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Originally published February 23, 2014 at 5:59 PM | Page modified February 24, 2014 at 1:29 PM

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Christian songster TobyMac delivers music, message

Christian rapper-songster Toby McKeehan, better known by his stage name TobyMac, offered an uplifting set of hits that had some of the trappings of hip-hop at a KeyArena concert Saturday night.

Special to The Seattle Times

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It might not be accurate to call former DC Talk frontman Toby McKeehan a rapper. And it’s probably a misnomer to label the thousands of true believers who sold out McKeehan’s “Hits Deep” tour Saturday night at KeyArena simply a “crowd.”

McKeehan, 49 — better known by his stage name TobyMac — played the part of the cool youth pastor for his audience, which looked like your average Sunday congregation: mostly families from preteen kids through grandparents.

The sprawling three-hour show featured an impressive array of contemporary Christian artists, including Matthew West, Brandon Heath, former “American Idol” contestant Mandisa and electronic duo Capital Kings. They each got about 15 minutes on stage and gave the show a festival atmosphere.

Despite the peppy warm-up, most people were on hand to see TobyMac, who offered an uplifting set of hits that had some of the trappings of hip-hop but none of the danger or authenticity. That hardly mattered. Saturday was a case where the message was far more important than the music.

Still, there was music and plenty of it. The six-time Grammy winner opened his 75-minute set with the thudding bass of “Lose Myself,” helping set the tone for McKeehan’s half-sung, half-rapped style.

“Speak Life” was a perfect example of this smooth hybrid and proved to be a surprising earworm; however, the frenetic guitar riffs of “Boomin’ ” seemed like a misguided melding of Kid Rock and Rage Against The Machine.

The best part of the night was a five-song acoustic interlude on a secondary stage near the rear of the arena. McKeehan included a DC Talk song, “In the Light,” as well as “Hold On,” a rare love song directed on Saturday not at God but a person — in this case, McKeehan’s wife, Amanda.

McKeehan closed his main set with the unfortunate “Funky Jesus Music” but came back out for a generous four-song encore and finished things off with “Me Without You.”

Most people in the crowd appeared to be like Gig Harbor resident Melodee MacKinnon, who was chaperoning a birthday party and said she was thrilled to be seeing TobyMac again.

“We just love that he’s a man of God,” MacKinnon said with her three preteen charges in tow. “He just lifts us up closer to God. We’re Christians and we know as long as we focus on Jesus, we’re pointed in the right direction.”

Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails

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