Friday, 18 July 2008

Fort Minor

How do you thrive in the shadow, substantial and arena-sized, of a group that has sold over 35 million albums? If you're Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, the answer is: shine your own light. Shinoda is half the vocal firepower of the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning band Linkin Park, trading diaphragmatic diatribes with singer Chester Bennington and infusing the searing alternative rock with equally intense hip-hop. From album to album, Shinoda and his bandmates have garnered a reputation based on their appetite for striking new ground. On his first outing alone, Shinoda is ready to show people that he is still hungry.

Shinoda's rap roots have always had to share space with other elements-until now. Fort Minor is a wholly unique, unadulterated hip hop album, owing as much to Shinoda's polished lyricism as his musical adeptness. The variety of themes, styles, and moods he creates make this "side project" likely to do much more than simply satisfy existing LP fans; it threatens to expose Shinoda as a rap devotee who is as at home in hip-hop as he is in the cross-genre hybrid of Linkin Park.

The Rising Tied, the much-anticipated debut of Shinoda's Fort Minor, will be released by Machine Shop Recordings/Warner Bros., November 22, 2005. Executive Produced by Jay-Z (who collaborated with Linkin Park on 2004's Collision Course), The Rising Tied is produced and mixed by Shinoda, who wrote every track, played nearly every instrument and "slaved over every detail."

While Shinoda chose the name Fort Minor to reflect the dynamic between opposites - something big and strong vs. something small and slight (or musically dark) - the name of the album is also a play on words. All of the guest artists on The Rising Tied, says Shinoda, are coming up together in the music world. Among them are Machine Shop acts Styles of Beyond and Holly Brook, as well as Common, John Legend, Kenna and Black Thought (of The Roots), among others.

While remaining an essential shard in the mosaic of Linkin Park, the desire to create songs that resonated with his youth as a hip-hop producer and MC led Shinoda to write, then record, a progression of hip-hop-rooted songs. As they began to coalesce into an album bearing Shinoda's solo imprimatur, he also felt it was essential to keep it "organic," making his own samples and breakbeats with live instruments, and avoiding sequenced keyboards. The Rising Tied, channeling some of the signature dynamics and frustration of Linkin Park, reveals a more personal range of themes slagged inside a distinctly hip-hop crucible.

Not to say that it's an entirely homogenized collection. On the track "Believe Me," excerpts from a decaying relationship tremble over a seismic breakbeat, infused with Latin percussion and a cello-bass line that reflects Shinoda's love of classic rock. "High Road," bouncing to Billy Joel-like piano progressions, adopts a humorous tone even as it gives the finger to someone who once told him to "stick to keyboards, don't rap."

More funny business comes into play in "Remember the Name," with Shinoda transforming a traditional rapper's brag into a subtler call for respect, all done in the third-person. What's the formula for success? Shinoda answers, in a walking tempo, "This is 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure, 50% pain, and 100% reason to remember the name."

Another song that shifts traditional perspectives is "Where'd You Go?," a lament for those on the road as felt through the experience of those left behind. Shinoda warns, "'Where'd You Go' makes my wife cry every time she hears it."

On "Right Now," inspired by Robert Altman's iconoclastic film Short Cuts, Shinoda, Black Thought, and S.O.B. offer a hodgepodge of scenes, invoked to the rhythm of a chopped-up piano loop, which stitch together disparate lives during any given moment. Home-town pride inspires Shinoda's unexpected and highly personalized picture of Los Angeles in the candid "Back Home," while sarcasm drives the irresponsible zeitgeist of "Petrified," a precarious anthem built on swagger, fear, and the heaviest beat since Ice Cube's "Wicked." Clearly, the most unique song of this album - or any album, for that matter - is a rap-flavored recollection of the U.S. internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. "Kenji," featuring the voices of Shinoda's aunt and father who were interned in the U.S. during the 1940s, paints a bleak picture of those who lost everything after being thrown into what were known then, euphemistically, as "relocation camps." Shinoda explains, "I went to the Japanese-American National Museum in L.A. last year, and it reminded me of all the stories my family had told me, how they were put into internment camps here in the U.S., not because they had done anything wrong, but simply because they fit a profile. I had to write a song about it." With Fort Minor and The Rising Tied, Shinoda appreciated the chance to tackle a new theme outside the normal subject matter of Linkin Park.

Tackling big goals seems to be Shinoda's modus operandi. Notwithstanding an expectation to pursue a career in the visual arts, Mike decided instead to become a musician while working toward his B.A. in Illustration from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Having already taken ten years of piano lessons, he first began to work as a hip-hop MC and producer. In the mid-1990s Shinoda joined with guitarist Brad Delson, turntablist Joseph Hahn, drummer Rob Bourdon, bassist Phoenix and vocalist Chester Bennington to form Linkin Park. The band's debut, Hybrid Theory, became the worldwide #1-selling album of 2001, earning a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance ("Crawling") and various other awards. Its subsequent albums - Reanimation, Meteora and Live in Texas - have continued to widen the band's fan base and critical acclaim; all together the catalogue has sold upwards of 35 million albums. On July 2 in Philadelphia, Linkin Park performed as part of the African aid/debt relief effort Live 8, to a live audience estimated at nearly one million people.

Mike Shinoda's personal philanthropic efforts are growing as well. In the past five years, he has started a scholarship at his alma mater and been involved in groups such as United Way, AIDS Project L.A., Densho, the Japanese American National Museum, Arthritis Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Last year, Linkin Park launched Music For Relief, an organization to aid the rebuilding of Southeast Asia; the band played a sold-out show in Los Angeles to support the cause, raising over $2 million for relief efforts.


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