Making a statement is a common goal for many artists. It has to be. With so many different people vying for their credibility in such a polarizing medium, there has to be a way for you to stand out and apart from the exponentially increasing herd. Songwriter/rapper/producer Mike Shinoda is no stranger to the need of proving himself; in fact, for him, it has been ever-present throughout his career. Even though his name may not be readily identifiable by you, you likely know him as one of the frontmen for rock group, Linkin Park.
Shinoda is the technical engineering guy when it comes to Linkin Park’s music, as well as – to put it simply – the guy who raps. No one thinks of Linkin Park as a rap group, yet this is where Shinoda found his niche, as a rapper. When the group formed, the label executives even considered confining Shinoda to the keyboards and production, saying the band didn’t need the added hip-hop element. So started this need to prove himself as a necessary element to Linkin Park’s sound and I don’t think anyone can say the group would be anywhere near as successful if their formula had changed.
Eventually, this proving of himself as a useful co-vocalist to one of this generation’s most successful bands led to the awareness of himself as a more than competent rap artist. This awareness manifested itself as a solo hip-hop LP from Shinoda that would prove to be better than many of the genre’s other offerings and dismantle any talk disputing his musical abilities across the spectrum. Wanting to put all of the public’s attention on the music, he refrained from using his own name and came up with the alias of ‘Fort Minor’ for the album entitled The Rising Tied.
Shinoda’s hands are all over this project, literally. He played every instrument himself, did all of the production and engineering as well as the songwriting and rapping. From the get-go it is apparent that this album was going to be hard-hitting, raw and rooted in hip-hop culture. There is an audible sense comfort in Shinoda’s low-toned, angsty vocals that fit perfectly with the tone of the album. Shinoda is in no way, shape or form trying to amaze you with complex lyricism or expertly dynamic delivery, and that is perfectly okay. The lyrical content is typically not as deep, brooding or dramatic as it wants to be, but it does get every point and image across perfectly clearly. In its brightest moments, it is a testament to what hip-hop culture truly is. The storytelling that Shinoda implements on songs like “Kenji”, which is about his family’s’ struggles during World War II or “Red To Black”, where you can visualize the life of one of his closest friends unravel before you, is really where you feel most empathetic towards him.
Songs like “Feel Like Home” and “Cigarettes”, while great songs, are difficult to get as invested in when the lyrics seem to be looking for sympathy,
“I’m not trying to bum anyone out,
Not trying to be dramatic, just thinking out loud,
I’m just trying to make sense in my mind,
some defence from the cold I’m feeling outside.”
All in all, the lyrics serve their purpose as way for Shinoda to finally get all of his feelings out into a diary of sorts. He speaks on the music industry, people’s opinions of him and how he doesn’t give a single shit what anyone thinks. You can tell how liberating it is for him to finally be able to get this all off his chest. Some of that feeling is lost in translation on its way from him to you as he describes how bad social conditions are in certain areas of the country and he just “takes it all in”. Luckily the analogies and depictions in the lyrics are all relatable on most levels and attached to wonderful production so it is easy to overlook these shortcomings.
The beats traverse a plethora of sonic space. From classic boom bap to synthesized scratches and keys and live instrument appearances from violins and guitars. To address the hard, gritty hip-hop bass present throughout the album, it is simplest to say that every song on this album was created to be blessed by every audio-junkie’s elaborate car stereo system. The bass knocks like a high-speed bus collision and the turntable scratches are crisp which all get laid over light piano arrangements or chaotic synth.
Another consistent element on the project are guest features. From Common to Skylar Grey and John Legend to Styles Of Beyond It’s as if Shinoda wanted the added firepower on the project to keep it fresh. The issue is not with the guest spots being plausible and of a high-caliber, it is an issue of necessity. Many of the songs would have been fine, if not better without the features. The album is filled with more passion and direction than probably 90% of the albums released today. Though it does have its missteps, it fulfills its purpose in showing Shinoda’s legitimacy as a solo hip-hop artist and producer. The sound is unique enough to maintain relevancy ten years later and it all begs a simple, yet eager question. Will we hear another Fort Minor album in our lifetime? I sure as hell hope so.