successful on the Billboard 200 chart for a long while now, but TobyMac’s ‘Eye On It’ just happened to be the first album since 1997 to hit number one,” Billboard Editor, Keith Caulfield, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “There was just always something blocking a Christian title from the top slot – we’ve had a number of Christian sets reach number two since 1997.”
According to Billboard.com, the last time a Christian set scored a number one was in 1997 when LeAnn Rimes’s “You Light Up My Life – Inspirational Songs” spent its third and final week at the top of the tally. Earlier that year Bob Carlisle’s “Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace)” flew to the top of the list.
So why this album, and why now?
“Sometimes, hitting number one has a lot to do with releasing an album at the right time and selling just the right amount,” Caulfield explained. “There wasn’t a lot of competition for the number one slot last week, and TobyMac had a clear lane straight to number one.”
However, Grammy and BET-award nominee Adrian Anderson, formerly of the urban gospel group Trin-t-tee 5:7, believes the reason has more to do with a reflection of the times and what music fans are looking for.
“The necessity for inspiration is in the atmosphere and it is what every heart needs,” she explained. “TobyMac is a trusted artist in Christian music whose love of God, music and excellence is respected across the board, and Christian music has risen to a level of production/musical excellence that has caused the genre to be more respected and appreciated.”
And while TobyMac may be the only Christian genre band to crack the mainstream market at the top spot for quite some time, Mark Joseph, Hollywood producer and author of the forthcoming “Rock Gets Religion: The Battle For The Soul of the Devil’s Music,” argues that divine-inspired tracks have become so commonplace these days that we simply don’t differentiate them.
“TobyMac reaching number one is just another example of the mainstreaming of so-called Christian music that his happening all around us, to the point that we’re listening to it at the gym and not even realizing it,” he remarked. “The pop and rock charts are filled with artists who used to be in that industry-like Katy Perry, Switchfoot and Joy Williams of The Civil Wars, but also by young devout performers who in the past might have gone into that industry, like Justin Bieber, Mumford & Sons, The Fray, The Cold War Kids and Flyleaf. Today, they head straight to mainstream labels, but it’s clear from the lyrics that they’re not abandoning their beliefs.”
Indeed, since 2011, four Christian albums reach the #2 on the Billboard 200 (Casting Crowns’ “Come to the Wall,” Red’s “Until We Have Faces” and David Crowder Band’s “Give Us a Rest” all peaked at number two), experts anticipate that we’ll be hearing a lot of more God-centric tunes in the near future.
“They only have to be genuine, excellent, build a great team and do the work offstage that fuels the talent and gifts onstage,” Anderson said.