We Moved! WE MOVED

Projo Interview, Feb 2006

Friday, February 11, 2005

Hip-hopper Shinoda trying to hit one out of the Park

February 2, 2006


Linkin Park is one of the foremost groups in the modern mix of rock and hip-hop, but rapper/keyboardist Mike Shinoda still had an itch.

"Number one, when I do hip-hop with Linkin Park, it always has to share space with other things," he said in a phone interview this week. "And I don't mind that, but there is a point at which you feel like there are some ideas that would benefit having some breathing room."

Hence, the hip-hop outlet Fort Minor.

In the introduction to Fort Minor's debut CD, The Rising Tied, one of Shinoda's accomplices describes the music as underground hip-hop, "but with a really big sound." That's about it.

It's full of booming bass, but with plenty of string orchestrations, as well as complex song structures and lyrical themes that touch on alienation, homesickness, the seeming randomness of fate and more, delivered by Shinoda with a lot of help from his old friends in the crew Styles of Beyond. It's not your typical modern hit-radio hip-hop.

"I didn't want to make an alternative because I don't like the other stuff -- I like the other stuff; I listen to it. But there's a void that needs to be filled and I felt like that's something I wanted to do. . . .

"I'd call it an organic hip-hop style, musically.

"Back in the late '80s and early '90s, people sampled a lot, and because of that these records had a feel. They weren't recorded in a computer with a click track. . . . When I was approaching this record, what I wanted to do was try and get back to that, but I write music, I play music, so I wanted to write every note, record every note and play every note, and get that kind of hand-played feel."

And he said, except for the string parts and one sound from a loop library, he did play every note.


Lyrically, Shinoda says, "I wanted to do something that was not only honest and personal, but addressed some things that I've been thinking about, whether it be the story of 'Kenji' or personal stories like 'Get Me Gone' and 'Right Now,' that you don't get to hear a lot of in hip-hop, because everyone's so guarded.

"I know people are a product of their environment . . . If you've got an environment that's hard on you, you have to put up a shield to protect yourself from that. And that comes across lyrically in a lot of hip-hop.

"But I came in through the back door of the rock world. And I guess I'm lucky that I was able to use music as this outlet to get these more personal things out into the world."

Shinoda says he had 12 years of formal training on piano before getting into hip-hop and eventually joining with Linkin Park, and he's also worked with outfits such as the X-Ecutioners and Handsome Boy Modeling School. So he was well-versed in all aspects of the process before making The Rising Tied.

So, he said, he wrote his own raps and any sung parts (the guest rappers wrote their own rhymes). While Jay-Z (under his birth name, Shawn Carter) is listed as executive producer of The Rising Tied, the platinum rapper "helped me basically pick songs. He was a fresh ear. . . .

"He could listen to [something] for the first time and let me know if it needed work or it could go on the album."

Telling stories

Shinoda cites two of the most interesting songs on The Rising Tied, "Kenji" and "Cigarettes," as prime examples of ideas that wouldn't have worked with his band. "I just don't think that those songs would've come out if I'd have written them for a Linkin Park record. It would've been silly."

"Kenji" is the story of the internment of the half-Japanese Shinoda's relatives in American prison camps during World War II, and includes interview segments with Shinoda's father and aunt.

"I always felt it was a story that people don't know, and it's more complex than just saying, 'They put them into these camps, and then this happened to them.' . . . Things just kind of wear away at them, and the racism and the racial profiling of the time caused things to happen to them."

In the song, Shinoda's father's family returns to their house to find it's been trashed, with anti-Japanese graffiti scrawled everywhere. And Shinoda's aunt's husband died inside the camp.

Shinoda says he played "Kenji" for the president of the Japanese-American National Museum, who "stood behind it as an accurate representation of what happened."

"Cigarettes" draws connections between the outrageous claims of the cigarette industry and the inflated autobiographical claims of the hip-hop culture. Either way, Shinoda says, we're drawn in.

"One thing about this album, and that song in particular, that is brand-new to fans of Linkin Park, is sarcasm. I've had fans on the message board who were kind of thrown off by [this song], because they weren't used to me joking about someone like that, or even joking about myself.

"The tone of the song . . . I'm making fun of that kind of connection, and making fun of people like me at the same time. In that we buy this stuff, and no, it isn't really good stuff, but it doesn't matter, because we're in it for the escape.

"The connection being that obviously the cigarette companies and the hip-hop industry, they're selling a half-truth. The cigarette industry saying that the cigarette is not harmful is a joke. But is it any more far-fetched than all these guys running around saying how gangster they are? I don't think it is.

"You talk to rappers, they know that everybody's kind of making it a little more extreme than it is. But the bottom line is, you can't fault anybody. I love to listen to it; obviously a lot of people do.

"And is it our fault? Do we feel guilty about it? Maybe. But do we still do it? Of course we do. Because you don't have to be Scarface to watch the movie."

Shinoda also makes a connection between the hip-hop industry and current events.

"The James Frey thing is the funniest thing in the world to me. The criticism that they're putting on James Frey," who admitted that he falsified much of his best-selling memoir -- "if they applied that to hip-hop as a whole, the whole culture would fall apart. It's so full of elaboration and exaggeration that it wouldn't hold up. . . .

"What a lot of people say about the gangster stuff is that the real gangsters aren't talking about it."

In the red

Shinoda's taking the relatively opulent sound of The Rising Tied to the stage as well. The tour features 11 people on stage (Shinoda, Styles of Beyond, a drummer, three string players and three backup singers, plus guest appearances by Bobo of Cypress Hill and Holly Brooks).

"I told my agent that I wanted to do it this way, and he said, 'OK, based on this venue size and this ticket price, you're not going to be able to afford this tour. It's going to be in the red.' And I thought about it, and I said, 'OK, let's just do it.' . . .

"You've got to come see it in a venue where you can see everything; we've got to have all these players on stage, in my mind, to make it impactful. And I want people to leave saying, 'I get it. I really liked that.' "

Shinoda says he's splitting time between touring and other promotion for the Fort Minor record and writing new Linkin Park music. He forecasts a new Linkin Park album this year, and "I don't know what's going to happen beyond that. I just kind of take things as they come, and if Fort Minor works into that, I'd love to do it.

"The other guys in the band are very supportive. I told them that if this wasn't the right thing to do, I wouldn't do it."