MIAMI — Before Mike Shinoda started a little rap-rock band called Linkin Park, he spit rhymes over his own homemade beats. It was modest, to say the least, but a few years ago he started missing it.
"I got antsy," he recalled over the weekend at the MTV Video Music Awards (see "Green Day Clean Up, Kelly Clarkson Gets Wet, 50 Rips Into Fat Joe At VMAs"), the official coming-out party for his new side project, Fort Minor. "I wanted to make hip-hop again. You know, I always have to mix it with other things, and I didn't want to have to mix it. I just wanted it to be pure hip-hop."
During breaks from Linkin Park, Shinoda started messing around again on his samplers. He recruited his friends in Los Angeles underground hip-hop duo Styles of Beyond and then Kenna and the Roots' Black Thought, and eventually Common and John Legend. "All of a sudden Jay-Z is the executive producer and it's like a real record," Shinoda said (see "Linkin Park MC Builds A Fort With Jay-Z, Common, John Legend").
Shinoda and Jay became chums while making Collision Course, last year's groundbreaking mash-up album. He came on board to steer the Linkin Park rapper, but does not appear on the album.
"We didn't get any new rhymes from Jay, and I will say this about it: I respect his retirement," Shinoda explained. "People make a big deal about him getting on records and all this stuff and I don't want to be any kind of fuel to that fire. If Jay wants to get on our mixtape that's a different story. I think the record is a Fort Minor record — it has its own identity without Jay on it."
Along with Jay, Shinoda looked to another source for guidance — Linkin Park guitarist Brad Delson.
"Since this record is coming out on Machine Shop, our label, I could pick anyone I wanted to work on it, so I chose Brad as our A&R guy, which is hilarious because ... Brad's not a label guy, he's my friend," Shinoda said. "I've known him since I was like 13 years old and he can come in and say, 'Hey, that song, it's good, but trash this part of it and do this differently,' and I will actually listen to him."
Shinoda has full support from Linkin Park, whose singer, Chester Bennington, is also working on a solo album.
"I would have never done this record if I didn't have the blessing of the rest of the guys," Shinoda said. "We're not, like, on hiatus. We're working. We're very serious about our records, and I know the guys are at home right now writing. Hopefully we are looking at next year for a record."
In the meantime, Shinoda is treating Fort Minor just as he would a Linkin Park release. He just returned from a short European tour (with Styles of Beyond and drummer Beat Down backing him up) and is planning a Stateside outing after he shoots the video for the first single, "Petrified."
"It's a change of pace from what people would expect me to do with Linkin Park," he said of the track. "It's got that spirit in there because it's me, but definitely like a different kind of song, like it's a little bit of trash-talking."
"Petrified," as well as the recently leaked "Remember the Name," will be featured on Fort Minor's album, The Rising Tied, due November 22. Shinoda wrote all of the music on the LP and played every instrument, except for the strings on a few of the tracks.
"I feel like hip-hop right now is a lot of keyboard and minimalist stuff, and something I personally wanted to do is bring some of that organic feel back to it, that '90s hip-hop, maybe the Boogie Down Productions or that Native Tongues type of thing or Wu-Tang Clan. So it's a lot of live instrumentation, but it stills bangs like a sample."
"Linkin Park will definitely like this record ... but it's not as safe as what he used to do," Styles of Beyond's Ryu added.