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MTV Fort Minor: A Guided Tour

Friday, February 11, 2005

Fort Minor: A Guided Tour

November 2005

After 12 years of studying piano, Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda could play classical compositions with his eyes closed. Finding someone to listen was the hard part.

"Maybe it was just my group of friends, but you play them some Bach and they're like, 'That's boring,' " he recalls. "But you play them a Dr. Dre loop and they're like, 'Oh sh--! He can play the Dre loop!' You play 'Deep Cover' and all of a sudden it's a big deal."

That realization essentially led Shinoda to the seat he's sitting in this morning, behind the mixing desk at quiet NRG Studios in North Hollywood, sipping Starbucks as he previews the tracks from The Rising Tied, the first album by his hip-hop side project, Fort Minor.

"In high school I was making beats for my friends and for myself and rapping over them," he explains. "As I was finishing college, Linkin Park started taking off, so since then I hadn't really gotten a chance to get back to this and do it. "I just started screwing around with beats, doing straight-up hip-hop songs again just for fun. And the more I played them for people, the more they told me, 'Let me get on this song' or 'You gotta put this song out,' or both."

Obviously, Shinoda's running with a different crowd these days: One of those listeners just happens to be the most powerful man in hip-hop — Jay-Z — who executive-produced the album and helped Shinoda narrow down more than 50 tracks to 14. "If he tells me a verse is really dope," Shinoda says, "then you'd better believe I'm not gonna change it!"

Although several guests — including Common and John Legend — make vocal contributions, The Rising Tied is an intensely personal project. "It deals with a lot of things that obviously I can't deal with on a Linkin Park record [because] I've got five other guys that I have to represent," he says.

He even made a self-imposed rule that he would write and play every note of music, making exceptions only to add strings, choir and some percussion parts. "I've got 100 [programmed] tambourine sounds, but for this album I went down to the store, bought a couple tambourines and sat there and played them," he says. "On some songs, I didn't even sequence things, meaning I didn't put them perfectly on beat: I'd sample them and play them by hand on a keyboard, so that it had that feeling of a person actually sitting there playing it.

"It's a hip-hop record, but it's more about songwriting."

And with that, Shinoda took another sip of his coffee, and then took us on a guided tour through the album.

"This is Jay's favorite track on the record. We're talking about hip-hop and where it is today. I asked Jay, 'Do you think it's weird that I'm making a commentary on hip-hop because some people see me as this guy in a rock band?' And his response was, nobody who hears the song will misunderstand [my] love for hip-hop. There's no question that I love hip-hop, but because I do, I'm able to criticize it.
"There are a lot of similarities between the tobacco industry and hip-hop: You tell a smoker it's bad for them, they don't give a sh--. It's like, I'll go out and buy an escapist, exciting, gangsta CD, and I'll love it even though I know it's saying things that are morally against who I am. I saw Ludacris on 'Oprah' the other day and it was the same [contradiction]. She kept on throwing out there, 'I don't agree with your lyrics,' and you could tell he wanted to say something to defend himself, but he's not gonna back-talk Oprah on her show! I think this is a big deal in hip-hop right now."

"Believe Me"
"This is gonna be the next single in the States. It's got Styles of Beyond — I've known those guys for about eight years. We're all from the same area here in L.A. They're on about half the record.
"I definitely wanted to add different elements, and there were some things that I wanted that I couldn't play. There's a really famous Latin percussionist named Willie Bobo and that's his son, Eric [on the track]. He plays with the Beastie Boys, he plays with Cypress Hill. He's got this whole crazy Latin percussion kit — I don't even know what all the names of the things are. He made it out for the video too. People are already like, 'Wait, which guys are Styles of Beyond? And who's in what?' It's complex: We're on some Wu-Tang sh--!"

"Remember the Name"
"That snare [sound] is like 12 tracks of sticks and clapping and snapping and tambourine [combined into one]. It probably took me a half hour just to make it. I'm lucky because I'm able to play a lot of different instruments. In the case of somebody like Kanye, he works a lot with samples. I could've gone that route too, but I figure if there's something you can do that is, like, your gift, just focus on [that]. Besides the fact that samples can be expensive!
"I had to do the strings — I think it's [because of my] classical start that I really like choir and strings. I met a really great guy named Dave Campbell — he's actually Beck's dad [and a top orchestrator for many years]. We worked with him on [Linkin Park's] Meteora. My favorite part of the process is, I'll play the string parts on keyboard and give him a CD, and after a day or two he brings in sheet music of the songs for string players to play. It's so much fun to see a hip-hop song transcribed for strings."

" 'Kenji' is about the time during World War II, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, when the U.S. government put [thousands of people of Japanese descent] from the West Coast in prison camps. A lot of kids don't even know this — your history book in high school devoted like two paragraphs to it. I'm half Japanese and my family went through that, so I wanted to take that story and put it in a song. I felt really strongly about putting something on the record that was totally, uniquely me.
"I did an interview with my dad and I did an interview with my aunt, who is almost 90 years old, and so they told me really what went on. I included that in the song. She was there when people were getting pulled out of their houses, and they had absolutely nothing to do with anything [involving the war]. It'd be your average neighbor — or you — getting pulled out of your house because you were racially profiled as somebody dangerous."

"Right Now"
" 'Right Now' is based on the idea from [Robert Altman's 1993 film] 'Short Cuts,' which is basically about cross-sections of life. And that's kinda what the song is like. It's me, Styles of Beyond and Black Thought [from the Roots], and everybody's got a different kind of life experience. Some of this stuff is fiction, some of it's non-fiction. Black Thought and Common were the first people who got on the album."

"Where'd You Go"
"We're thinking about doing this as a single. It's got a singer [signed to Linkin Park's Machine Shop Records] named Holly Brook on it. Her voice is unbelievable.
[Shinoda listens with his eyes closed, nearly in tears.] "There were only two songs that I told Jay and Brad [Delson of Linkin Park guitarist, who assisted with the album's production] that I can't take off the album: 'Kenji,' because it's about my family, 'Where'd You Go' because it makes my wife cry every time she hears it. [The song is written from the perspective of someone whose lover is always traveling.]
"When it came time to talk about those things [in songs], I had to do them on my own. I can't do it with Linkin Park, out of respect for the other guys. It's almost asking for too much attention. I also wouldn't have done this record if it hadn't been for the support of the guys in the band — I wouldn't just go out and do it. They've been really cool about it, and I'm grateful."

 thanks to lptimes.com