A straight hip-hop album from Linkin Park vocalist/keyboardist Mike Shinoda just sounds like a bad idea. After all, Linkin Park is known more for its rock than its rhymes.
But the debut album from Shinoda's side project, Fort Minor, isn't half-bad. The Rising Tied may have a lame pun for a name, but its beats are good and the rap is somewhat decent. Jay-Z lends his expertise as executive producer and the result is a mixed bag of styles that works on some songs, but not on others. It's a step up for Shinoda from the overly emotional, high school sound of Linkin Park.
That's not to say the Linkin Park sound is entirely absent from the album. "Red To Black" and "Believe Me" feature the kind of annoyingly melodramatic refrains Linkin Park is so famous for.
A Linkin Park-style guitar echo crops up on the narrative-song "Kenji" also, but it matches the haunting lyrics well. Shinoda's rap tells the story of his Japanese-immigrant relatives who were forced into internment camps in the United States during WWII. The song combines bits of first-person accounts with Shinoda's rhymes, which, although awkward at times, carry a powerful message. The song sounds like poetry-slam verse set to music.
Overall, Shinoda's rapping skills aren't too shabby. He doesn't have a memorable voice, but he manages to sound focused and unhurried on most of the songs. He even changes it up once in a while by letting his phrases run over the bar line.
But Shinoda's real accomplishment is the wide mix of musical styles he uses as a backdrop to his rapping. "High Road" is based on pop-piano riffs, with some tambourine thrown in for good measure. Even the more standard raps have some unusual touches, like the single "Petrified," which starts off with a strange ambient echo before turning into a bouncing party tune.
Shinoda's at his best when sharing vocal duties with a guest artist. Common makes the funky "Back Home" come alive, and John Legend adds a catchy chorus to "High Road."
The Rising Tied also features lesser-known artists signed to Linkin Park's Machine Shop Recordings. Holly Brook provides a chorus on "Where'd You Go" that sounds like Dido on Eminem's "Stan," and Styles of Beyond adds some street-cred to several tracks.
The best song on the album is the Houston-style slow groove "Cigarettes," which is actually all Shinoda. The lyrics scorn the "guns, drugs and misogyny" of modern hip-hop — themes Shinoda avoids on The Rising Tied. The way he ties his love for popular rap to smoking cigarettes makes the song more than a rant: "It's just like a cigarette, nobody's really fooled / I don't want the truth, I wanna feel f-cking cool."
But even though Shinoda's lyrics are different from most Top-40 rap, he still tries to get the same sound on several tracks. "In Stereo" is a pointless attempt to mimic the club-stomping style of artists like 50 Cent, minus the raunchy lyrics. Shinoda is hardly comparable to 50 in this aspect, and the track fails miserably.
Shinoda's concern with keeping his lyrics fresh backfires at times, such as on "Remember The Name," where he raps lame verses about himself. The chorus is unique but sounds forced: "This is 10 percent luck, 20 percent skill, 15 percent concentrated power of will / Five percent pleasure, 50 percent pain, and 100 percent reason to remember the name."
Some of the samples on the CD go awry as well, such as Shinoda's recorded conversation at the beginning of "Get Me Gone." The explanation deflates the song, which is meant to be a poignant reply to early critics of Shinoda's role in Linkin Park, but turns into a whiny complaint instead.
All in all, the songs on The Rising Tied hit exhilarating highs and depressing lows, making it a unique but flawed attempt. For fans of Linkin Park or rap with a message, this album isn't a bad buy. But anyone looking for the next 50 Cent would do well to pass this one over.