Michael Tait is lead singer of The Newsboys. He and the Grammy-nominated band performed an electric set at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, last month. Best known as a member of the pioneering Christian rock/rap group dc Talk, Tait’s career in the Christian music industry has been defined by stretching the boundaries of art, faith, and culture. Urban Faith News & Religion editor Christine A. Scheller caught up with Tait as he prepared to take the stage. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Urban Faith: Congratulations on the success of Born Again, your first CD with The Newsboys.
Michael Tait: Thanks. After 44 weeks, we dropped off and then were number one again, so it’s mind-blowing.
Urban Faith: You’ve played with cross-cultural bands pretty much your whole career, right?
Michael Tait: Oh yeah. I call it “living integration.” I want people to see that the beauty of the human race is found in the diversity of the human race. We are God’s bouquet. We could have all white flowers or red, but man, wouldn’t it be pretty to see a bouquet of different flowers, different styles? That to me is the beauty of it.
Urban Faith: You did a lot to promote racial reconciliation when you were with dc Talk. Are you guys still involved with race and justice issues?
Michael Tait: Obviously, dc Talk is disbanded for the moment, or as we say, ‘double-parked in the city’ … but my heart’s always been for racial reconciliation because I grew up in the inner city of D.C. and my dad’s heart was for it.
Urban Faith: My editor wrote a book called Reconciliation Blues about his experience as a black person in the evangelical world. What are your thoughts on that experience?
Michael Tait: It’s funny you should mention that because the other day the band was like, “Tait, you’re like the only black guy in Christian rock.” It’s true. We have Kirk Franklin, who’s my friend, but that’s gospel. In CCM, as broad as it is, I’m the only little spot in that whole conglomeration.
Urban Faith: Did you grow up listening to rock music?
Michael Tait: I grew up listening to Oingo Boingo, U2, and Duran Duran, but also Kool & the Gang, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson. My friends gave me a hard time, but I was like 12 or 13 and I was like, “Forget you guys, man.” In other words, I’m not going to be pigeonholed. I like basketball and soul food, but I also like tennis and sushi — and rock ‘n’ roll.
Urban Faith: In an interview with the Gospel Music Channel, you talked about your sister who died of AIDS after a history of drug abuse and your brother who is in prison for drug offenses. In her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander talks about the war against drugs as a backlash against the civil rights movement. Do you think structural racism has impacted your own family in this regard?
Michael Tait: Speaking directly, in a real tangible way, no. We weren’t put down or put in jail because of our color, nor did we become victims of HIV because of our color. But I think down the line, in the very nature of racism, most African Americans have been affected by it. Is it an excuse? No, it’s a fact. Should we stop and throw in the towel. No way. I’m not doing that. I want to climb higher. Not everybody has that drive.
The sad part is, because of the system and racism, a lot of families are broken up. That was the whole nature of racism in the beginning, to tear apart families. It’s still going on. That’s the part that’s so bad, because then little Johnny and Stevie and Bernard are alone at home. Mom is working two jobs and dad can’t be found because the world says he’s not worth anything. He’s looked down upon. He feels inferior to others. It’s a stinky mess, so sometimes it’s hard to grasp what to do, but all you can do is take one day at a time and do one act at a time.
Urban Faith: Some Christians have been identified with the “birther movement” that cast dispersions on President Obama’s birth. Would it happen if he wasn’t black?
Michael Tait: I think the bigger issue here is that many of us are not happy with what’s happening in our country under his leadership. That’s going to make us say, “Hey, by the way, you’re not even da da da.”
Urban Faith: Are you speaking of yourself or in general?
Michael Tait: Yes, myself. I’m not satisfied with Obama’s current direction for our country. … The scariest part about it is I’m a Republican, and I’m not sure I see anyone coming up that I can even vote for next time. Who knows, [Obama] might get four more years.
Urban Faith: Another personal question for you. I read somewhere that you have a supermodel in your life.
Michael Tait: Yes, her name is Mari. We met in New York and started dating about a year ago. I’m going to pop the question one of these days.
Urban Faith: In your interview with the Gospel Music Network, you said, “I get lost in church. I can be jaded, go on cruise control. I know the Christian clichés and phrases to say to capture the audience.” That’s a spiritual dilemma. How do you keep going?
Michael Tait: I think it’s mind over matter. … The more real I get every night and the more I get into the Word in my personal life, the more it stays fresh. Otherwise it becomes karaoke. … Also, I look at the crowds and the people. Every state’s different and every situation is different. It’s like God inspires me and fills me in that moment for that work and I feel it every night. So I can say the same thing and God uses it because his Word never comes back void.