by Sean McPherson
Mike Shinoda has it good and he has it bad. On one hand, 286,000 people are going to hear his first rap record. On the other hand, 286,000 people are going to hear his first rap record. Recorded under the moniker Fort Minor, The Rising Tied is almost entirely produced and performed by Mike Shinoda, better known as “Oh my god, it’s the rapper from Linkin Park.” There is nowhere to hide after a band you’re in sells 36 million records and your artistic and commercial success or failure is going to be pretty well documented.
talents that Shinoda acquired in Linkin Park prepared him for some of what it
takes to make a great rap album. The beats and—beyond that—the artistic
vision that stand behind the work have a lot of strength and originality. But
when rapping Mike’s writing and delivery is missing the visceral presence
and musicality that bridges the distance between the beat and a sheet of words.
Mike Shinoda sounds like a rapper on his way to figuring how to match the things
he wants to say with the space and the pattern he should say them in. Mike also
didn’t surround himself with voices that would make him stand out in a
positive way; a lot of good rappers aren’t going to sound nice getting
the last verse when Common got the first one.
When I spoke to Mike on the phone he was relaxed, positive and patient. He was
Southern California attitude bottled, and he spoke with intensity and passion
about a lot of facets of his career and his work. His passion about artists
he had signed and his passion about making rap that’s different than what’s
out there today made me sugarcoat my agenda of figuring out where and when he
learned how and why to rap. I baby-stepped towards the credibility question.
I stuffed extra adjectives in hoping to ask him if he’d ever battled a
rapper at an open mic, if he ever got booed off a stage, et cetera. Halfway
through my poem/question he called bullshit on it and asked me a question:
“Are you asking if I have any history in rap?”
“Not really,” said Shinoda. “I wasn’t ready to get out
there. Before Linkin Park got going we were in the studio all the time. We played
maybe one show a month. I guess the one thing is I made the original beat for
“Marco Polo” by Styles of Beyond. But they ended up having a different
producer do the one for the record.”
an underground reputation, being a good battle rapper, producing beats for other
people; none of these things guarantee you’re going to make a good rap
record. They are all just avenues to getting good, honest, criticism about your
work. It’s hard enough to get the truth about your work from rappers when
you have a car to loan them, let alone when you have 7 million platinum records
on the wall, an imprint deal with Warner Bros. and probably an awesome house
with two juicers. But I got opinions, and no juicer.
When Mike Shinoda raps I never forget that raps are supposed to rhyme. I’m
either reminded because the words don’t rhyme as often as they should,
or because they rhyme so simply the purpose behind the words nearly disappears.
Common, Black Thought and Styles of Beyond (who share verses with Shinoda on
the majority of the tracks) put verses on the beats with the confidence, swagger,
language and enunciation I’ve come to expect from rap records made after
Rakim came out. Mike’s simple raps don’t dance correctly around
the slow, orchestra-heavy beats that generally rely on busy rhyme patterns.
Things get worse when Mike touches time signatures, tempos and feels that even
the strongest rappers struggle with on tracks such as “Kenji” and
“Red to Black.”
The so-so rapping stands side by side with some strong production. Shinoda’s
work sounds like Eminem’s with three more music theory classes. The dusty
drum loops and apocalyptic string and synth lines make some bona fide bangers.
Executive producer Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z) is sampled a handful of times on
the record saying positive things about the music, and it rings true. These
beats work, and beyond that there are some nice hooks.
the interview Mike also let me know that anything that’s sung on the record
was written by Mike. Shinoda’s writing for John Legend on “High
Road” takes perfect advantage of Legend’s strength as a vocalist.
And across the whole record the hooks are filled with strong, get-in-your-head
moments regardless of whether they are sung or rapped. Mike also got great performances
out of Common and Black Thought with thematic verses that relate to the rest
of the song and don’t come off as quick cameo appearances. When asked
whether he was intimidated to be working with such revered hip-hop artists,
Mike said that he “has a lot of experience as a producer. As a producer,
I just work on getting people relaxed and comfortable so they can highlight
their talents.” He also mentioned that everyone who worked on this record
was a friend before he started the record and that that was important to him
so he could keep the process “organic.” The record does hold up
as a unified whole, with a clear stylistic sound and feel that will keep a lot
of people happy and also, it’s lucky that he has friends who are good
From his responses and his rapping in Fort Minor, it seems very clear to me
that Mike Shinoda has a great work ethic. A good third of the record and about
the same amount of the interview was taken up with talking about the focus and
work in the studio it takes to make music. Seeing Fort Minor live on Jay Leno
gave a great peek at what the Twin Cities can expect on Saturday. His 11-piece
band sounds great and features some really strong string players alongside most
of Styles of Beyond and a drummer named Beatdown. Mike himself has a lot of
the basic emcee needs met when it comes to a live show. I could hear his rapping
and feel his excitement, which is more than I can say for the couple other rappers
that they’ve accidentally invited onto the show.
I wasted a lot of Mike Shinoda’s time asking him questions that didn’t
make it into my super-opinionated article. But, he’s got some info that’s
worth repeating. If he were going to have other people produce beats for him,
he’d have Diplo, Just Blaze, The Neptunes and “to really go out
of the box, which I love”...Trent Reznor. Trent Reznor doesn’t seem
super out of the box for a member of Linkin Park. It seems more like they are
in Trent Reznor’s box counting money that should be his. Also, Linkin
Park and Fort Minor have socks and underwear waiting for them backstage at every
show. He knows it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Also, if you bring something
to the show, Fort Minor will sign it. Especially California flags, but other
stuff, too. I’m going to bring a St. Cloud flag and a rotisserie chicken,
if I can find one. ||
Fort Minor will perform Sat., Jan. 28 at Station 4 with Styles of Beyond
and Little Brother. This show was moved from the Quest, and all Quest tickets
will be honored. 6 p.m. $20. All Ages. 201 E. 4th St., Saint Paul. 651-298-0173.
For more information on Fort Minor, check out their official website at FortMinor.com.