For years, Mike Shinoda had a credibility problem. Shinoda is a member of Linkin Park, the hard-rock band that has sold more than 36 million records worldwide. But since he raps in a so-called "nu-metal" band, hip-hop fans didn't take him seriously.
The funny thing is, Shinoda is more interested in authentic hip-hop culture than most mainstream rap stars. Coming up in Los Angeles, he attended popular clubs such as Project Blowed, Unity, and Foundation. "Aceyalone, he's one of my favorite lyricists," says Shinoda. In contrast to the freestyle-oriented rap world Aceyalone ascended from, however, Shinoda wanted to do something more musically varied. Linkin Park, with its mixing of rock, rap and electronics, adheres to that vision, even if music journalists often dismiss it.
"If you really listen to Linkin Park, it's not just rock music. The nu-metal and rap-rock label has been slapped on there enough that people believe it," says Shinoda, who not only raps but plays keyboards and rhythm guitar and produces tracks. "But if you listen to a song like 'Breaking the Habit' or 'Nobody's Listening' [both from Linkin Park's Meteora], you're not really listening to a rap-rock song. There's no rapping on 'Breaking the Habit' at all, and 'Nobody's Listening' is a straight-up hip-hop song.
"With Linkin Park, we have just done what we do. We don't try and stay within a genre. That's what I've always liked about it," he adds.
In 2002, Shinoda appeared on "It's Going Down," a surprise hit collaboration with turntablist group the X-ecutioners for the latter's Built from Scratch. Later that year, Linkin Park issued a remix album, Reanimation. The project, reportedly organized by Shinoda, featured remixes from several underground rap acts such as Zion-I, Dilated Peoples, Black Thought of the Roots, and many others. But Shinoda believes it is his solo debut under the name Fort Minor that is finally earning him some respect.
On the album, Shinoda lashes out at his critics, saying on "High Road," "These people are running off at the mouth/Trying to convince me that I'm running on empty." Then on "Get Me Gone," he adds, "I only do e-mail responses to print interviews/Because these people love to put a twist to your words."
But during a phone conversation, Shinoda is conciliatory, saying that he isn't criticized "as much as some other people. I always felt bad for Zack [de la Rocha] from Rage Against the Machine. When you talk to hip-hop heads, a lot of them won't accept the fact that he's a rapper, just because he's rapping over rock music, or funk, whatever you want to call it." Then he affirms himself, adding, "We're rappers. That's what we do. I'm not singing."
The Rising Tied is a formative work. Completely produced by Shinoda -- who eschewed samples in favor of an organic, keyboard-and-drum-programming sound -- the beats hit their mark and bear a passing resemblance to West Coast heroes such as Cypress Hill and Dr. Dre. But they don't quite bang, yielding a respectful but muted response.
Shinoda's lyrical candor makes up for the album's ordinary sound. On "Feel Like Home," he raps, "These days are dark and the nights are cold/People acting like they lost their soul/And everywhere I go I see another person like me/Trying to make it all feel like home."
Another song, "Kenji" (Shinoda's middle name), details his grandparents' internment during World War II. "I played it for the president of the Japanese American National Museum," says Shinoda. "I was looking at her, like, is this all right? Is this accurate? She said it was."
As a Japanese-American musician, Shinoda has dealt with racial stereotypes throughout his career. "Whether you're talking about film, music or many other places in entertainment, there are pockets where the Asian people aren't represented or are misrepresented," he says. "I don't think it's intentional. I think ignorance fuels it."
"I wanted to reflect where I come from," says Shinoda, who says he made a conscious effort to avoid the "same ol' guns and drugs and strip clubs" content of many rap records. "This type of story is not always told. I'm not talking about a lot of the same things that other people talk because I didn't go through the same life as them."