Shinoda's rap debut is stylized and weighty


December 01, 2005|By RASHOD D. OLLISON

Hip-hop is in him, an integral part of his musical expression, so eventually Mike Shinoda was going to do it. The Linkin Park MC and co-founder has just released his full-on rap debut, The Rising Tied.

"The first albums I listened to were Run DMC and the Beastie Boys [at] the same time I was studying classical pieces," says Mike, 28, who's calling from a promotional stop in Paris. "At some point, I was rapping and making beats. I didn't get a chance to do straight-up hip-hop songs with Linkin Park. ... I wondered what it would sound like if I took all the things I learned and applied [them] to the hip-hop I loved."

The results are mostly solid: heavily stylized with surprising glints of lyrical dexterity here and there. Mike released the album under the name Fort Minor. The first half of the pseudonym refers to strength, the other the darkness suggested by minor keys in music. Although for Mike, the album was a labor of love - he wrote, produced, mixed, sequenced and played just about every instrument on it - the boyishly handsome artist decided not to feature his picture on the project. Instead, a clunky, abstract illustration appears on the cover. "I make music because I love to make music, not for the celebrity of it," says Mike, whose Southern California-based group has sold more than 16 million albums. "I thought to put art on the cover and not my picture, hoping it would draw more attention to the music."

Although the songs and production on the album are consistently accessible, The Rising Tied isn't exactly commercial hip-hop. It's much too thoughtful. The weighty raps usually don't offer enough of a melodic hook for radio. With guest appearances by the frustratingly underrated Black Thought of the Roots, the possibly overrated Common and the mostly decent (certainly unspectacular) John Legend, The Rising Tied seldom overreaches. The instrumentation is deft and spare.

At the helm of the project was Jay-Z, who previously collaborated with Mike and Linkin Park on 2004's spirited Collision Course. Mike, who speaks of Jigga with almost worshipful reverence, asked the rapper to be the album's executive producer because he completely trusts Jay-Z's judgment about elements that make rap pop, so to speak.

"I have been a fan of Jay's since his first album," says the Southern California native. "I was excited to work with him. ... He didn't write any lyrics or music [on The Rising Tied]. He helped me mold the album by providing a fresh ear, which is just as important. He could tell me if I was hitting the mark or not."

On the album, Mike drops rhymes about his struggles as an MC ("Remember the Name"), his struggles with haters ("High Road"), his family's struggles during World War II ("Kenji").

"The album is my opportunity to say something personal," he says. "I'm half Japanese, so a song like `Kenji' is very important to me. The reason I wrote the song is because I think our generation wants to talk about racism and racial profiling and the mistakes of our past in history."

The Rising Tied falls short of making the list of best hip-hop albums of 2005. The heaviness of the raps, over the course of 16 tracks, becomes a bit too much. It is a good effort, though, and refreshingly substantive in spots.

"There's a lot of attitude," Mike says. "It's a different album from what I've done with Linkin Park."

Right. It's an accomplished extension.

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