DARIEN – Ten thousand people packed into Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Wednesday for a hip-hop show.
Happens at least once a year, right? Like this Friday night, when the Drake and Lil’ Wayne tour stops in town.
Make that twice. The other happened Wednesday night, as a jammed crowd raised open palms and celebrated in unison with TobyMac, who closed out the four-day Kingdom Bound Festival.
The 49-year-old TobyMac (full name: Toby McKeehan) is a pioneer in his genre, touted as one of the first Christian hip-hop artists. Watching him perform in small slices resembles what you’d find at any amped-up pop-rock or hip-hop concert: high-energy vocals, smoke guns, kinetic lights, a permanently standing and attention-locked crowd.
It’s a show with punch and funk. Nothing, and nobody, is passive.
The trim McKeehan, dressed in white pants and T-shirt, a gray jacket, feathered fedora and blue horn-rimmed glasses, made the crowd three promises:
“I want you to leave here sweating.”
“I want you to leave here hoarse.”
That was happening.
“I want you to leave here with your spirit refreshed.”
That third promise is what separates McKeehan’s act, which also includes plenty of pop and singer-songwriter vocals, from that of so-called mainstream artists.
McKeehan masterfully mixes his set, weaving an array of musical approaches and turning the energy level from solemn to supercharged with a single song.
He has bouncy hip-hop, a song about his wife and even some horn-driven funk.
In “Eye On It,” he matched revved-up hip-hop with a throbbing African drum beat, courtesy of two members of his backup band, Diversecity, who were wearing over-the-shoulder snares. His backup singer, Nirva Dorsaint Ready, delivered powerful vocals.
McKeehan prefaced the vocally powerful “Steal My Show” by telling the crowd, “We want God to steal this show.”
The degree to which that happened is measured by each individual; certainly, it’s naked to the critical eye. But if we are to use “Worship His Holy Name” as an indicator, the show was stolen. During that hymn-like song, the crowd, bathed in warm lights, raised hands and sang every word.
It’s not your standard hip-hop, and not your typical music.
Which is exactly the point.